California AIDS Activists Arrested for Alleged Criminal Conspiracy, Stalking and Making Terrorist Threats, Held on $500,000 Bail
San Francisco AIDS activists Michael Petrelis and David Pasquarelli were arrested yesterday in San Francisco on charges of criminal conspiracy, stalking and making terrorist threats against San Francisco Chronicle employees and public health officials, the Los Angeles Times reports. The two men are accused of repeatedly calling Chronicle reporters and city department of public health officials at home after midnight, making threats and leaving "obscene sexual messages." Earlier this month, Chronicle employees obtained a restraining order against Petrelis and Pasquarelli. Restraining orders were granted yesterday to Jeffrey Klausner, director of STD prevention and control for the San Francisco Department of Public Health, Eileen Shields, a spokesperson for the San Francisco health department, and Michael Shriver, AIDS adviser to San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. Pasquarelli and Petrelis have admitted they made or "encourag[ed]" late-night phone calls and "sometimes us[ed] foul language," but denied making threats. "I did not make any death threats. I did not make any bomb threats. Was I using abusive language? Well, yeah," Petrelis said (Ornstein, Los Angeles Times, 11/29).
'New' Form of Advocacy
Pasquarelli is a member of ACT UP/San Francisco, a group that argues that "HIV is harmless, that AIDS is a myth and that unprotected sex is everyone's birthright" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/23). Although Petrelis, who is not a member of ACT UP/San Francisco, does not agree with all of the organization's views, he shares their belief that federal AIDS funds are being "misspent on frightening, sexually graphic prevention efforts," the Times reports. The "wave" of phone calls began after San Francisco launched a syphilis public awareness campaign last month, citing an increase in syphilis infections among gay and bisexual men. Klausner said he "immediately" began receiving phone calls and that the tone of Petrelis' and Pasquarelli's criticism shifted from a "professional attack on someone's positions ... to a personal attack on someone's family." Klausner added, "They're anarchists. They're criminals. They're not logical people. Unfortunately, they're powerful because the Internet has amplified their ability to communicate around the world." Petrelis and Pasquarelli say their recent tactics stem from the need for a "new phase of activism" to fight "false public health studies and biased news articles that have scared the gay community." Pasquarelli said, "Gay people are scared and terrorized by the health department in San Francisco, and they want that stopped. I believe sounding the alarms and holding public officials accountable are definitely within the rights of Americans here." The men were held on $500,000 bail (Los Angeles Times, 11/29). In a press release, ACT UP/San Francisco said that the bail for the two men is "excessive" and "usually intended for people who pose a flight risk or a danger to society." The release states that ACT UP/San Francisco members are concerned that the recent terrorist attacks "will foster an atmosphere where million dollar bails and felony charges will become the norm for actions that should be" free speech that is protected by the First Amendment. The next hearing for Petrelis and Pasquarelli will take place on Dec. 20 (ACT UP/San Francisco release, 11/28).