Sunday, December 4, 2011

Roundhouse Roundup: More Tales from the PedoBear Front

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Dec. 4, 2011

Last week in this column  I wrote about the “menace” of PedoBear, that cute little Internet cartoon bear that most Web denizens consider to be a tongue-in-cheek symbol of pedophilia but who some in law enforcement — including apparently Attorney General Gary King — say is a sinister mark of real live child molesters.

And apparently at least one police department in the state is confronting purveyors of PedoBear.

King’s office on the day before Thanksgiving issued a news release warning that the evil PedoBear had been spotted — in the form of car decals — in this Enchanted Land.

I compared this news release with past instances of New Mexico law enforcement spreading urban legends as true crime. Are there any actual arrests or prosecutions of actual child molesters who displayed the wicked bear? If so, I haven’t found any.

The latest favorite of "PedoBear Sympathizers"
But even more embarrassing than the attorney general seizing on this Internet joke were the number of news organizations that reported this nonsense as an actual menace. At least one Albuquerque TV anchor even advised viewers to write down the license plates of any vehicle they see sporting the PedoBear symbol and call the police.

The irreverent news site The Gawker, a leading debunker of PedoBear paranoia, had some laughs last week about this latest outbreak of PedoBear paranoia. “New Mexico Attorney General Warns Against the Molesty Charms of PedoBear,” the headline said.

But one Las Cruces business owner isn’t laughing.

C.W. Ward’s business House of Grafix, sells PedoBear decals. His latest features the bear with the logo of the Penn State football team.

Ward is a husband, a father and a soccer coach. “I sell decals of anything funny or famous from the Internet,” he said in a phone interview.

He rattled off a bunch of names — Troll Face, Mr. Pinkshirt ... I had to admit I wasn’t aware of most the names he mentioned. (When I was a lad, the only cartoon characters on car decals were wholesome icons like Mr. Natural, Rat Fink and an angry cigar-smoking woodpecker named Mr. Horsepower.)

Although he’d done nothing illegal, a few days before Thanksgiving, a Las Cruces police detective and a forensic computer examiner came by Ward’s store to talk to him about his relationship with PedoBear.

“She told me I was promoting child pornography,” Ward said of the detective. She told him that child molesters were using the symbol, he said. But the only example she gave was a guy in a PedoBear suit who was kicked out of a comics convention in San Diego last year. “She told me that he was a sex offender,” Ward said. “I said, ‘No, he wasn’t.’ ”

Indeed, last year a Tulsa, Okla., television station had to retract a statement that the ComicCon bear was a sex offender. And even if some stray pedophiles have adopted the symbol, Ward asked whether a rapist wearing a blue shirt made everyone in a blue shirt a rapist.

The police computer expert seemed to understand what PedoBear was all about, Ward said, and even told him that it was his First Amendment right to display and sell the symbol. But the detective, he said, treated him like he was a child molester himself.
House of Grafix sells this sticker too

He wasn’t arrested or charged. Still, Ward said, he felt intimidated. “With child porn, even an accusation is the death penalty.” Perhaps a slight overstatement, but having the law accuse you of promoting kiddy porn could be pretty devastating to your reputation.

But it hasn’t hurt his business, at least not yet. After an Albuquerque station showed footage of his website in its PedoBear report Monday night, Ward said he was swamped with hundreds of dollars in PedoBear orders, including an Albuquerque store that intends to give away the decals.

Note: Because I was off work most of last  week because of periodontal surgery, I wrote this column early in the week. Therefore it  didn't mention anything about the Attorney General's infamous blog doubling down on the PedoBear "threat."

When I first saw the email alert Wednesday, I thought, "Uh oh, they've come up with a case of a real Pedophile using the Pedobear symbol to hurt a real child."


Just more the same. If anyone with a PedobBear decal has ever molested a child in New Mexico (or elsewhere), we still don't know about it.

As one of my Twitter friends said, the AG doubled down on zero Pedobear evidence and came up with twice as much evidence -- zero.

Last week's column is referred to in the post, though I'm not named. If this week's column prompts another post on the AG's blog, I'll get a certificate from the International Brotherhood of PedoBear Skeptics.

My favorite line in the blog post: "... yes, we know that anyone who has the bad taste to display a Pedobear symbol is not necessarily a pedophile...emphasis on the word `necessarily.' If you are a parent of a three year old, can you really take a chance?"

No. Like I said in last week's column, make sure your kids know enough not to get in any stranger's car, no matter what decals they might be displaying.