Man arrested in protest of political film
Thomas Austin, 78, is charged with trespassing at the Port Charlotte Town Center mall.
PORT CHARLOTTE -- Thomas Austin is no stranger to conflict. At just 15, he joined the Navy to fight in World War II.
Sunday, the 78-year-old Punta Gorda veteran had a bone to pick with a new target: actor Tom Cruise.
At the Port Charlotte Town Center mall, Austin was joined by his wife, Christine, in protest of the Cruise film "Lions for Lambs," which many have interpreted as a negative commentary on the United States' current military presence in the Middle East. The film also is playing at the mall's Regal Cinemas.
Austin and his wife, carrying placards discouraging patrons from seeing the movie Sunday afternoon, were asked by mall management to leave the premises. He did not comply and was arrested and charged with trespassing.
Released on $500 bond, Austin said Monday that the arrest and charge haven't fazed him or his stance against the film.
"I get tired of these movies that take off on the military. That's my bag," Austin said. "This particular movie, I feel like when these Arab TV stations get a hold of some excerpts from it, it's just not going to make things easy for our people over there."
The mall's manager of marketing, Sue Storck, issued a statement in response to Austin's arrest and trespassing charge.
"Questions regarding content of the movie in question should be directed to the theater or its parent company," the statement read. "Port Charlotte Town Center does not allow picketing on mall property in accordance with our uniform Code of Conduct. The Code of Conduct is posted prominently throughout Port Charlotte Town Center."
Austin said he just wants to call attention to the movie, which he believes is representative of the degeneration of American society.
"I didn't see the movie, but I read about it," he said. "Maybe I should go see it just so I'll know a little more about what I'm talking about."
Promotional material for the film calls it a "powerful and gripping story that digs behind the news, the politics and a nation divided to explore the human consequences of a complicated war."
His wife Christine said she'd rather the two of them not give their money to the film, which was produced, directed and starred-in by Robert Redford.
"I won't give them my money. I know what goes on in the movie. I've seen TV blurbs of it," Christine Austin said. "I'd rather give it to a charity."
As for the general public's response, box office returns would suggest most have also found other ways to spend their money. According to boxofficemojo.com, the film has earned $14.5 million in the U.S. since its release, a slim number by today's domestic box office standards, especially considering the film's star power.
Christine Austin said most of the theater attendees she and her husband saw supported their stance against the film. She said she complied with the mall's requests and avoided arrest Sunday to ensure her husband's release.
"I chose to give them the placard and leave the building because I knew I was going to have to be able to get bail for my husband," she said. "I can't believe it. I have a real hard time believing that people are unable to express themselves and that he was put in jail for expressing his feelings."
Depending on which person you talk to, Austin's arrest and court date scheduled for Dec. 12 are either a nonissue, or a major concern.
"He has a host of medical issues, and that's what worries me," Christine Austin said. "I guess that it worked out all right for that day, but we're concerned about what will happen on Dec. 12."
Thomas Austin was complementary of the CCSO's arrest and had no complaints about mall staff. For him, the protest and voluntary arrest were a matter of principle.
He said the situation has his son, who lives in South Florida, excited. Austin said his son called it his father's "one last hurrah."
"I'll be 79 next month," Thomas Austin said. "What am I going to do? Most of the people I know just sit around bitching and whatnot and I decided I'm going to do something. I'm not going to stop now."
You can e-mail Neil Hughes at email@example.com.
By NEIL HUGHES
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I for one give him credit for standing up for what he believes.
I would have to agree with you there Rob. I have heard it wasn't a very good movie anyway to boot.
I'm willing to donate to his defense fund.
It wouldn't surprise me if the Town Center Mall drops all charges.