If you see someone on Larchmont Blvd. shooting video of business patrons and employees, but refusing to say what the video is for and becoming irritated when asked, try to turn away and ignore them.
The Buzz was alerted this week to the recent presence of a self-styled YouTube videographer creating confrontations with Larchmont customers and business. The man (whose name and YouTube handle are available on his YouTube channel, but we which are not publicizing here), claims to be a “First Amendment auditor,” a person who deliberately records people in public spaces, without their permission, hoping to provoke what the camera operator interprets as violations of his or her First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The targets are often police or other city employees, but can also be security guards, various kinds of business employees, and other people simply going about their daily activities.
What are “First Amendment auditors”?
According to an article in DP-Pro, a trade publication for public works employees (who have apparently been frequent targets for this kind of confrontation), First Amendment auditors are inspired by citizen-captured videos, such as those showing the beating of Rodney King and the murder of George Floyd. But instead of filming events they stumble on coincidentally, and using their cameras to help protect the civil rights of others, these videographers use their cameras to intentionally create confrontations, with themselves at the center of the manufactured drama, which they can later exploit via social media.
“This movement is a group of loosely affiliated activists who place themselves in confrontational situations with police and government officials while recording the interaction with a stated goal of “auditing” the encounters for First Amendment rights violations,” says the DP-Pro article. “The focus has expanded recently to target anyone working in the public arena, including utility workers.”
The article goes on to describe how such an “audit” works:
“According to the auditors, an audit is an inspection of how well government officials and others working in the public arena stay within the bounds of the Constitution…Typically, social media activists with recording devices enter a public building, a work site, or an outdoor activity and use aggressive and alarming tactics to provoke a reaction. This encounter is then uploaded to a media platform.”
According to the story, such activities are mostly legal. “If they are in a public area and stay within legal boundaries,” says author and security expert Jim Willis in the article, “they can record and broadcast images of almost anything and anyone. In fact, once they have legally created a recording, they own it and have complete control over the content, no matter the subject or image.”
In the most recent Larchmont video, which is promoted with the provocative headline, “Karens will start to melt!,” the videographer steadfastly trains his camera on patrons waiting in line, and eating at outdoor tables, at a couple of popular restaurants on the street. The camera is held steady until people start to react by asking what the videographer is doing, which prompts him to fire back, “Can you just stop bothering me?” and “I’m not bothering you!”
When a woman at one restaurant table gets up and takes a curious step toward the cameraman, he says, “Back off! I’m warning you, back off!” And later he tells another customer that it’s a “public sidewalk” and that he will “defend my bubble” if that person approaches.
While the activity may initially seem harmless, if highly annoying to some people, there have been incidents in which the confrontations have escalated — most notably in 2019, when one provocateur, Zhoie Perez, known on YouTube as “FurryPotato,” was shot during a confrontation with a security guard at the Etz Jacob Congregation’s Ohel Chana High School on Beverly Blvd. According to an LA Times story about the incident, city prosecutors declined to file criminal charges against the guard in that case, but Perez filed a suit against the guard for “assault, false imprisonment, negligence and discrimination,” while claiming that she remained peaceful and within her rights in a public space at all times during the encounter.
How to Handle Such Confrontations
If you come into contact with one of these videographers, or see one of their confrontations in progress, there are several things to be aware of.
First, according to DP-Pro, remember that there is no specific right to privacy in a public space, so the video recording activity is likely legal, even if it makes you uncomfortable.
But also remember that these individuals are primarily seeking confrontation, and they will use certain techniques to create charged interactions. According to the DP-Pro story:
“The encounter will be planned to take you and your employees by surprise. The auditor will often show up in attire meant to intimidate and alarm. Some go as far as carrying weapons. The auditor will start filming and say nothing (stonewall approach) or begin aggressively questioning any employee they encounter.
If they use the stonewall approach, they will not respond to questions or speak when spoken to. They will typically only respond if you take offensive action, with simple statements such as “do not touch me”, “do not touch my camera”, or similar directives.
If they use the aggressive questioning approach, they will try to verbally overpower flustered employees with rapid-fire questions and demands, often asking for documents or information they may or may not have the legal right to obtain.”
This last technique was used by the Larchmont videographer in another of his posted videos (not shot on Larchmont), in which he confronts the owner of a car he seems to think is illegally parked. In the exchange with the vehicle’s owner, the camera man repeatedly demands that the car owner give him the VIN number for the car, for an “investigation.”
Because the videographers are trying to create sensational controversy, however, they may get bored and move on if no one rises to their bait. So even if you are annoyed by the camera or its operator, simply turning away, and going about your business, may be the best way to prevent further interaction.
Next, although it may be a good idea for business patrons or employees to contact the police or a security service about the unwanted activity, especially if the “auditor” is disrupting business, announcing out loud that you’re calling for help may only feed the flames. So keep your call or text to authorities as quiet as possible, without letting on to the camera person that you or someone else is making the call.
Later, if you find you have been unwillingly captured in an activist’s video, you may be able to protest the posting of the unauthorized video on YouTube, which is a private company, with its own rules for users. To do this:
- Find the video on YouTube
- Note the beginning and end time of the shot you feels violates your privacy
- Click the little three-dot icon (…) under the video, choose “Report,” then choose “Infringes My Rights” and “Privacy Issue,” and follow the instructions from there.
Finally, we’ve also heard a suggestion to play some recorded music out loud on your phone if you see an “auditor” shooting video nearby. This is because the videographers try to monetize their videos on YouTube, and they can run into problems with that if the footage contains copyrighted music they do not have the rights to use. So the videographers may try to avoid locations where there’s music playing, to prevent the audio track from causing their video to be flagged for copyright violations. The theory is that people who make these videos will avoid or leave locations where they’re likely to pick up audio of copyrighted music.
But this may or may not work. One publication we found, aimed at law enforcement officers – does NOT recommend this technique for police, saying the “optics” aren’t good for law enforcement officers…who might be perceived as trying to prevent filming and, thus, creating a coverup of their own activities in a sensitive situation. (That’s probably less of an issue for private citizens walking on a street or dining outside a restaurant, however.)
So the best advice seems to be to simply walk away and resist engaging. No engagement means no confrontation…and no confrontation means no marketable, exploitable video.
About Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and is the co-owner/publisher of the Buzz.
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2 thoughts on “Confrontational Videographer Active on Larchmont”
As a teacher at Ohel Chana High School , I was there on that fateful Feb. 14, 2019 when my students were very uncomfortable when Perez aka Furry Potato videotaped them in front of the school and commented on their appearance as well as video taping the school building from every angle.
I understand the First amendment right of freedom of speech but when it causes stress to others, it should be stopped even on Larchmont Blvd.
Thanks for the great article and advice. I guess this is what our world has come too.
I do like the copywrited music tip. I hope you all have a non-confrontational weekend.
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