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Baltimore Spectator gains higher profile in police standoff

FirearmsRadioTwitter, Inc.Justice SystemJames MacArthur

Frank James MacArthur always said what was on his mind.

But sometimes, his sister told him, that wasn't the best idea.

"Frank is the kind of person who once in a while you wish he would lie because it wouldn't get him in trouble," Jean Arthur said. "Unfortunately for good or bad, he likes to give you his opinion."

"And when it comes to police officers," she added, "they don't like to hear your opinion."

MacArthur's confrontational, brash persona drew thousands to his Baltimore Spectator blog and Twitter page, where he railed against the city of Baltimore, police and the mainstream media. The same qualities exacerbated an arrest for an open warrant that turned into a standoff thousands of people around the world listened to online.

"Why are they trying to silence the Baltimore Spectator," he tweeted late Saturday night from his Waverly rowhouse as a SWAT team waited outside with a spotlight turned toward him. "What was my crime? Can anyone tell me? Again, no phone here. Internet all I have. You are all I have."

His several-hour stalemate with Baltimore police pushed his profile from local blogger to national trending topic. He saw his followers on Twitter grow by more than 2,000. He watched a CNN analyst and groups such as Anonymous and WikiLeaks give him international exposure. Thousands of people tuned into his online radio channel, transfixed by his live-streamed discussions with a police negotiator.

He was more popular than ever. But when he finally surrendered, he also surrendered his online persona. He was silenced — something he believes the Baltimore police have long wanted.

MacArthur remains in jail without bail awaiting a preliminary hearing next month. Born in 1975, he grew up a typical teen in Montgomery County and hung out at Barry's Magic Shop, a famous Washington, D.C., institution. He went to community college and joined the Marines briefly, sister Jean Arthur said.

Married for a few years, he lived with his wife and daughter in California before divorcing and moving back.

His given last name isn't MacArthur but Arthur, his sister said. His mother gave him the middle name of Mac because she loved late TV actor James MacArthur. People put Mac and Arthur together, and MacArthur never corrected them, she said.

Court records and other official documents list his name as MacArthur or McArthur with birthdays as either 1965 or 1975 — discrepancies his family said prove the court notification system can't be trusted.

While his sister calls him Frank, friends and acquaintances call him Jimi. He is also the Baltimore Spectator. On MySpace, he calls himself "Apollos — International Man of Mystery."

Among friends or on his various social media outlets, MacArthur has said or suggested that he has worked as a policeman, firefighter, White House bodyguard and bounty hunter. His sister said she doesn't know of him ever working in law enforcement or as a first responder, though he was a police explorer in his younger days and took some EMT classes.

He worked as an animal control officer and in security, she said. Maryland business records show him registering a company named Magnum Protec Unlimited, though it's unclear what it was. On a court record in 2008, he listed his occupation as special investigator for Chesapeake Group Investigations, earning $1,000 a week. No one there could be reached Friday.

MacArthur currently works as a cab driver.

He sprinkles all this history in his tweets or blog posts to strengthen his arguments. He describes himself as a journalist and has appeared at City Hall to interview officials or pre-dawn crime scenes to scoop The Baltimore Sun. State and city officials have appeared with him in pictures and on the radio.

For years, along with Larry "The Celebrity Cab Driver" Wallace, he has been "Jimi the Bodyguard," part of a two-man "Taxi Talk" team on 1010 A.M.

"He liked to put the truth out there to let people know what was going on in Baltimore," Wallace said. "He wanted to be a good journalist. He wanted to tell a story as it happened. He wanted to tell the truth about things."

Once, he dragged Wallace to a murder scene on Thanksgiving. When police tried to chase MacArthur off, he turned the camera on them.

"Both him and Larry Wallace for some reason decided that since they were cab drivers and got a sense from talking to 20 to 30 people a day in all walks of life — I call it a barber shop in a taxi — that they were able to hear what people were thinking in different neighborhoods. And they became dissatisfied with folks not taking a strong stance," said radio host Larry Young of WOLB, who often put MacArthur on his show.

On a self-promotional video, footage shows MacArthur approaching former Baltimore NAACP chapter president Marvin "Doc" Cheatham and surprising him with a microphone.

"This is just radio," MacArthur tells him. "I try to keep a dual personality going."

His personality at home seemed much quieter, neighbors said. A vegetarian and animal lover who kept rabbits and dogs for pets, he fed stray cats on his porch from a pink dish, said neighbor Autevia Hardy.

At 6-foot-4, with dreadlocks down his back, he was a conspicuous presence who walked around barefoot or in sandals. He grew collard greens and other vegetables in his garden and planted sunflowers on a vacant spot just up the street.

His sister said he planted vegetables and flowers on empty lots to spruce up Baltimore's blighted neighborhoods. He'd find good deals at Home Depot and buy flowers in bulk. But often his projects ended up trampled, Arthur said.

In 2008, a police officer on the 4300 block of Old York Road noticed MacArthur walking around in a black bandanna with a Russian SKS-45 semi-automatic rifle and bayonet slung over his shoulder. MacArthur told the officer that he was going after some kids who broke into his car, court records show.

Wallace said MacArthur told him he had called 911 after some kids broke into his house, and he was just chasing them away.

He was charged with unlawfully carrying a rifle on a public city street and carrying a dangerous weapon with the intent and purpose of causing injury. From central booking, he called Young's radio show to protest. He soon took to his blog to rant, and prosecutor Kurt Nachtman subpoenaed blog entries and other postings. Nachtman perceived the postings as threatening, he said last week.

MacArthur was sent to the Walter P. Carter Center, a psychiatric hospital, for more than a month. He eventually agreed to a plea deal and received three years of probation.

MacArthur has maintained he met all of its conditions, but in June his probation agent requested a warrant claiming he had failed to report in April 2011. MacArthur said he didn't learn of the warrant until months later when he took to Twitter and online radio to taunt police. "Anyone trying to capture me, ur gonna have to kill me, before I kill you. I'm a nice guy, but I'm a bad, bad man. Dangerous us, so don't try," he wrote Dec. 1.

Hours later police arrived outside his home. They had been monitoring his messages and called in SWAT when he failed to open the door. MacArthur waited until 11 p.m. to give up, hoping TV news would broadcast the arrest.

Police on the scene noted that his distinctive dreadlocks had been shaved off. He told them his home was booby trapped, according to an officer at the scene. So they went through windows and said they found a sawed-off shotgun, which led to charges of illegal possession of a firearm and possessing an unregistered shotgun.

His sister, Arthur, said she believes the gun was planted. Wallace also was skeptical. "I haven't seen a gun in his house, and I've been with him a lot of times," he said.

In court, MacArthur has said it was "hard to believe" that a gun similar to the confiscated gun he had four years ago reappeared in his house.

In court hearings, MacArthur said he went into hiding from "rogue officers." The fact that his Twitter posts are included in charging papers indicates the First Amendment is no longer valid, he asserted.

"If you had counsel," Circuit Judge Marcus Z. Shar said at a hearing Monday, "they may be advising you not to say anything."

"Your honor," MacArthur responded, "my counsel is God."

He told the judge that someone is "determined to silence this voice by any means necessary."

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this report.

jgeorge@baltsun.com

iduncan@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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