Attorney General William Barr steps to the microphone at a podium set up in front of a large crowd in Black Lives Matter Plaza.
“I know you think that I was making a purely vacuous and semantic distinction between tear gas and pepper balls the other day, so I thought I’d come out and show you the very serious process an aficionado employs when choosing dispersal agents that are safe, effective, and enjoyable.”
He pulls a small canister from a box under the podium.
“This is CN-50, made by the good people at Morningwood Farms Tactical. It retails for 12 dollars a can, but we get a pretty good deal because we buy them in bulk.
“It’s known for its smoky nose and buttery finish, but I want you to focus on the light, citrusy lemons and tangerines you’re going to taste in the body.”
He pulls off the safety and puffs the red-orange fog into his face. He takes a deep breath. An interrupted cough. Another long spray into his face.
The fog clears. He opens his eyes.
They are bright red and bloodshot beneath his glasses. Tears stream down his puffy cheeks.
He croaks through the liquid involuntarily flooding his mouth.
“Very intense; very flavorful.”
He goes into a coughing fit. Retches once; twice.
“The finish is truly remarkable. It’s buttery, but crisp–almost like a pastry–and with the citrus in the body, it is like a croissant spread with lemon curd. I am transported to Paris on a warm spring day, lounging with my beloved on a bench in the Jardin de Tuileries.”
He pulls a gallon of milk from below the podium and dumps it all over his face. It pours down onto his suit, over the bouquet of microphones, into his shoes.
“I know I shouldn’t be using milk to cleanse my palate–don’t want all that bacteria in my eyes–but I’m from the old school and some habits die hard.”
He places a six-pack of canisters on the podium.
Five officers from an undisclosed agency join him.
“Fellas: you are in for a treat. This is CX-12. I know a few of you used it on some protesters the other day when The President had to get to church, but I believe you were wearing your anti-fun masks and were unable to partake in the journey. Please remove those masks.”
The officers comply.
“These devices retail for 24 dollars each, or at least they will when they are released to the general public in a month or so, assuming they don’t have any more supply-chain issues due to coronavirus. I’d say they’re worth every penny.
“When paired with a light meal like a salad or a flatbread, they’re not overpowering–but they can hold their own with meats and even stronger cheeses like a roquefort, though I prefer them with a milder, creamier cheese like the American-made Humboldt Fog.
“They are at their best when applied with the M32 launcher, but we don’t have the space here so I’ll just–“
He grabs a handful of canisters from the podium, pulls the pins in one deft yank and tosses them at the feet of the officers. The officers’ faces light up in fear and anticipation. The canisters flash their multi-sensory warning and then explode, sending rubber balls in every direction and filling the air with a fine, peppery mist.
An officer catches one of the balls in the eye. His vision goes red and then black as he falls to the ground unconscious. The other officers take rubber in the lower legs and groin before being engulfed in a cloud of skin-searing chemical irritant.
They throw themselves to the ground. The sweat on their faces accelerates the chemical process, amplifying their muffled groans into terrified bleating, like a field of sheep simultaneously realizing they’ve stepped into a bear trap.
The unconscious one has a concussion; he is vomiting slowly.
Mr. Barr walks over to the leaking man, rolls him on his side, and says, “what you’re tasting right now is the astringent nature of this varietal–it is seen as a little raw to some, but I find it freeing, and a good counterpoint to the fruity overtones and perfumed finish that flirt with being rich but never quite cross the line.”
A lone officer wanders out of the fog, vomits at the feet of Mr. Barr.
He pats the man on the back, douses him with milk, and returns to the podium.
From under it he produces a single, silver canister.
“This is garden variety, internationally banned, lachrymator: tear gas, directly from Tehran.”
He pulls the pin and places the canister on the ground. A thick cloud of white smoke billows out into the DC air.
Barr pulls his glasses off, wipes them on his shirt, and places them carefully on the podium.
He squats painfully, steadying himself with one hand and lowering himself onto one knee.
He drops his head into the smoke and takes a deep breath.
After a moment, he pulls his head back out. He coughs, spits, shakes his head. Tears drive down his cheeks; salty rivulets forge through the cracked valleys of dried milk and chemical powder.
“Nothing,” he says. “I get nothing.”
He shoves himself to his feet, straightens his jacket and walks to the podium.
“This gas is lifeless. Tactless. Artless. Ask me to drink isopropanol and I might get drunk but I will never call it wine. Screenshot someone else’s Instagram post and put it in a gallery, but I will never call it art.”
He gestures at the cloud of smoke pluming in front of him.
“And this CS. This ‘Tear Gas.’ Surely it is effective. Surely it is blinding and nauseating and discouraging; but it does not belong at protests in the District of Columbia. It does not belong at protests in America.
“It does not belong in America at all.”