In a stunning break with First Amendment policy on Capitol Hill, House Republicans directed Capitol Hill police to detain a highly regarded documentary crew that was attempting to film a Wednesday hearing on a controversial natural gas procurement practice. Republicans also denied the entrance of a credentialed ABC News news team that was attempting to film the event.
Josh Fox, director of the Academy Award-nominated documentary "Gasland" was taken into custody by Capitol Hill police this morning, along with his crew, after Republicans objected to their presence, according to Democratic sources present at the hearing. The meeting of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment had been taking place in room 2318 of the Rayburn building. Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, is currently seeking to secure a procedural maneuver that would allow the detained film crew to re-enter the hearing, which is open to the public. Miller's motion is not expected to succeed.
Approximately 16 officers entered the hearing room and handcuffed Fox amid audible discussions of "disorderly conduct" charges, according to Democratic sources present at the arrest.
Josh Fox Arrest
"Gasland" received strong critical acclaim and takes a critical eye toward the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," a process in which several tons of highly pressurized water and chemicals are injected into the ground, allowing valuable natural gas to escape. The practice is decried by ecological experts for destroying ecosystems and polluting groundwater. The energy industry keeps the actual content of fracking chemicals secret.
Fox had hoped to film Wednesday's hearing for a follow-up to "Gasland." A colleague of Fox's at his production company was unable to comment on the morning's events, but HuffPost expects a statement soon and will update this story accordingly.
Fox did not have formal Capitol Hill credentials, but such formalities are rarely enforced against high-profile journalists. Temporary passes are easy to obtain, and if Republicans had objected on procedural grounds, they could have simply sent the the crew to the front desk, rather than ordering police to arrest journalists. The right to a free press is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Documentary crews are almost never denied access to public meetings of elected government officials.
A separate ABC News crew, which did have official Capitol Hill credentials, was also denied access to the public hearing.
UPDATE: 12:09 p.m. -- Capitol Police public information officer Seargant Kimberly Schneider provided the following statement to HuffPost on the morning's events:
"At approximately 10:30 a.m. today, United States Capitol Police arrested Joshua Fox of Milanville, Pa. in room 2318 of the Rayburn House office building. He is charged with unlawful entry, and he is currently being processed at United States Capitol Police headquarters."
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