“They [the NYPD] came up behind me and hit me around the head with a wooden baton…and then they hit me with the end of a gun. I stopped. Everyone around me all stopped, and they backed up. They just saw the look on my face going ‘this idiot has started something he’s not going to finish.’ I turned around, and one of them punched me in the face and I blacked out.”
That was the day when the boy from Pennsylvania became the newspaper martyr figure of Occupy Wall Street, spectacularly bloodied and mouth open in pain on the front pages of the papers, the morning after the November 17th “Day of Action” mass marches. Last weekend NYU Local caught him chatting with the few protesters still lingering in a largely deserted, heavily monitored Zuccotti Park.
Barely out of his teens, Brandon Watts began living at the Zuccotti Park encampment during its fledgling days in September, when the very first tents were going up. During his time with OWS, his life has hit all registers: high, low, and truly bizarre, none of which he is soon to forget. Since Watts has set foot in New York, he has been arrested six times. During his participation in an OWS march down to D.C., he picked up a deer carcass “just to have fun.” Watts also said he lost his virginity to one of the protesters at Zuccotti. He said they’re on good terms.
To add to the mix, a director of Dirty Boy Video gay porn company, which has just released “Occupy My Throat,” was inspired by the scenes of Watts’s arrest and offered him “the opportunity to perform on our website, an opportunity to express yourself and your politics freely and without censor.” Watts said they failed to directly reach him.
During a violent clash with the police at Zuccotti on November 17th, he was arrested on charges of felony assault and grand larceny for pelting AAA batteries at the police, and for snatching an officer’s hat. It was then that a group of riot police reportedly decided to hound him down as he dashed off into the crowd with the hat—a quasi-emblematic item officers seem to value religiously. He told NYU Local, however, that it was actually “a good friend” of his that took the hat. “[He] escaped. They couldn’t catch him, so they came after me,” he said.
“For some reason, I knew the police were going to target me. For some stupid reason, I knew. I had the fear in me.”
That was why Mr. Watts said he doused himself with oil that day, drenching every inch of his trench coat, so that officers might not get a grip. In fact, it wasn’t so much the slipperiness as the gooey surface of the coat that repelled officers in the first encounter. “They were like ‘oh god damn,’ wiping their hands on their clothes. I was having fun. The only thing I do with them is have fun,” he said, giggling away. In Europe, where flares make regular appearances in such clashes, he would have been a ripe candidate for immolation.
Indeed, Watts is youthful and audacious, and therefore a nutcase at times, who was more than willing to put his neck on the line for the cause. Whether he aptly understood the cause, however, was another matter. Asked why he joined up the movement, Watts referred to himself as a “freedom fighter.”
“I wanted to show my gratitude to the United States people and the Romanian people,” he said, stringing his sentence together slowly, unsteadily. He claimed to have mobilized some 550 friends to come to NYC, all of whom he said he had made while “bouncing from school to school” in Pennsylvania. The AP put the number of protesters who slept in the park the night of November 17th at 100 to 200. Assuming for a moment that all of them were his friends, and that the other 300 went couch surfing all over New York, it still begs the question of why Brandon Watts would want to show his gratitude to the Romanian people.
Watts said he and his siblings had been brought to the United States at the age of eight from his home country, Romania, by his father. His mother had been shot dead by a Romanian army captain in what he portrayed as a sort of Marxist-proletariat struggle against “big businesses taking gold from the Romanian people.” What he did not seem to know was that the latest civil revolt involving such violence in Romania was back in 1989, before he was born—the revolution that toppled the Communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. He added to this that he also survived five gunshots to the chest that he sustained during this struggle.
A pale complexion coated his visage and his overall lean figure—characteristics stereotypical of the Transylvanian stock. His speech also contained a certain Central European aroma that emerged sporadically while he spoke. Watts, however, said that his memory of the Romanian language had faded from years of being exposed solely to English.
The name he goes by on Facebook is Constancina Blood. “Constantin,” was his Romanian name, he said, and “Blood” was his late mother’s family name. His Anglicized name, “Brandon Watts,” was apparently given by his Romanian father. Scrolling down his Facebook wall, we found that he had listed Roman, Romania as his hometown on November 14th of this year. It seemed Watts had saddled this Central European identity on himself rather recently. A few more scrolls up, Gina Deminski, whom Watts claimed to be his stepmother, posted: “lol your funny Brandon your from PA not romania he he miss you.”
Gina Deminski, who goes by Gina Watts, told NYU Local in a Facebook message that Brandon had been born and raised in Pennsylvania. She also confirmed her status as his biological mother, and that his father was in fact American. During what Gina Watts characterized as a childhood embroiled in abuse, Brandon Watts had been in foster care for eight years before joining up with OWS. “He has some major mental problems that he refuses to get any kind of help or medication for,” she added.
Her story seemed to line up with Laura Nagy’s account, Brandon Watts’ sister. “In the past, he’s done stuff, and afterwards, he’s like, ‘I’m sorry.’ You would have to tell him about it and everything would be fine. But then it happens over and over, and there’s nothing really to help him,” Nagy told the New York Times.
Asked about his family, Watts said he had broken off contact with them because they stole the money he won from drag racing. He spoke of his plan to return to Romania after the protests, where his childhood friends awaited.
Perhaps it was the concussion from the baton-strike to his head (he has a fracture on his skull, both of his eye sockets, and four ribs). Perhaps the Romanian story was an illusory fantasy Watts had created in an attempt to escape from the trials of his reality. Perhaps the story was real. Regardless, Watts looked at home in Zuccotti Park, and a genuine sense of buoyancy lit up the ghastly pastiness of his face. His friends walked by and spontaneously dropped in on the interview. There was a sense of belonging there, maybe for the first time in his life.
Some protesters quoted in the New York Times report dismissed Watts as a “thug martyr,” or “punk,” referring to his confrontation with the police. However, the few protesters that still lingered on around Zuccotti Park spoke very favorably of him. “He’s a really sweet kid. You could be meeting him for the first time, and the next minute he’s all hugs,” one of the protesters said. She, too, spoke of a chaotic past that drove her to Zuccotti Park, where she said she has met “many wonderful people.” She described it as a kind of a treatment.
The harrowing story of Brandon Watts seems to add a new, more subtle dimension to OWS’s already multi-faceted agenda. It’s not just about inequality or capitalism, tuition fees or bankers. Perhaps without realizing it, the OWS movement became a release valve, an organic psychiatric treatment for the runaways, where the disillusioned and the disturbed could do away with their past. For a few moths long-lost in the darkness, here they found light.