A dangerous mix: ‘First Amendment auditors’ and armed police

As more and more people try to monetize YouTube fame, they are resorting to ever more dangerous acts. We see that in the case of so-called ‘First Amendment Auditors’. These are people who use their First Amendment rights to deliberately provoke police officers in public and actively seeking a hostile response, record the resulting encounter, post the videos on the internet, and make money from the views they generate.

Auditors show up with their cameras at places as mundane as post offices, or as imposing as the entrances to nuclear-weapons factories. Once there, they start filming, and wait to see how police react.

Over the past few years, First Amendment auditing has also become a cutthroat YouTube industry, with auditors taking increasingly aggressive positions in encounters with police, knowing that if they are to get arrested or grabbed by a cop it will boost their views and build their online profiles. There are dozens of auditors on YouTube. While their videos typically get just tens of thousands of views, big channels or viral videos can net millions. Auditors say they’re often deluged with death threats, but they aren’t sure whether they’re coming from police supporters, trolls—or their own YouTube rivals.

But arrests are just fine for some auditors, who will likely see their fame in the movement (and their YouTube ad income) rise with each arrest. The law on filming in public places is straightforward, according to Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union. As long as auditors are filming in public space, anything that’s “plainly visible in public spaces” is fair game.

“It’s never really needed to go to the Supreme Court,” Stanley told The Daily Beast.

Padilla’s videos are filled with the exact kind of insults that gets cops mad and viewers revved up. In the San Antonio strip-mall video, for example, he repeatedly taunted each new officer who appeared on the scene. In another video, Padilla berated a police officer with anti-gay slurs, calling him a “f—-t.”

It is perfectly legal to make videos in public places of government officials such as police doing the jobs, something that police tended to violate in the past but less so now as it has sunk in that trying to stop people from filming rarely ends well for them. Filming police when they are violating someone’s rights can serve a valuable purpose.

But deliberately provoking police when they are engaged in lawful activity, and using racial and anti-gay slurs to provoke them simply to boost your viewer numbers seems wrong, not to mention highly dangerous given that they are armed.


  1. Holms says

    The more provocative a person is, the stronger the case is against them that they were harassing people / creating a public nuisance. Also, people can be issued a trespass warning if they remain inside a public space, even if it is a government building. Thus the only way they can do this douchebaggery completely free of legal liability is from the footpath, and only if they are not being a tool.

  2. Holms says

    Yes. Sovereign citizen (and related) videos are an interest of mine, and by far the majority of those auditor types are white, or pass quite well. In fact even those that don’t pass well are only really given away by their accent.

  3. jrkrideau says

    I would have though that if the auditor was offensive enough he could be charged with assault—well, at least under Canadian law—or alternatively face a civil action for slander.

  4. says

    If they can’t take a little bit of heat, they shouldn’t be on the force. If they think violence is an appropriate response, they’re unfit to serve. Fuck ’em.

    And good on these guys for exposing the fascist pigs.

  5. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I would have though that if the auditor was offensive enough he could be charged with assault—well, at least under Canadian law—or alternatively face a civil action for slander.

    In American common law, taunting someone AFAIK isn’t really assault. Common law assault is threatening someone with bodily harm. I’d be a little surprised if Canada was different.

    It’s definitely not actionable slander in American law -- any reasonable person in the audience is not going to take the insults seriously. Again, I’d be surprised if Canadian law was sufficiently different.

    In the past, this would be a fighting words offense: insulting someone in a way that could precipitate a retaliatory attack. The original fighting words case, at a superficial examination, was precisely this: someone mouthing off to a cop. However, since then, SCOTUS has ruled that persons cannot be charged with fighting words when the fighting words are directed at a cop. No idea about Canadian law on fighting words. AFAIK, fighting words is a uniquely American law.

    Breaking the peace maybe? Breaking the peace is a great catch-all offense.

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