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German artists claim responsibility for Brooklyn Bridge ‘white flag’ incident

Published time: August 13, 2014 03:52
Police stop along the Brooklyn Bridge following the discovery of a pair of white flags that appeared overnight atop the two towers of the Brooklyn Bridge replacing the American flags on July 22, 2014 in New York City. (AFP Photo / Getty Images / Spencer Platt)

Police stop along the Brooklyn Bridge following the discovery of a pair of white flags that appeared overnight atop the two towers of the Brooklyn Bridge replacing the American flags on July 22, 2014 in New York City. (AFP Photo / Getty Images / Spencer Platt)

The mystery surrounding who replaced the American flags on the Brooklyn Bridge may finally be solved, as a pair of German artists have come forward to claim responsibility.

Speaking with the New York Times, artists Mischa Leinkauf and Matthias Wermke claimed they were the ones who successfully snuck past the Brooklyn Bridge’s tight security early in the morning on July 22. To back up their claim, the two revealed photos they took the night of the incident, as well as a video showing the white flags flapping away in the breeze from atop the bridge.

The German artists said they’d performed similar stunts in the past, and emphasized that their actions were not rooted in any sort of criticism of the United States.

“This was not an anti-American statement,” Wermke told the newspaper, adding that even when they took down the American flags and folded them, the action was done “following the United States flag code.”

As for why Wermke and Leinkauf decided to scale the bridge and risk legal consequences, Leinkauf said it was simply to celebrate and call attention to “the beauty of public space.” They also intended to pay tribute to the German engineer John Roebling, who designed the Brooklyn Bridge and passed away on July 22, 1869.

“We saw the bridge, which was designed by a German, trained in Berlin, who came to America because it was the place to fulfill his dreams, as the most beautiful expression of a great public space,” Leinkauf said. “That beauty was what we were trying to capture.”

Although many in New York welcomed the flags with lighthearted comments and jokes on social media, that beauty was largely lost on the New York Police Department, which treated the situation as an embarrassing breach of security. As RT reported previously, one anonymous law enforcement source explained at the time that the NYPD was lucky the situation wasn’t more serious or linked to a terrorist plot.

“We’re lucky they just put a flag up there – and not a bomb,” the official said. “It could have been terrible. Who knows how much damage it could have done. It’s an embarrassment.”

The NYPD has been investigating the incident since it occurred, but has remained mostly silent on the matter. On August 9 – with no significant movement on the matter – the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office issued a subpoena for the parody Twitter account @BicycleLobby with the intention of unmasking the author behind it. The account author’s lawyer, however, immediately dismissed the subpoena as ridiculous.

“[The author has] claimed credit for the moon landing, for the faking of President Obama’s birth certificate, for the crash of The New York Times website,” he told the Times. “It should be transparently clear to anyone that this was a joke.”

Wermke and Leinkauf, meanwhile, said they found the seriousness with which the NYPD greeted the incident to be surprising, saying they did not expect their behavior to cause such a problem. Both artists said the American flags will be returned in the future, and that they always planned to reveal their identities.

It’s still unclear if the NYPD will press charges, but the artists told the Times they are thinking about getting legal advice.

“We always face the consequences,” Leinkauf added. “This is part of the work, to have an open discussion. We just needed a little time to decide how to respond to the reaction.”

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