There are rumors that charges against Sean Stevens and Peter Berdovsky will be dropped, but so far I haven’t seen anything official.
Sarmonster updates the Homeland Security terrorism advisory scale.
Wired points out an oddly similar case from April Fool’s Day, 2006, when five girls in the small Ohio town of Ravenna put out seventeen cardboard-box replicas of Super Mario Brothers question boxes. The police chief overreacted. The bomb squad and HAZMAT crews got called out to demolish them. Criminal charges were threatened, but then ultimately not filed. The splutterings of the Ravenna police chief sound remarkably similar to those of Mayor Merino.
My Signature Weapon! discusses the Massachusetts “hoax device” laws and opines that (1.) the men placing the devices broke the law only if a reasonable person would believe that they were bombs or some other comparable weapon; yet people in nine other cities had no problem recognizing them as non-bombs; and (2.) the suspects have to have intended to cause a panic (“with the intent to cause anxiety, unrest, fear or personal discomfort to any person or group of persons”) for the charge to stick. His conclusion: he wouldn’t want to be the prosecutor trying to make that case.
Wired’s Table of Malcontents cites what may be the signature quotation for this mess: Attorney General Martha Coakley on the obviously suspicious nature of the Mooninites:
“[The device] had a very sinister appearance. It had a battery behind it, and wires.”The Register points out that Peter Berdovsky is a Belarusian citizen who’s in the process of applying for asylum in the United States, and that unless they’re dropped, the vindictive charges filed against him may screw that up
Majikthise firmly asserts that Guerilla marketing is corporate vandalism: Sam Ewen and Interference, Inc. are the real villains in the Boston Mooninite debacle:
One thing we do know is that Sam Ewen’s “guerilla marketing” firm Interference, Inc. needlessly terrorized a city and abandoned two twenty-something artists to face criminal charges that could wreck their lives. Interference knew about the bomb scare but didn’t tell the police. Instead, the firm pressured the two installation artists to keep quiet while chaos and fear gripped a major city.The only reason I don’t agree is that I still think the Boston city government screwed up firster and worster; but Lindsey makes some very solid points.
When I first heard that some entity had let the bomb scare go on for hours longer than necessary, it was Turner Broadcasting that was being blamed. I didn’t think the alleged delay was altogether unreasonable. Turner is headquartered far from Boston, and they were one ad agency and two subcontractors removed from the action. It seemed to me that figuring out what was going on, sorting stuff out with the ad agency, and having a quick chat with their legal staff, could easily eat up a few hours of Turner’s time.
But as Lindsey points out, it wasn’t Turner at all. The ad agency, Interference Inc., figured out what was happening by midday at the latest, and could have stopped the panic hours earlier than it did. We know that Interference knew about the bomb scare before 1:25 p.m. on Wednesday, because that’s when Peter Berdovsky emailed several friends to tell them he’d already received email from Interference instructing him to keep quiet about the Mooninites. Turner Broadcasting found out about the bomb scare several hours later.
Sean Stevens and Peter Berdovsky were blindsided. By all accounts,* Stevens and Berdovsky are a couple of harmless art guys who perform and install video art, and are big fans of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. This past November, a man in Brooklyn recruited Berdovsky to do the work for Interference, and Berdovsky then recruited Stevens. They were supposed to be paid all of $300 each for the job.
For three hundred bucks, you’re not hiring wily guerrilla marketing operatives. You’re hiring a couple of guys to put up your Mooninites. What would Stevens and Berdovsky know about viral marketing emergency bailout procedures? When the agency that hired them told them to keep quiet, they did.
I’m grateful to Lindsey for pointing out that Interference, Inc. is Sam Ewen and crew, i.e. the doofs who ran Eisnor Interactive. They were on the loose during the dotcom boom, putting together ad campaigns that did unlovable stuff like spray-painting inscrutable ad slogans on public sidewalks. After the web ad market and Eisnor Interactive crashed, they reconstituted themselves as Interference Inc., and announced that:
…with buzz marketing all the rage, Ewen and former Performance Event Marketing president Michael Glickman are moving from stealth mode to launch Interference, Inc., a firm specializing in the guerilla marketing tactics that worked for dot-com clients like About.com and HotJobs.com.The hell is that targeted. Their collection of strategies sounds to me like “channels you can use for advertising without having to pay for ad space or air time.” Think of it as real-world spam. A lot of the appeal of all this viral/buzz/guerrilla marketing stuff is that it’s dead cheap. The flip side: have you noticed how often you see headlines saying viral> marketing campaign backfires? That’s an inherent property of the form. Viral marketing is volatile. If you want control, you make up advertisements and buy ad space and air time. If you’re going the viral route, you have to monitor your effects, and act quickly to mitigate the harm if your campaign unexpectedly turns sour.
Interference, Inc. will use street corner messengers, product samplings, publicity stunts, branded hitchhikers and other “random acts of kindness,” anything to deliver a targeted message to a specific market.
Here’s Lindsey again:
Interference did not contact the police. Turner Broadcasting claims that it didn’t hear from Interference about the uproar until 5pm that afternoon. Meanwhile, the city of Boston was paralyzed, federal officials were rushing to the scene, and US Northern Command was monitoring the situation at its Colorado Springs headquarters.I doubt that anyone responsible for the Mooninites initially intended to cause a panic. But when there’s a citywide bomb scare blowing up and you sit on your duffs for hours, not telling the authorities and keeping other people from telling them—yeah, that starts to look like intent.
According to the Globe article, Interference didn’t even have the decency to post bond for Stevens and Berdovsky.
Finally: during a visit to Providence, R.I., George Foresman, Homeland Security Undersecretary for Preparedness, praised Boston officials for conducting “a very seamless and coordinated response.” What this tells us is not that Boston is smarter than we thought, but that the DHS is dumb, too.