Updated 1:33 with Blasenstein's comments
This weekend, two activists - Mike Blasenstein and Michael Dax Iacovone - were detained by Smithsonian security and Metropolitan Police for showing the video removed by the Smithsonian after conservative pressure. Faced with the choice of signing documents barring them from Smithsonian property, or arrest, they chose the former. Individuals can be barred from properties under section 22-3102 of the D.C. Code. But what does it really mean to be barred from the Smithsonian?
Not a lot, it turns out. Given the magnitude of the Smithsonian Institution, and the fact that its museums are free for everyone, the order may be logistically impossible to enforce, according to Smithsonian spokesperson Linda St. Thomas.
"Smithsonian security staff have no way to enforce citations," says St. Thomas in an e-mail. "We do bag checks at some museums, but our guards are not checking the individuals who enter museums."
St. Thomas says that the distributing of fliers is prohibited within the Smithsonian. Blasenstein's display of the iPad falls under this policy.
"Although we have no written policy on [the iPad] - it is the equivalent of displaying or carrying a sign, placard or banner, which is prohibited in any Smithsonian museum," says St. Thomas.
Blasenstein and Iacovone say they were not given the documents they were asked to sign, so that may excuse their hyperbole: Both of the activists are not banned "for life," as they claim on their blog, but rather, Iacovone is banned for 12 months, and Blasenstein is banned indefinitely.
Blasenstein says that he didn't realize he and Iacovone were banned for different time periods.
"The cop would only say that the bans were for 'a very long time,'" he says in an e-mail.
Practically speaking, they're only likely to get arrested if they return to the Portrait Gallery, where guards may recognize them, or if they cause a disturbance on any other Smithsonian property. But if they're, say, visiting the zoo with a niece or nephew, or taking the fam to Air and Space when they're in town, there's not likely to be a problem.
Besides, there's always the National Gallery, Corcoran and Phillips, when Blasenstein wants to see some art. None of these are Smithsonian institutions.