Flags will one day soon return to full mast for Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. Bryon Dickson, 38, and, when writing about the 31-year-old surviving trooper, some young reporter will likely forget to add a second “s” to Alex Douglass’ last name.
The hunt for the fugitive accused cop killer will continue until he’s captured – or not.
Maybe his bones will surface one day years from now in the lush Pocono wilderness where police search because they say they believe he’s there. Maybe he’ll turn up in a militias bunker in Montana. Maybe he’ll emerge from a mountain cave, hold his hands high and surrender.
All roads lead to the 31-year-old self-styled survivalist and expert marksman who police say ambushed two troopers in the late-night darkness of shift change at the rural Blooming Grove barracks.
But the truth is that police seem no closer to bringing him in or bringing him down than they were three weeks ago when fear and mystery gripped our region and the FBI put Frein on its ten most wanted list and offered a $100,000 reward.
Crime Stoppers offered a $75,000 reward.
Bounty hunters snarled from their lairs.
Media in-laws and outlaws growled. Some members of the press were more trouble than they are worth. A British tabloid reported a salacious rumor the alleged reporter could not prove. America’s laziest columnist covered a commuter tax meeting when reporters and commentators around the country all but parachuted into his beat.
And I took heat because I refused to stray from the story of an alleged domestic terrorist who, if guilty, assassinated a cop with a sniper rifle and then disappeared.
Some listeners said they were bored, that the entertainment value of talk radio had dulled their already dull senses. Some fringe conspiracy theorists saw bats in the night and called them helicopters. Others actively defended the alleged shooter, calling his reaction basic “blowback” in a “police state” where militarized government agents strip liberty from our Constitution with the ease of a Boy Scout stripping bark from a birch tree to make a soft mountain tea.
Fools all, they contribute only to heartache and frustration, angering those of us who see the attack as a craven assault on decency, justice, law and order.
Emails and text messages also attacked.
My father became a target.
I remembered “Shamus” and an honor guard of state police pall bearers carrying a legend to his grave as taps blew through the rain and the young troopers gently laid him to rest forever.
Death finally retired “Shamus,” who was all cop all the time.
After 34 years with the state police, as one of the most highly decorated members of the force, the man who received the first governor’s citation for heroism and who came within a hair of being killed in the line of duty, Shamus left the job not knowing what else to do.
Shamus was always a cop – an honorable and courageous member of an elite unit.
Living my father’s legacy means living Dickson’s legacy as well. I am duty-bound to carry my father in my heart and mind. Now I carry some of Dickson’s spirit as well. I must take a piece of what he was, what made him good and brave and decent, and carry that strength with me as I live my life each day.
I urge you to do the same.
Of course, Frein matters. But Dickson, Douglass and the other members of the PSP matter more. Our society depends far more on them than him. Frein is desperate, a lost animal who will likely one day surface.
If not, so be it.
What will live forever is the legacy of honor - theirs, ours, not his.
Frein goes down in history as just another pathetic and dangerous loser.
That’s why I stand with PSP in the ongoing hunt as well as in their quest to live each day the legacy of those who went before. That’s why I dismiss and denounce critics as those who are unable, unwilling or both to understand what it takes to be a good cop, a state trooper, a man or woman who daily risks it all to do the job.
That’s what staties call it - the job – a job that for those who understand is forever sacred – a job that is always so very much more than just a job.
My critics claim that I’m more psycho than psychic, but I’ll predict that if my congressman calls the show today he’ll act like everything’s okay between us, that he’s happy to talk with me and that he’s in good spirits all around even though the 17th congressional district and the world is falling apart.
Matt Cartwright is a multi-millionaire lawyer who didn’t get the big bank account by exerting uncompromising intransigence.
That doesn’t mean he likes putting on a happy face. It just means that somebody somewhere in his political circle of friends decided that my frontal assault on his lackluster performance might one day take a toll.
Not now, of course.
Cartwright’s opponent in the November election is not a threat.
Cartwright can’t lose.
Money and special interests have circled him and now hover like our worst bad angels to protect him and their best interests – not ours, not his, but theirs.
But the time might come when Cartwright really wants to get something done and my negative press could hurt his chances.
My theory is that once I threatened to tell his Capitol Hill colleagues about his timid behavior, he worried that Democrats might tag him as just another coal cracker jester rather than an aspiring button-down lawmaker with a long starched congressional career ahead of him.
For whatever the reason, Cartwright is supposed to call the show this afternoon. Press secretary Shane Seaver, who for months ignored my emails, phone calls and messages sent through third parties, quickly emailed yesterday that Cartwright was on his way to Washington where votes awaited but that he planned to call the show today.
I had sent an earlier email outlining my offensive – and I can be offensive. I also left a detailed voicemail – my second – for Hunter Ridgway, Cartwright’s Washington chief of staff
I explained that I was planning to picket congressman’s Scranton office, produce a gonzo Corbettcam video to post online for the whole world to see and offer interviews to Washington correspondents about Cartwright blackballing me at a time when journalism is under attack and considered a crime around the world.
Cartwright has turned into an anchor of democracy – around the necks of the people he serves. And it’s time for him to be publicly responsive to legitimate questions so we can decide if he deserves re-election.
That’s why I started a new segment on the show last week called “Ask The Congressman,” where each day until the November election I email a question to Seaver that I expect Cartwright to answer either in writing or on the air. Some questions are mine and some questions are yours. Each day I will announce - while “Hail to the Chief” plays in the background - whether Cartwright has responded to our inquiries.
We need to see how the congressman handles the simple pressure of responding to a fundamental cornerstone of the job – public accountability.
Of course, with no real opposition, Cartwright will win in November. But maybe one day he’ll worry that he won’t. Then he’ll need all the help he can get.
Back when Cartwright first ran – an underdog nobody married to a massive law firm, challenging a veteran Democrat who establishment Democrats unquestioningly supported - nobody backed him more than I did. He showed up on my show so much that he started to look like a co-host. And, oh, did he like me – patronizingly complimenting me by saying, “You could make a ham sandwich sound interesting.”
Aw, shucks, Matt.
And so it went.
Until the day I asked him on the air to help us get the name of a convicted Democratic Party warlord removed from a public park to be replaced with the name of an American hero who died in combat in Afghanistan.
Cartwright stammered and refused. Political fear came through loud and clear. But we eventually succeeded in getting degenerate admitted federal felon Bob Mellow’s name removed from the park.
And then Cartwright stopped answering questions.
I approached him at the St. Patrick’s Day parade and offered a truce. We made small talk and he told me about the congressional yoga class he and his colleagues attend because the instructor looks better than Harry Reid.
And that was it.
All communication ceased until yesterday.
Cartwright is a member of an elite club, a group that seems to distance itself more and more from the people it serves. Cartwright and his gang members need to be reminded regularly that public service must serve the public, that congressmen and congresswomen must work for us and respond to us whether they like it or not.
Because if they don’t, the merry-go-round might one day stop for each member of congress who takes for granted the people whose lives they impact and often abandon.
Cartwright entered the ring as a spoiler. And he won. But what he did to Tim Holden somebody might one day do to him.
Democracy is a messy business. Good government and an aggressive press both must be about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.
That’s why even if Cartwright does talk with us this afternoon in a polite, professional interview I still might picket his office.