Public schools

Did This Teacher's Novel Cause Craziest Police Overreaction Ever?

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1984
CBS / Wikimedia Commons

A Dorchester County, Maryland, teacher was taken in for an "emergency medical evaluation," suspended from his job, and barred from setting foot on another public school. Authorities searched his school, Mace's Lane Middle School in Cambridge, for weapons. As classes resumed, parents worried that their children were in danger, so police decided to remain on the premises to watch over them.

What happened? The teacher, Patrick McLaw, published a fiction novel. Under a pen name. About a made-up school shooting. Set in the year 2902.

If you're having trouble figuring out which part of that was criminal, or negligent, or even inappropriate, you're not alone. From WBOC:

Early last week the school board was alerted that one of its eighth grade language arts teachers at Mace's Lane Middle School had several aliases.  Police said that under those names, he wrote two fictional books about the largest school shooting in the country's history set in the future.  Now, Patrick McLaw is placed on leave.

Dr. K.S. Voltaer is better known by some in Dorchester County as Patrick McLaw, or even Patrick Beale.  Not only was he a teacher at Mace's Lane Middle School in Cambridge, but according to Dorchester Sheriff James Phillips, McLaw is also the author of two books: "The Insurrectionist" and its sequel, "Lillith's Heir."

Those books are what caught the attention of police and school board officials in Dorchester County.  "The Insurrectionist" is about two school shootings set in the future, the largest in the country's history.

Phillips said McLaw was taken in for an emergency medical evaluation. The sheriff would not disclose where McLaw is now, but he did say that he is not on the Eastern Shore. The same day that McLaw was taken in for an evaluation, police swept Mace's Lane Middle School for bombs and guns, coming up empty.

But coming up empty did not stop the authorities from punishing McLaw:

Dorchester County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Henry Wagner said the Dorchester County Board of Education has taken its own action.

"We have advised our community that the gentleman has been placed on administrative leave, and has been prohibited from entering any Dorchester County public school property," Wagner said.

Since using a pen name and publishing a novel are not even remotely sinister actions, it seems the trouble must center around his depiction of a school shooting 900 years from now. But that's not really grounds for dismissal or a police investigation, either. Plenty of writers use what they know as a jumping off point, and McLaw landed very far from anything resembling real-life intention. Authorities also searched his home and found nothing. They haven't charged him or booked him—for now, they won't even divulge his current location.

This is a weird story, and we don't know everything; perhaps the police are withholding a crucial detail that would justify the extreme measures taken against a 23-year-old teacher for writing a book. If the local reporters in this video know what's really going on, they certainly aren't sharing, though they seem mildly relieved that this threat was taken care of—if you can even call an obviously imaginary occurence 888 years in the future a threat.

I'm reaching out to the school district and sheriff's department for more information and will post an update when I know more. But for now, neither the district nor the sheriff's department have released any evidence that McLaw did anything wrong at all.

For those who are curious, a link to one of McLaw's two books can be found here. This book, The Insurrectionist, features a school shooting. As one Reddit user writes: "It isn't what I'd call good, but it is a novel. I hope they needed more than bad writing to get a warrant."

Hat tip: Reason contributor Glenn Garvin. Read his fantastic Reason archive here. And his Miami Herald archive here. Follow him on Twitter.

***Update to this story available here.

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  1. Not pen names, by aliases. Now *that’s* scary.

    1. “Ya caught ‘The Tater’….”

    2. Alias is a show about a spy…

  2. Dr. K.S. Voltaer sounds like someone from apartheid-era South Africa. Sort of a sinister physician, maybe doing experiments on dissenters?

    1. I’d say more along the lines of a political scientist working for the government, writing treatises on how to maintain power and continuity of government after a disaster by whatever means necessary.

      His day job is finding legal (while ignoring moral) justifications for whatever brutality du jour the regime is committing.

      1. And he smoothly transitioned to working as a consultant for the ANC.

        1. (actually I bet it’s a Dutch-ish rendering of “Voltaire”)

        2. But of course. He has no allegiance to any particular *ideology*, only the practice and theory of power.

  3. I sometimes wonder whether the people writing out, approving, and serving warrants aren’t sharing in some massive joke, and the only people who aren’t in on it are wearing handcuffs.

    1. I just think they’re really into Kafka.

      1. “Umm, guys? That’s not really supposed to be an instructional manual.”

        1. Neither is 1984. Hasn’t stopped them.

  4. Preliminary reports indicate that W. Shakespeare, alias “the bard,” is being held for medical examination after reports indicate that he wrote plays portraying murders, suicides, and cannibalism…

  5. The scary part of this is really the ’emergency medical evaluation’, which suggests he may have been involuntarily committed (or coerced into submitting to short term commitment).

    The rest of the stuff will blow away – there’s not legal leg for any of it to stand on (and its fucking amazing that it got this far) – but once you’re in the mental health care system, that mark stays with you forever.

    1. Definitely.

    2. The scary part is the disappearing the guy who didn’t commit a crime to an undisclosed location.

  6. Perhaps this is a symptom of the complete lack of imagination that police and school administrators often seem to display. They can’t conceive of writing something that doesn’t reflect their own immediate thoughts and desires.

    1. “British women writes books telling impressionable children that they can fly around in the air and shoot fire, and generally practice black magic.”

  7. The level of paranoia here is absolutely terrifying in some ways. The open society aspect of the American experience is being suspended over the mere expression of disconcerting thoughts onto paper more often than not.

    Some of the media I interact with are literally impossible for me to relate with.

    Much like watching a documentary on a serial killer. You watch and are obviously entertained by the mystery of catching a hideous murderer while absolutely horrified by inhumane acts that are impossible for the compassionate human mind to relate with.

    Reports like the one above strike me similarly in terms of the effect of what in the FUCK are they thinking? I’m so mystified by the response to this person’s novel. How can a rational person relate to these creatures?

    1. You make the mistake of trying to reach into their minds. This is entirely emotion driven. They feel creeped out and uncomfortable, so they ruin a guy’s life. See, it’s OK because he was a creep anyway. Pure emoting and post-hoc rationalization.

      1. Governance through emotion. Hearkens back to shades of early American colonialism.

        This fellow is being pilloried in the most contemporary sense, albeit without the ears nailed to either side of the head hole.

  8. First amendment case here?

    He hasn’t been criminally sanctioned (yet anyway), but the actions of the school and police certainly will have something of a chilling effect on robust free expression.

    1. I think the guy has clearly suffered enough injury to pursue legal action. Of course, common sense has no place in the legal system, so who knows…

      1. Outside of advertisement and elections, the first amendment does pretty well in the courts. Of course schools are a bit of a weak spot too. But this is pretty egregious.

  9. Authorities also searched his home and found nothing. They haven’t charged him or booked him?for now, they won’t even divulge his current location.

    WTF? Let the lawsuits begin!

    1. Hopefully he’ll end up owning Dorchester County. There’s some nice waterfront property there right on the bay. Maybe if I contribute to his legal fund (assuming he ever sees the light of day again) he’ll sell me a nice little place with deep water dockage.

  10. So as it turns out, most of us on this board probably will end up in prison for bad writing and not for insurrection. I didn’t see that one coming.

  11. Hey, wouldn’t a society that arrests bad writers and throws them in prison be a good theme for a science-fiction novel? Dr. K.S. Voltaer can have the idea for free.

  12. One more question. How can this guy be locked up while Alan Vanneman is running around free? Has the world gone insane?

    1. Technically, that’s two more questions. But still.

    2. Finally, someone asking the right questions.

      1. If only someone would upload the answers to YouTube.

        1. Lol, what a wacko idea!

  13. Looks like I picked the wrong day to give up sniffin’ glue.

    1. You’re supposed to point that duster at your keyboard- not your lungs, man. 😉

  14. Sounds liek a pretty good book to me dude.

    http://www.CryptAnon.tk

  15. Puts a new spin on “publish or perish.”

  16. Wow. Wow.

      1. Such police state. Many aliases. Wow.

        1. Such binge. ‘Cuz so much insane.

  17. So how are these kids better off with their new substitute teacher “Mr. Warty” (if that isn’t an alias I’ll eat my hat) and his assignment to write a paper on “Deconstructing the Doomcock in a post Occupy Wall Street World”?

  18. Question of “why” has been resolved. He’s black.

    1. For reals?

      1. http://www.wboc.com/story/2636…..tive-leave

        Picture included.

        1. A language arts teacher writing novels? The horror.

  19. Any chance that this is all a publicity stunt? A future dystopia so bleak the author was jailed just for writing it. Sounds like a good ad to me. I can hope right.

    1. Probably not, but damn if it wouldn’t look good on the book jacket anyway.

  20. His experience is probably a better story than the one he wrote.

    Planned or not, it’s certainly good publicity. The book just got two 5-star ratings on Amazon from people who have heard about what happened to him (although apparently they didn’t read the book).

    James Patterson should be looking over his shoulder…

  21. 1984 thirty years late!

  22. In other news Award winning Author Toni Morrison has been placed on the national sex offender registry as a dangerous pedophile because in her critically acclaimed book 1959 talks about a 12 year old girl having sex with her 10 year old cousin. Later authorities debate placing Trent Reznor in protective custody after hearing Hurt on the radio

  23. Just wait until the authorities discover his dinosaur porn.

  24. In the acknowledgments of his 2003 novel Conquistador, S.M. Stirling wrote:

    And a special acknowledgment to the author of Niven’s Law: “There is a technical, literary term for those who mistake the opinions and beliefs of characters in a novel for those of the author. The term is ‘idiot’.

    Wikipedia article on Niven’s Laws

  25. As chilling as this is, it’s fascinating to watch one public entity(police) run amok on another public entity(teachers). A part of me is okay with that.

  26. This is more than weird. It’s f’n’ weird. Who did this guy piss off?

  27. Not getting whole story here …

    Robby, MOAR UPDATEZ!

  28. Was he a 23 year-old teacher? (with a doctorate?) or a teacher for 23 years?

    1. He looks young.

  29. Bureaucrats are a far greater danger to the freedoms of We, the People than all foreign threats combined.

  30. I saw the other day that a student got an in school suspension for writing an essay about his shooting a dinosaur, SHOOTING A DINOSAUR!!! Folks, the inmates are in charge of the asylum!

  31. The only defense needed is, “IT’S IMAGINARY!!!!!”. Perhaps delivered in the Nostalgia Critic’s most incredulous/outraged voice.

  32. We should dig up Nabokov and burn him at the stake, on a pile of copies of Lolita, just in case.

  33. Hey, I can point them to several educators who ACTUALLY murdered people and built bombs:

    Bill Ayers
    Bernadine Dorn
    Kathy Boudin

    That’s just for starters. Maybe they should all be taken in for “emergency medical evaluation.”

    Hey, I know a guy who was a lecturer at University of Chicago who ordered the murder of at least two American citizens without due process. Barack something. Maybe he should be taken in for “emergency medical evaluation.”

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