Former MTV VJ Jesse Camp and his sister drove through West Virginia, were confronted by an angry mob for taking photos of random towns for a documentary when they were confronted by an angry mob demanding to see their photos.
Marisha and Jesse Camp had been driving from California when they pulled into a gas station in McDowell County, walked across the street and began photographing and interviewing a group of young adults.
That was when they noticed a middle-aged man and woman had pulled up behind their car in a minivan, blocking them in and demanded they hand over their camera because they may have photographed their teenage son.
More people began arriving and surrounding the car, saying they were there to protect the children, refusing to let them leave until a sheriff’s deputy arrived.
Marisha and Jesse turned on an audio recorder as they tried to reason with the mob, which only became increasingly angry and accusatory.
You can hear part of the audio in the news video below.
Convinced that we had taken photographs of their teenaged sons, this couple had tracked us down and they were not leaving without our camera. I refused to hand it over. At this point, the woman opened the door of the minivan, pointed to a backseat, said that she had her gun right there, and we were not leaving until the police arrived. A hostile mob was beginning to gather, spurred by phone calls and the couple’s loud insistence that they were just trying to protect “the kids” without having actually witnessed a crime or presented any tangible evidence of actual wrongdoing.
I spent the next forty minutes crying, shaking, and begging in every way possible for everyone to calm down. With no cell phone reception, and under threat of being beaten or shot if I tried to go into the store and use a landline, I nervously sent text after text, silently praying that somehow, against all odds, something would go through so my mother would know where I was and wouldn’t spend weeks not knowing what had happened to her children.
It’s important to note that photographing from a public place is not illegal, so we were being held hostage for 1. something that isn’t a crime in the first place and 2. something that we had not, in fact, done.
An especially violent man with a kerchief on his head joined the mob early on, “You don’t live around here. You don’t need to take a picture of even a G-d damned rock. Y’all get in whatever the f-ck you’re ridin…”
Wife: “No, they’re not leaving until I see that camera and I see if it’s got my kid’s pictures on it.”
Husband: “They’ve got pictures of our kids, they might have pictures of your kids.”
Kerchief: “The man said you’re not leaving. You’re not leaving.”
I showed the husband all of the images on both of my cameras, and while he was able to ascertain that we did not have any photos of his children, this wasn’t enough, “I mean there’s a five year old child in Pulaski that’s been missing for two weeks.” Now I felt like we’d truly passed a point of no return, that we could be accused of anything and everything and the mob was free to determine our “punishment.” Everything was fair game because, to quote the wife, “Have y’all looked in the mirror? You don’t look like upstanding citizens.” The man in the kerchief continued to menace us, “Tell you what, you know what someone should do? Take all your f-cking cameras and beat ’em in the f-cking ground… This ain’t no place to get loud. Shut up, Squeaky. I can beat you into the f-cking ground.”
I was overjoyed when a state trooper finally arrived. Here was salvation. Except I’m now approaching this man with tears streaming down my face, “sir, we really need your help,” and all he can say is “Have you been drinking?” As we were separated from the mob at this point, I don’t know what they said to justify having held us captive for so long, but the resolution in the end was our being escorted out of the area. At no point were we given the opportunity to discuss being held hostage. In fact, we were left with a lecture about not making mean videos about the good people of West Virginia, which, while distasteful and at odds with everything we believe in, also isn’t illegal.
Eventually, the state trooper escorted them out of town and the Camps have since left West Virginia, still traumatized over the incident.
Marisha said she is looking for some type of recourse but is not sure where to begin.
Jesse is an MTV celebrity with long, spiky hair, which is probably suspicious in those parts of West Virginia.