Madison, Wisconsin. I’ve lived here for thirty years. This is my town. And it’s my beat. My name? Noam de Plum. I’m a reporter. I cover the front page news for my paper, the Madison Dolly.
It was back in early May of 2016. A typical spring day here in Wisconsin. The robins and all the other seasonal birds had just arrived to let us know that winter was over. Then they all congregated at the train depot with tickets and little suitcases waiting to get on trains heading back to Mississippi, which let us know winter wasn’t entirely over. Birds are smarter than people. But that’s not important.
It wasn’t even a click past 9am when the chief called me into his office.
“Seen this?” he said, shoving an eight by eleven color glossy at me across his desk.
It was some sort of green symbol, spray painted on a wall. And then beside it were three little triangles squished together. “Brilliant green,” I noted. “Nice color choice. You usually see black or muted blues.”
“What do you make of it?”
“Thing on the left looks like a very hurried and consequently unfinished swastika. Some of the stick things are missing. I’d guess whoever did it had to go take a leak and forgot to come back.”
“You’re close. But it’s something else.”
“A number four connected to an upside down number four. Two fours having sex.”
“Wolfsangel. Anti-Semitic symbol popular with skinheads in Europe. What’s your take on the figure next to it?”
“A spaceship landing, and then a second spaceship landing on top of it, and then a third spaceship landing on top of both of them but slightly off to the right. Or three intersecting triangles but I kind of like the spaceship concept better.”
“It’s called a Volknot. Popular with the Nazi party. Also anti-Semitic. Three of them were discovered last night downtown, spray painted on different buildings.”
“And so goes the continuing expression of infantile opinion. But I don’t see a story here. It’s a picture on page three with one sentence underneath. What do you want me for? These are just your standard symbols of ignorance, hate, and an inability to get a date on Saturday night.”
“These are different.”
“They’re terribly drawn.”
I looked at the picture again. “Well, yeah, they do look kind of goofy.”
“It took us hours to figure out what they actually were. But that’s not all.”
He shoved more pictures toward me. They were spray painted proclamations on a brick wall. I read the first out loud. “Racizm in the air! Don’t breathe!” And then I looked at the next. “The devil iz a white man!” All I could say was, “Yikes.”
“I know. The spelling is a disgrace. And whoever it was did nine more just like it. Most of them on university buildings.”
“All this badly spelled?”
“They spelled ‘breathe’ right anyway. You know, a lot people get that wrong and spell ‘breath’.”
“If this isn’t an indictment on our public school system I don’t know what is. IS with a Z, seriously? And then this half ass Volknot and Wolfsangel? What the hell is happening to our young people? Are they this incompetent? Do they take no pride in their art?” Have we completely let them down? Is it our fault?
“Get a hold of yourself.”
“I need you to follow up on this. I want you to take the pulse of the city and find out what it is. Find out what the people think about this. We may have an epidemic on our hands of embarrassingly bad graffiti. I’ve lived in this town all my life and I have no intention of seeing it made a laughing stock across the nation.”
“Take the pulse of the city. That’s what I do. I’m on it.”
“Find out if people are as heated up about this as I am.”
“Take the pulse and temperature of the city. Got it. How about a prostate exam?”
“No, just get the city’s pulse and temperature. That should be enough.”
“Right. I’m on it, chief.”
The first person I contacted was Gerry Bierstein, the head of the local Jewish Anti-Defamation League here in Madison, to get his take on all this:
“We were at first concerned, as you can imagine,” he said. “I was notified that someone had spray painted what we know to be symbols of the Nazi Party in Europe, the Wolfsangel and the Volknot, more commonly referred to by their German names of der Wolfsangelthingen and der Volknotthingen. But after looking at them, we realized they didn’t bear any resemblance to either of those symbols. At first we thought they were maybe badly drawn, but we discounted that because we didn’t think anybody could draw that badly and maybe it was someone who just was trying to make some sort of political statement about the number four.”
“So you’re not upset too much.”
Before I could even grab another cup of coffee there was break in the story. The police had made an arrest. Taken into custody for “kind of anti-Semitic graffiti” were brothers Ray Anthony Bubba, Lee Arnold Bubba, and Bubba “Big Bubba” Bubba. Under questioning they made no bones about the fact that the symbols were anti-Semitic, but they also said they were very upset that no Jewish people would believe them.
But it was a busy day for the police for just within hours of arresting the Bubba brothers they located the perpetrator of the “I can’t spell the word IS” graffiti. His name, Hooterville MacGillicuddy. After attempting to contact Mr. MacGillicuddy for two weeks to let him know that there were spelling errors in his commentary, the campus police went into the classroom where he was and arrested him. Actually they had tea with him for fourteen minutes and then arrested him–the last part not going too well as evidenced by the arresting officer’s body camera, which I’m pretty sure doesn’t work anymore.
To get a first-hand account of that event I was lucky enough to get an interview with the teacher who was there at the time—tenured professor and highly respected hysteric Johanna Almiron.
“When the police entered my classroom,” she began, “they didn’t show me the appropriate degree of respect or acknowledge that I was in charge of the room.”
“Is that a thing the police usually do when making an arrest?”
“Of course it is.”
“Just wondering. I wasn’t sure. Then what?”
“They came into my classroom,” she said, “with their guns visible.”
“They had their guns drawn?”
“No, not drawn, visible.”
“Right. Because they’re policemen.”
“Yes. And their guns were visible.”
“Right. As were their shirts. You’ve seen policemen before, right?”
“And you know that since 1940 policemen are no longer required to carry their guns in their lunch boxes.”
“I don’t think I care for your tone.”
The arrest ignited a fire storm. Five hundred students signed a petition in protest, demanding that the two police officers in question be fired, that the chancellor of the University be fired, and that the Rose Bowl scores from 2011, 2012, and 2013 be reversed in favor of Wisconsin. The five hundred students who signed the petition and who had come together in force were then morally supported by forty thousand more students who neither signed the petition nor showed up for the rally, it being laundry day.
I tried to get a handle on why some students were outraged and were protesting. One of the first comments I had come across earlier was on the web page of “Beloved” UW Journalism and Communications Professor Mike Wagner. “Beloved” was actually included in his title on the web page and so I assumed it was a formal title, perhaps indicating a degree just short of a Ph.D. Whatever the case, fortunately he was there and able to shed some light on the situation.
“Beloved Professor Wagner,” I asked, “what’s the protest all about?”
“Two UWPD officers arrested the Black student—Black being a word I always capitalize, as you may have noticed on my blog—
“As do I, at least when it’s the first word of a sentence, go on.”
“—arrested the Black student in the classroom of a professor of color for a series of anti-white supremacist graffiti pieces that have sprouted up across campus lately. It is shocking and deeply upsetting that an unarmed suspect of a non-violent crime was pulled from a college class to be arrested.”
“Perhaps they should have waited for summer break, is that what I’m hearing?
“I’d like to call attention to the depth of issues that seem to have led to the graffiti for which the student was arrested.”
“Beloved Professor Wagner, I hear you say that this was anti-white supremacist graffiti. But wouldn’t saying rude things about a particular race actually be, like, you know, just plain old racist graffiti?”
“It is not considering what may have driven someone to post such messages in the first place.”
“Beloved Professor Wagner, I’ve noticed during the course of this conversation that you don’t respond to my questions unless I pull the string on the back of your neck. If someone was to depress your stomach, would you burp?”
“Speech like the graffiti can come with consequences. But I submit that the more important consequences are those that come from doing nothing.”
I leaned Professor Wagner against a mail box so that he would not fall over and returned my attention to the large group. The five hundred prepared to take to the streets in protest. Before doing so, however, they stood for a group selfie, holding an enormous banner that read “Tippecanoe And Tyler Too!”
“What’s with the banner?” I asked one of them.
“We found it in the history department. We wanted something that would make a profound statement, but that’s all we could find and we didn’t have enough material to make another banner.”
“I think that kind of works. It’s pithy.”
“You think so?”
The group moved forward into the streets, obstructing traffic as they made their stand and their point. Witnessing all this, I asked one protester if standing in the street blocking traffic wasn’t perhaps a dangerous manner of protest:
“Oh no, not at all,” she said. “See, we’ve learned from experience that the people in their cars have way more consideration for us than we have for them. So, we’re safe.”
“Ah. Let me ask you a question,” I said. “If you were in your car, and a group of migrant workers were in the street protesting low wages and the fact they don’t have health insurance, and you couldn’t move forward in your car but had to pick your child up from school, how would you feel?”
“I don’t understand the question.”
This being blocked in the street led me to a thought: What are the legal ramifications of someone in their car, in response to a group of strange people who are illegally blocking the way, resolving this inconvenience and/or potential threat in a manner that might be considered “unusually assertive.”
I called attorney John Trapezoid and put forth the following question to him:
“John, what are the legal parameters governing the rights of a motorist who intentionally or accidentally injures a pedestrian who is blocking the roadway illegally? It seems to me that if bandits stopped your car by standing in front of it, you would have the right to defend yourself, even if the only way you had of doing so was by using your car. Where is the line drawn between a group of bandits and a group of people who are just really annoying, but who are also breaking the law? Also, in a slightly different scenario, suppose a motorist continued their course forward at a very cautious rate of speed, let’s say five miles per hour. Does not the responsibility to get out of the way fall upon the individual who is committing the illegal act of blocking the roadway? Wouldn’t you say that this slow rate of speed provides sufficient warning to the transgressor and therefore removes the motorist from culpability should injury occur to the individual in the street based on that individual’s decision to deliberately not remove themselves from obvious danger and potential harm?”
“That’s a very interesting question,” he replied. “Unfortunately I’m a copyright attorney and wouldn’t really know the answer to that.”
I followed up on the what became of MacGillicuddy and the Bubba Boys. I was unable to find any sort of update on the three men who drew the anti-Semitic graffiti, so I’m assuming they’ve been shipped off to a gulag in the Aleutian Islands. As for MacGillicuddy, he was able to escape any jail time as he was a young offender whose heart was in the right place, as determined by the Madison Department of Spirited Youth and Special Flowers, and was ordered to dispense Girl Scout Cookies to homeless people for two hours each Saturday throughout the month of May. This I found surprising given four thousand dollars of damage done. But as I investigated further I found that spraying graffiti is not necessarily a felonious criminal act, even when you’ve done four thousand dollars worth of damage. It’s the content that actually makes it criminal and/or felonious. To better understand this, and to help you understand it too in case you plan on spraying graffiti, the Madison District Court supplied me with this sample of things that might be spray painted on a public building and the jail time that will result if you get caught doing it:
Get the Jews out of pro sports! — 6 months
Asians drive too slow — 4 months
White people are mean (and unattractive) — 1 day
Most complaints of racism are, I feel, unfounded — 12 months
Support your local sheriff — 2 months
Support your local sherif — 4 months
Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? — 2 months
God is dead — Nietzsche — 4 months
Nietzsche is dead — God — 1 month
Clapton is God — 2 weeks
Mexican food is not gluten free — 2 months
My mother made me a homosexual — 1 month
If I give her some yarn will she make me one too? — 1 week
I was ready to put the whole epidemic of badly done graffiti behind me, when sitting in the lunchroom at the office I noticed a below the fold headline in the Capitol Times: Devil Worshipper Offers Graffiti Artist $2,000 for Interview. The artist in question was MacGillicuddy, and as I read further I saw that the person offering the money was Anton La Vey, Jr. I knew the name. His infamous father was the author of The Satanic Bible and The Satanic Rituals as well as the co-author of Satanism For Dummies. I was puzzled by this, and one question kept going over and over in my mind: Did I feed the cats before I left for the office this morning? Then I remembered that I had. And so another question entered my mind: What does a Satanist want with a graffiti artist who can’t spell?
I was able to track La Vey down and found he was running something called The Institute of Occult Studies and Unlikely Suppositions. I called the number and got him on the phone. “Mr. La Vey,” I said, “you don’t know me but your father and I were… … … …in the army together. We were buddies. I was hoping you could tell me why you’re interested in Hooterville MacGillicuddy.”
“Pals with dad? Really?”
“You and dad were in the same company in the army?”
“Sure were. F troop.”
“OK, I’ll tell you. Graph number 7,” he said. “The one that says the devil is a white man. Hooterville didn’t say white men are devils. No, he said the devil is a white man. A white man. That means one particular white man. He knows the devil actually walks among us. If he knows the devil is a white man, he must surely know which white man it is. And if he knows which white man it is, he might even know the devil’s phone number and address.”
“I think most people are taking it as a figure of speech,” I said.
“They said dad was crazy. Made fun of him all the time. Mom did too. But this could be the breakthrough we need to start the Satanic Church up again and prove dad was right—somebody who actually knows who the devil is! And maybe his phone number! The two of us will be rich! We’ll be on TV!”
“Um, I’m at a pay phone booth and there’s a pregnant woman banging on the door and there’s blood coming out of her ear so I think I need to go now.”
We said goodbye. It had a been a long day. As I headed slowly downstairs I realized that I had forgotten my mission, which was to ask people what they thought about the terrible spelling and drawing. But I sensed they didn’t care. I stepped out on the street and was buoyed by the bright and warm day. Seemed spring finally got here. I was feeling okay, but then as I neared the car I suddenly stopped. I took notice of what was happening on the other side of the street. It was a man spray painting the entire lyrics of “Blowin’ In The Wind” on the side of the Wisconsin Historical Society. A crowd had gathered. They watched and said nothing. No one felt anything was at all wrong. They just stood there silently. But I couldn’t be silent, and as loud as I possibly could I yelled, “There’s three N’s in cannon–not two!”
“Thank you,” he called back.