There are three things happening here which have very few points of congruence:
- Media reports, which seem to be largely fabricated by the reporters;
- What actually happened, which has not been widely reported;
- The Fayetteville PD’s relationship with the employees of the town’s dominant business, the Army, which is never widely reported.
We’ll address each of these in turn. Along the way, you’ll get to play that game that’s so much fun that people bribe politicians for the opportunity to do it for a career: You Be The Judge!™.
Conspiracy theories thrive, in part, because the media sucks like a giant Shop Vac, and prioritizes speed over accuracy, and Narrative™ over either. First media reports are almost always wrong. Then, they really get to work. Reporters dig in and beat the facts to fit The Narrative™.
Here are some of the headlines the news media generated:
- Man arrested in Fayetteville mall with rifle (CNN)
- Man with assault rifle, military vest arrested at Cross Creek Mall (ABC 11)
- Fully armed soldier arrested at mall after 911 calls (USA Today)
- Armed Bragg soldier headed to photo shoot arrested at Mall (WRAL-TV)
- Fayetteville mall gunman was soldier headed to photo shoot (WNCN-TV)
- Soldier armed with rifle arrested in Fayetteville mall (Charlotte Observer)
- Man with military vest, assault rifle arrested at Fayetteville mall (Raleigh News & Observer)
As you can see, they generally called the individual arrested “Man with assault rifle,” “Armed soldier,” “Soldier with rifle and ammunition,” and, in one egregious case (a TV station, naturally), “Fayetteville mall gunman.” Sure, that was technically correct in the narrow denotational sense that he was a man, did have a gun, and did go to a mall, but “mall gunman” forms a mental picture other than a guy carrying an empty, never-fired, rifle to a photo shoot for his actor’s portfolio.
As the media got further from Fayetteville and the facts they changed the facts to suit The Narrative™, as they always do. The “rifle and ammunition” became a counterfactual “loaded rifle.” Another counterfactual detail conjured out of thin air by fabricating reporters was “body armor.” The Charleston church shooting and white supremacism made an appearance, introduced by some of their last True Believers, reporters. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a long-running racket that has made a succession of Northern lawyers stankin’ rich, was called on to read the mind of the accused “gunman.”
Once these media stories, with their slant, exaggerations and outright fabrications, hit the news, the two branches of the Army that are furthest from the gun culture and firearms knowledge, the oversized PR branch and the underbrained MP branch, sounded off, uttering an instant, blanket condemnation of the soldier in question and promising that he will be punished by the military justice system, which has no truck with such primitive concepts as rights of the accused or rules of evidence: as we have seen in many Iraq and Afghanistan courts-martial, it’s a means by which commanders work their will, irrespective of law or facts, and we had a string of commanders who had been embarrassed. This guy has absolutely no chance: the prosecutors will work to nail-him-to-a-cross, and the defense attorneys, in the fine tradition of military defense attorneys since the Dreyfus case and beyond, will hand ’em the nails.
What Actually Happened
While the media were running with the story, something else was happening in Fayetteville. The police and prosecutors were trying to square the arrest they’d made, and the press statements their spokesman was making, with North Carolina law. NC is an open carry state; even if Wolfinger’s gun had been loaded, what he was doing would have been perfectly legal.
They finally found a Reconstruction-era misdemeanor: “Going armed to the terror of the public,” that had been inserted in NC law for the Union occupation forces to use to suppress “night riders” and similar proto-Klan types. The dormant law had actually been eliminated from a popular NC law book before prosecutors rediscovered it as part of today’s kitchen-sink prosecution strategy. The crime has four elements, one of which is being armed with “an unusual and dangerous weapon,” which Reconstruction-era case law established as being any firearm at all, or even no firearm, if ant person was really scared. But another element, and one that appears fully absent in this case, is that the person have intent: he must have taken up his “unusual and dangerous weapon” (which may, in fact, be no weapon but physical intimidation), “for the purpose of terrifying others.” Did Wolfinger intend to terrify others? Let’s play You Be The Judge!
Wolfinger went to the mall for a very specific reason: he was taking a portfolio photo to submit to a casting call for the next Captain America movie. Specifically, for extras in “a battlefield setting.”
After looking at the websites of the many photography shops in the Fayetteville area, he chose Picture This! Portrait Studios, one of two commercial photography shops in the Cross Creek Mall. He picked them particularly because they were experienced with green screen photography, allowing digital backgrounds to be swapped in to his photo.
As he meant to apply as a military “type” extra, along with the usual three serious-expression pictures casting directors like to see for extras, he also meant to shoot the “in character” shot that’s optional but welcome. For that, he brought his legally-owned AR-15 and a plate carrier and some magazines. After all, Picture This! says, helpfully, “You may also want to consider bringing in personal items….” Just to be sure it was safe, Wolfinger removed the firing pin from the AR, rendering it, functionally, a stick.
Little did Wolfinger know that this would land him in durance vile, with every talking head on every TV and Mark Potok of the SPLC condemning him as a racist mass murderer wannabee.
Note that under NC law, carrying the AR loaded is perfectly legal (although, as he has learned, not exactly wise). This lack of wisdom is especially significant, given the proclivities of the Fayetteville PD, of which more anon.
Someone called 911, and the police responded, and two Fayetteville cops encountered him as he was coming out. They pointed their guns at him and he obeyed their instructions. They cuffed him and then roughed him up a little. He was cooperative and gave a statement. After they latched on to the “terror of the public” misdemeanor, Detectives tried to get him to say he was trying to scare people, but to their irritation he stuck to the truth. They finally released him to his unit first sergeant.
Detectives then questioned the photographer at great length, trying to lead her into a statement that Wolfinger had frightened her. They got a very, very weak statement. She actually liked the kid, even though she knew nothing of guns and didn’t realize that that was the prop that he was bringing.
The Fayetteville PD spokesman issued several statements which played into the media’s desire to see an American soldier as a terrorist.
Fayetteville PD versus GIs In General
First things first: Fayetteville cops, and especially Fayetteville PD leadership, hate the Army and hate the individual GI. Hate is a strong word, but it’s the only one that fits. (“Use the word you mean, not its second cousin” — didn’t Mark Twain say that?)
In defense of the cops, the GIs make a lot of work for them. Drunk GIs in bars. Drunk GIs in cars. GI domestic violence, usually with drinking. (Now, there’s a real problem with female couple DV in the Fort Bragg area). Guys who got ripped off by some pawn shop, buy-here-pay-here crap car-dealer, or U-Can-Rent, and guys who think that they got ripped off, but actually outsmarted themselves, and are causing a disturbance anyway. Liquored-up paratroopers convinced that they can take this pudgy cop, who then proceed to do so, at least until backup arrives. And then there’s the personal problems: the GIs who wind up with the cops’ girlfriends, wives and daughters.
It’s reached the point where the GIs figure they might as well go ahead and knock up the daughters of the town’s cops, prosecutors, and judges, because they’re gonna get thumped for it, anyway. This produces suboptimal behavior on the part of all parties.
Any given night, especially Thursday through Saturday, and doubly especially around the days the eagle drops the twice-monthly paycheck, a Fayetteville PD shift sergeant can show you a fine collection of paratroopers, support troops, and even an occasional SF guy: in his drunk tank. “Support the Troops” gets worn out pretty quick in an Army town, where tens of thousands of troops are not elite combat forces but less elite, and a few of them, even, marginal, support guys. Ask a Fayetteville cop to tell you about soldier misconduct and your only problem is going to be to get him to stop: some of the things our fellow vets have done are absolutely cringe-producing, and it’s hard to blame the fuzz for developing a ‘tude about it.
However… one thing the Fayetteville Observer does from time to time is post the mugshots of recent Cumberland County accused felons. And that set is notable by its lack of GIs, considering their prevalence in the community. GIs are far outnumbered among serious criminals by many other minorities: blacks, women, Lumbee Indians. The cops don’t hate those people; it’s just business (and fact is, most of the people in all those minorities never commit a crime, so they shouldn’t hate the whole groups). But they do hate the GIs with their booze and misdemeanors, who may not be especially criminal but who are especially identifiable.
For whatever reason, they are spring-loaded in the Nail The GI position. The Fayetteville PD also has a number of other big-city-PD pathologies, including the deep-seated belief that, their dismal ND record notwithstanding, they are the Only Ones who can be trusted with this here Glock firearm.
That’s how SGT Wolfinger got from going to take an innocent he-ro photo for a casting call, to slammed in the clink on a bogus charge: he’s paying the price for every drunk trooper who was ever a no-go at the Fayetteville PD’s Respect-My-Authoritah station.
And that’s why 20 Fayetteville cops swarmed Cross Creek Mall and locked it down for an hour, after they had taken Wolfinger into custody: their leaders hate non-cops with guns, and hate soldiers especially, and were hoping to find and arrest more.
SF guys who live in and around Fayetteville tend not to display hooah stickers on our wheels. Part of that is the whole Quiet Professional thing, in general, a cultural norm which leaders try from time to time to nurture and reinforce. (This leadership is especially successful from respected NCO leaders like team sergeants and company sergeants major). But part if it is also the desire not to be singled out for reindeer games by some sorehead with a badge.