Talking to the Woman Facing Jail Time After Laughing at Jeff Sessions
Activist Desiree Fairooz was dragged out of now-Attorney General Sessions' confirmation hearing after laughing at him. She describes the moment that led to her arrest.
Screenshot via Twitter
One Tuesday morning in January 2017, Senator Richard "Dick" Shelby, a Republican from Alabama, introduced fellow Alabama senator and now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to the Senate Judiciary Committee during the latter's confirmation hearing. In the public gallery at the Russell Building, activists from women-led protest group Code Pink listened as Shelby introduced his colleague.
"Jeff's extensive record of treating all Americans equally under the law is clear and well-documented," Shelby said, seeming to address the criticism of Sessions for his alleged KKK sympathies, long history of hostility to civil rights, reproductive justice, racial justice, and LGBTQ rights.
In the public gallery, activist Desiree Fairooz laughed. "It was a laugh of disbelief and disdain, like, I can't believe this guy is saying that," Fairooz tells Broadly. "He's just a horrible candidate. He's anti-immigrant, anti-LGBT, anti-women's rights. He wouldn't represent all Americans equally. His voting record shows otherwise."
Minutes later, a female police officer tapped Fairooz on the shoulder. "She says, "Ma'am, come with me,'" Fairooz recalls. Having got up before dawn to gain access into the hearing, Fairooz was reluctant to give up her seat, and asked the officer why she was being removed from the hearing. At this point, she called for backup and three police officers began to forcibly remove Fairooz from her seat.
"That's when I got upset," Fairooz says. A video of the incident shows Fairooz remonstrating with officers as she is dragged out of the room. "Why am I being taken out of here," she shouted. "This man is evil! You're evil! Do not vote for Jeff Sessions. I was going to be quiet, now you're going to have me arrested? For what? For what? He said something ridiculous! His voting record is evil!"
Five months on, one laugh has cost Fairooz dearly—and it may end up temporarily taking her liberty. Fairooz was found guilty by an Indiana jury of unlawful parading and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, both misdemeanor charges. Fellow Code Pink activists Tighe Barry and Fairooz's partner Lenny Bianchi were convicted of disorderly conduct and unlawful parading after they were ejected from the hearing in Ku Klux Klan robes, worn as a reminder of Sessions' alleged comments about the hate group. (The senator reportedly said of the KKK, "I thought those guys were OK, until I learned they smoked pot," though he later dismissed it as a "silly comment.")
Jurors told Huffington Post that it was Fairooz's behavior on her exit that landed her the conviction, although Justice Department attorneys said that her laugh on its own was sufficient to warrant a criminal charge. Unless Fairooz's court-appointed lawyers are able to have her verdict vacated on June 21, the 61-year-old retired children's librarian could face up to a year in jail.
As part of Code Pink, who began life as an anti-Iraq protest group, members of Fairooz's network have regularly disrupted hearings on Capitol Hill. Fairooz herself is a veteran activist who was once jailed for smearing fake blood on her hands and waving them in the face of then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a congressional hearing, so she's not exactly unfamiliar with being on the wrong side of the law. Undeterred, she says that she plans to keep protesting despite the outcome of her trial.
"The same day as our verdict, we went to the White House and protested on behalf of Palestinian hunger strikers," Fairooz says. "Where it's physically possible for us to participate, we do—whether it's Black Lives Matter, police brutality, or human rights. We won't be stopping."