Maybe you heard: on Tuesday morning, or maybe very late Monday night, someone swapped out the American flags on the Brooklyn Bridge and put some bleached white ones in their place. New York’s public officials have been competing to see who can be more outraged and appalled over the stunt: Public Advocate Letitia James said the incident “raised serious concerns about our safety as a city,” while Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams offered called the stunt a “terrorist act” and “descration” and offered $5,000 of his own money as a reward for information leading to the capture of the flag-swapping menaces.
Meanwhile, in a rapidly devolving debate taking place through Instagram and thinly-veiled jabs in the news, the subculture of daredevil photographers who like to climb high things and take stunning photos are pointing the finger at each other.
The Daily News reports today that according to their police sources, the NYPD may be looking for a group of five men in their late teens or early twenties, one of whom was carrying a skateboard. John Miller, the NYPD deputy commissioner of counter-terrorism, told the Times the crew seemed to have some climbing experience and lots of advance planning: they covered the bridge lights with large aluminum pans.
Earlier this week, Gothamist pointed out an Instagram user named LastSuspect who said the flags were bleached American flags before the NYPD held a press conference confirming that. According to the site, LastSuspect posted a now-deleted comment or two insinuating he “was responsible for the stunt,” including “NYPD can’t stop shit” and “”2 see last nights adventure in detail look at @mattdoscher feed.” He also briefly used an image of a white flag as his profile picture. Both LastSuspect and Matt Doscher are photographers with thousands of Instagram followers who post stunning photos of the city from high up. Sometimes they take pictures of — or on — bridges.
Doscher later told Gothamist in an email the posts were a joke: “We obviously didn’t climb the brooklyn bridge. We were playing a joke on our friends by posting that. Also, the white flag image I posted can be found on Google if you search white flag.” LastSuspect later posted another photo, marveling in the caption, “It’s amazing how much power social media has these days.”
We emailed LastSuspect and asked if he’d planted the flags.
“No,” he wrote back, almost immediately. “But one person that knows is @humzadeas,” referring to Humza Deas, another New York-based photographer.
A moment later, he added, with a touch of swagger: ” But whoever did the switch is a genius. If you cops can’t couldn’t [sic] stop them well……..”
Deas, 17, is similarly known for posting photographs he takes from high vantage points across the city. Originally from Brooklyn and currently living in Queens, he is also listed as a member of the Belief skateboarding team.
Deas drew the ire of the rest of the bridge-climbing photographer subculture for an interview he did with news channel Pix11, explaining in great and voluble detail how he climbs onto places he’s not supposed to be and takes photos:
He said that he knows his hobby is trespassing at least, and could easily lead to far more serious charges. He’s also aware that part of the reason for the illegality is that a person who wants to do harm, rather than just take pictures, could be enabled significantly from the vantage points the teen daredevil secures in his climbs.
“I wouldn’t want to be a terrorist, or like a crazy person with like a machine gun up there, you know,” he told PIX11 News. “That’s exactly why, you know, there is security.”
Deas also strongly implied he knew who’d made the switch: “My gut tells me it’s one person I know of,” he told Pix11. “I haven’t met him, but he’s popular. I secretly know it’s him.”
It’s not a secret if you tell everybody. That’s how secrets work.
The interview was apparently supposed to be anonymous, but Pix11 promptly blew Deas’s cover by linking to his Instagram page. LastSuspect seems furious; in another quckly-deleted Instagram post, he put up a screenshot of the Pix11 story and commented “What a fool.” Other climbing photographers seem similarly irate:
HumzaDeas has messed up photography for all of us. Thanks man. You can show this to him too if anybody thinks I fucking care.
— KO (@Kostennn) July 24, 2014
On Facebook, Deas wrote, “It was cool to finally see myself on Tv, I know this isnt the last time though haha.”
In an email to the Voice, he also denied responsibility for the flags: “Haha, no i didnt.”
We asked who he thought was responsible.
“I have no idea,” he responded.
We pointed out that he’d told Pix11 something different.
“I told my friend something,” he explained. “I don’t know you.”
Fair enough. Everybody be careful out there. Much more careful.