It started as a routine traffic stop. But that was before the officer saw the Guy Fawkes masks—an unmistakeable icon of the Anonymous activist movement.
“Fuck the police, huh?” said a very annoyed Ferguson, Mo., police officer. The group was heavily active, both online and off, during the Ferguson protests late last year, and the officer claimed he heard them screaming disparaging remarks at the cops.
“I was targeted for being who I am and representing the collective known as Anonymous.”
As soon as the masks became visible, the traffic stop quickly escalated to charges of trespassing. One member of that group, who was arrested a total of seven times while protesting against police brutality in Ferguson last year, now faces up to three years in jail and thousands of dollars in fines for five criminal charges incurred during one month of protests.
At home, Alex Poucher is a 29-year-old father to a 7-year-old girl. But online and in the streets, he’s a self-described member of Anonymous who currently has five charges pending against him in Missouri courts, including two counts of interfering with an officer, impeding traffic, refusal to disperse, and unlawful assembly.
Of his seven arrests, Poucher caught at least three on video. Now, he’s using that footage to launch a crowdfunding campaign to raise $12,000, an effort to help him fend off the charges without using a state-appointed lawyer, a system he doesn’t trust to defend him.
With his first court date on Thursday, Feb. 19, Poucher denies ever breaking the law or disobeying any orders.
Poucher first popped up on our radar when he sat down with a member of the KKK in an effort to talk them out of violence during the Ferguson protests. He was first arrested for interfering with an officer on Nov. 19, 2014, three days after he first arrived in Ferguson. He faces up to one year in jail or a $1,000 fine for the offense.
The letter sent to Poucher from the St. Louis County Municipal Court to Poucher says he was arrested because he was “interlocking arms with other protesters to prevent police officers from moving protesters from the street to the sidewalk and to avoid arrest.”
Poucher’s arrest happened to be captured on video by the Associated Press. It’s not a perfect account of what happened, but it shows that, when police reached him, Poucher wasn’t particularly near another protester—never mind linking arms in interference with them. He was turned and walking toward the sidewalk, as police had instructed.
“I was targeted for being who I am and representing the collective known as Anonymous,” Poucher told the Daily Dot. He believes he was initially targeted in retaliation for #OpFerguson, a campaign in which Anonymous hacktivists attacked Ferguson’s municipal servers and released the names and addresses of Ferguson police officers to the public.
At least one of Poucher’s arrests had a much more immediate catalyst.
Poucher was arrested on Dec. 11, 2014, with four other protesters who were watching a car that had been pulled over by a local Ferguson police officer for allegedly driving without headlights. Having grown increasingly weary of police, Poucher began to record the stop on his phone. As the officers told the group to move their car, one cop suddenly noticed something important in the back seat, according to a video of the incident viewed by the Daily Dot.
“Wait a minute,” he said. The officer began to question why passengers in the parked car had no seat belts on, as he held up a Guy Fawkes mask that had been laying in the back seat. “Step on out [of the vehicle].”
Realizing then who they had confronted, the officers no longer wanted to the group to leave.
“You were the ones in the parking lot, we told you to leave, but you were saying ‘F the police’ the whole time,” an officer said. “Remember that?” another chimed in. “Now you’re under arrest for trespassing.”
“Fuck the police, huh?” The arresting officer said in a mocking tone.
Poucher insists the group left the Walmart parking lot when ordered to do so by police. A letter from local courts several weeks later informed Poucher that instead of trespassing, he was being charged with refusal to disperse and unlawful assembly.
“Mister Fuck The Police, huh?” another officer said as he searched Poucher.
Later, another officer can be heard saying, “We got ‘em!”
After Poucher and the rest of the group were hauled off to jail, the police searched the car. The gas masks, megaphones, first aid kits, and tool kits—Poucher says he’s a “trained street medic,” the skills of which he used when police and protesters clashed—items that police found in the back trunk were never seen again.
“Under Missouri’s laws, an unlawful assembly is a gathering of six or more people who agree to violate any criminal laws by force or violence,” Poucher explained. “There were only five of us in the car, and none of us agreed to violate any criminal laws nor did we. And we left when asked to. We were lawfully assembled.”
Poucher, who has only raised about $285 as of publication, has already become a target for a number of people opposed to the Ferguson protests.
— Really?? (@sussiekiesays) February 14, 2015
Poucher reached out to organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, but has been declined legal help so far.
Poucher’s phone, which captured the entirety of his Dec. 11 arrest unbeknownst to police, stayed on as officers drove the evidence to a nearby precinct.
“Oh, look at these masks,” the officer charged with sorting Poucher’s belongings said as he opened the evidence bag. “Aren’t they cute?”
Correction: Poucher and his four acquaintances were watching a separate car that had been pulled over by police when Ferguson officers confronted them on Dec. 11.
Screengrab via Fox