A Massachusetts man who was among the Straight Pride counterprotesters made headlines Sunday when he wrote “Epstien Didn’t Kill Himself” on a wall at the Art Basel Miami Beach fair that had displayed the now-infamous “Comedian,” a piece by artist Maurizio Cattelan of a banana duct-taped to a wall.
Rod Webber, the Massachusetts man, said Monday in a phone interview that he was charged with criminal mischief for the Epstein stunt, which he said he did in part “because the world needs to wake up” to government misinformation.
The message he scrawled in red on the wall at Basel referred to deceased financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was found dead in his cell in New York in August while awaiting trial on federal charges of sex trafficking underage girls.
The death of Epstein, who counted President Trump and former President Clinton among his circle of powerful friends, unleashed a torrent of conspiracy theories from observers who maintained he was killed, even though authorities in New York determined Epstein hanged himself in his cell.
Asked Monday if he believed Epstein was killed, Webber, an artist who was in Miami over the weekend for a different art fair, said “belief is for religious fanatics,” whereas he bases his opinions on empirical evidence. And that evidence is hard to come by, Webber said, since government officials are “known to lie.”
Asked if he had intentionally misspelled Epstein’s name in his wall screed, Webber said “[expletive] yeah,” since “a good meme has got to have a mistake” to get traction.
Video footage of Webber’s Basel moment quickly went viral, and in the clip he can be seen telling security personnel, “I’m gonna do another performance piece,” a reference to the performance artist who had earlier eaten Cattelan’s banana.
Webber later tells security, “this is the gallery where anyone can do art, right?”
His name surfaced in September in Massachusetts, when the state’s highest court ruled that Boston Municipal Court Judge Richard Sinnott III had “no authority” to force prosecutors to push ahead with the prosecution of Webber for his alleged actions as a counter-demonstrator at the Straight Pride Parade in August.
Material from the Miami Herald, New York Times and prior Globe reporting was used in this report. John R. Ellement of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.