Church next to the monastery.

The veteran and the monks

In mid-July I stayed in an Orthodox Christian monastery in central Ukraine for several days. I went with my Ukrainian friend Paul and we arrived on Peter and Paul day. The schedule was tight, with meals served at the chime of a bell and services for hours. The head monk, for which I’m sure there is an official term, was very friendly and showed us his favorite place to fish down at the pond. His grandson accompanied us–he’d been married prior to becoming a monk. He had a kind smile and impressive ginger-blond beard. In church I couldn’t understand the language of Russian and old Slavonic but I could appreciate the atmosphere of religious devotion, the incense and symbolism with the saints surrounding us. A central part of the prayers was clear: “God have mercy, God have mercy.” (“Господи, помилуй. Господи, помилуй”).

On the second day one young man I met there, Andriiy, came over to talk to me. He’d just finished using a trimmer on the fields around some of the outbuildings. I was cutting horsetail in the workshop that I had gathered earlier with an elderly woman called Fyodora. It was used in tea and for its restorative, healing properties.

“Take a break,” he said, squatting by the wall. Andriiy was tall and lanky with sun-browned skin, a buzzcut. He had scars on his head and sad brown eyes. He wore a rubber bracelet in the colors of the Ukrainian flag. His arms had thick scars that looked like they had been cut in intentionally.

The day before Andriiy had said a bit to Paul and I about his experiences fighting for Ukraine in the east of the country. He’d been at the monastery for two months so far trying to leave those times behind. He recalled seeing starving dogs whose owners hadn’t had time to unleash them in their run from the war. He told us that out beyond all the villages fighting for your survival you realized the true value of human life.

We sat now and used his phone and a weak internet signal to translate questions, starting with our ages: I was 34, he 27. Despite being older, I explained that I’d never been married.

It is not so good no rush, he typed out.

I laughed.

Andriiy said he had been married twice and showed me photos of his two ex-wives and his five-year-old son having a birthday.

I typed out that I understood marriage could be a drag, but I wanted a good wife. He smiled and gestured to his head and his heart: you need both. It was good advice. I also indicated (using both hands) that physical attractiveness was important. He agreed that beauty and attraction also mattered.

I typed out how difficult it must be for monks to take a vow of celibacy and never be with women. Andriiy’s face clouded over.

I would like very much to be a monk. But I don’t think I ever can be. I did very bad sins, even murder.

I asked if it was during the war and he nodded ruefully. I mimicked a salute to ask if it had been on orders from his commander. It had.

Of course it is still a sin, I acknowledged. He agreed sadly. You could feel the pain burning him from inside.

I also like girls very much, he typed. I concurred with him on that point.

When people think of war veterans they often think of larger-than-life figures with square jaws who do what they have to and try not to worry too much about it. The reality is often far different. The reality tends to be more human, sadder, starker.

I wanted to lighten the mood and asked if he had a car: yes, but he’d wrecked it in an accident. Andriiy had tried “normal” life and it hadn’t been his thing. Now it was time for a time out. Now it was time to simplify down and try to start over from basics.

Andriiy showed me music on his phone: “Toxicity” by System of a Down, Cradle of Filth.

“I like heavy,” he said.

Affidavit from Oct. 12 arrest of peace activist Rod Webber

OCT. 22 – An affidavit e-mailed to me by the Manchester, NH Police Department details the situation leading to charges against peace activist Rod Webber at an Oct. 12 Donald Trump speech during the No Labels Conference and states a request for help in dealing with Webber came from a member of Trump’s security staff.


Peace activist and musician Rod Webber.

According to Lt. Brian O’Keefe of Manchester PD the alleged events took place based on the reports/affidavit he reviewed. Webber was charged with RSA 644:2 (M) Disorderly Conduct and RSA 642:2 Resisting Arrest or Detention.

Manchester PD has informed me that publication of the full affidavit will be permitted after Webber’s Nov. 18 court date.

Peace activist says he’s pressing charges against Trump security staff member and police after Oct. 12 arrest

OCT. 21 – Peace activist Rod Webber, who has become well known on the New Hampshire presidential primary campaign trail for handing out flowers and praying with candidates for peace believes his recent arrest at a Donald Trump rally is the result of orders from a member of the Trump campaign who apparently may also have claimed to be an active Secret Service agent, as RT is reporting.

This speculation has not been confirmed by the Trump campaign or police.

“I was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Totally fabricated. there is video of my very quiet arrest,” Webber told me on Twitter following the Oct. 12 arrest.

In terms of background information, Webber had caused some considerable consternation at a Trump rally in September when he vociferously challenged and somewhat embarrassed Trump with a Bible verse. He was then  pushed around by several Trump supporters following that campaign stop as he walked out in the hallway.

It seems to me that from the Trump campaign’s point of view Webber is seen as a nuisance who is trying to provoke a response or scene specifically with them and that they believe this justifies and necessitates his expulsion from Trump’s events. The question of what exactly took place, much of which is on video, instead shows what appears to be more of an instinctive reaction from Trump’s crowd against Webber for challenging the character of the man they support followed, in Manchester, by the decision at some level to up the ante and get rid of him.

It would be unlikely that Trump has been assigned a Secret Service detail this early in the campaign, although it is possible. Barack Obama was assigned a Secret Service detail early on in the primary process due to credible threats. In any case it is unclear why someone on Trump’s staff may have claimed to be such when conferring with police and exactly what the rationale was for ejecting Webber.

A simple solution earlier on, probably would have been for Trump to pray with Webber or try to make friends with him at least a bit. Instead the situation as it now stands is headed to court.

At this point the reasons for his Oct. 12 arrest and the details of the chain of command leading to the arrest are still unclear. Webber, who seems to hail more from the left and alternative junctures of the political spectrum, is nonetheless polite and earnest in engaging with those on the right who he differs with, particularly on matters of foreign policy. What he calls his “calmly asked question” in which he wanted Trump ostensibly to apologize or denounce those who had pushed him around in Rochester instead led to him being tricked into leaving his seat to ask a question and subsequently arrested and charged.

Before moving on to the next speaker Trump joked “You look healthy to me,” which drew some audible laughs from the crowd.

Webber was then told to go repeat any question he had at a microphone by Trump staff, who then informed him there was a roving mic and then told him he wouldn’t get to ask a question and that he would be leaving the premises, which was followed by his arrest.

Now, Webber tells me he is charging various officers and the Trump staffer with assault.

“As it stands, they (Manchester Police Department) won’t tell me a thing, since I am pressing assault charges against three of their officers and one of the Trump guys who may or may not be secret service,” Webber told me via Twitter direct message from a bus bound for Washington D.C. where he will be speaking to more news organizations about his arrest.

Certainly this story has developed in unexpected ways since Ben Terris of the Washington Post wrote about Webber.

I met Webber while covering a Trump  rally in mid-August in Hampton, New Hampshire when I noticed a decidedly out of place Chaplinesque, bearded man trying to hand Trump flowers in support. Trump didn’t really go for it so the man shouted “World peace, Donald, world hair peace!” in a reference to John Lennon’s bed-ins and then threw the flowers in Trump’s general direction as the real estate magnate walked to his waiting motorcade.

I was intrigued but I put the interesting individual temporarily out of mind as I went to write a recap of the Trump rally for The Federalist at a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts, which was surprisingly uncrowded for a location so proximate to what had been a massive rally attended by thousands. Only moments later who should walk in but the flower man himself, actor, musician, peace activist and all-around engaged citizen Rod Webber. We got to talking and had an interesting chat in which, among other things, Webber told me about his desire to help homeless and hungry veterans with HR 644 and his mission to pray for peace and spread a good message of loving each other to people of all political views.

It turned out he was becoming something of a centerpiece on the campaign trail, whether it’s been debating Scripture with Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie, having his flowers confiscated as a security threat by Hillary people, praying with Jeb Bush for world peace and singing to him at his patrician New Hampshire talks or getting vacation advice from John McCain. Not to mention Webber is all the while working on a new film apparently based on his flower campaign experiences. It has no release date as of yet, in part because “things are developing too fast and in unexpected ways.”

Webber has a court date of Nov. 18.