Rutgers alumnus transitions from police force to political activism
Sitting in the office of attorney David Meiswinkle with files and books stacked around a large desk, it seemed strange to hear that the man in charge of all those legal documents once smoked a marijuana cigarette in front of the dean of students.
But that incident is only one example of how Meiswinkle has defied authority — from his history of fighting corruption in his 23 years as a New Brunswick police officer to his current campaign in support of 9/11 conspiracy theories.
Meiswinkle attended Rutgers in the “different atmosphere” that accompanied the Vietnam Era.
“It was a time of growth, political and social awareness out of the classroom,” he said. “The influences were so strong that if you just kept your mind open — you just grew.”
Rutgers was one of many colleges to experience protests during the war, according to Rutgers’ online timeline. In September 1970, students occupied Old Queens for two days to get the administration to express opposition to the war.
Meiswinkle began his political activism as a sophomore when he created the Davidson Reconstruction Committee to advocate for renovations to Davidson Hall on Busch campus, which he said was built to be temporary.
During his time in the hall, the building had no heat and no furniture beyond a broken Ping-Pong table.
The demands culminated in a protest on Livingston campus, where the Ping-Pong table mysteriously “got burned,” as Meiswinkle put it.
“As I was giving a speech, the sky lit up,” he said.
Not long after, the hall got new furniture and repaired other issues. But Meiswinkle had moved on to another issue: bringing women to Rutgers College.
Meiswinkle ran for and won the position of student body president on a campaign to make Rutgers co-educational. He organized a rally at the William the Silent statue to protest the situation and invited then-president Mason Gross to speak.
“Gross said, ‘I’m a philosopher. I’ve never given it much thought,’ and said he’d think about it,” Meiswinkle said.
Gross came a few minutes before to speak. Meiswinkle recalled the president, then sick with cancer, shaking on the podium so that only he and others on stage could see it. But he stayed up there, and Rutgers changed its policy within two weeks.
Not all of Meiswinkle’s campaigns were successful. He met with the then-Dean of Students Howard Crosby Jr. to discuss marijuana policy in the United States. Crosby served at Rutgers from 1941 to his retirement in 1983, according to an article in The New York Times.
He brought along a copy of The Daily Targum and WRSU reporters, went to Crosby’s office, pulled out a marijuana cigarette and smoked it. Crosby immediately called the police.
“I was ready to go to jail, but first, a friend of mine from Kappa Sigma suggested when I was done smoking, I should swallow it so I don’t have possession,” he said. “I did exactly that, I swallowed the roach, so when the cops came, there was no residue.”
They decided not to arrest him, Meiswinkle said.
After serving several years in the United States Army and spending a few years in graduate school, Meiswinkle decided to join the force that had come so close to arresting him.
At first, he thought he would spend only five or so years at the job but was compelled to continue in the force.
“I wanted to see the problems in society from the ground up, … and I ended up combating a corrupt political machine,” he said.
In one incident, he investigated an incident where a family was shot at, robbed and had their house burned to the ground. He uncovered that the main suspect was related to the police director.
Over time, he has investigated many different figures in New Brunswick, at one point getting the Federal Bureau of Investigation into the city to indict officials in then-Mayor James Lynch’s group of supporters.
“His machine to run for governor was gone,” he said. “Middlesex [County] had the clout to make him governor, but instead we got [James] McGreevey.”
He sued the city several times, ran for mayor four times and has run for state governor, according to The Asbury Park Press.
After retiring from the police force, he continued to work as an attorney on the side, with an office across the street from the Middlesex County Courthouse. But his main focus lately has been his position as president of NJ911Aware.
According to NJ911Aware.org, the purpose of the organization is to educate the public about 9/11 and other issues of social importance and to assist in the creation of a new 9/11 Commission in the state of New Jersey.
The website also includes an open letter to Gov. Chris Christie, videos of the Twin Towers and Building 7 falling and a “9/11 Truther Song.”
Meiswinkle sees his work with the organization as an extension of his work uncovering scandals. He said he became a lawyer to look into exactly these types of issues.
The organization advocates for a new investigation of the 9/11 attacks, claiming the findings of the National Commission of Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States was not sufficient to form conclusions about the cause of 9/11.
According to its website, the NCTAUUS released its report in 2004 and concluded that al-Qaida was responsible for the attacks.
Meiswinkle said the potential motivations for the attacks are suspicious and have led to an increase in government authority. He pointed to the long Iraq War and the National Security Administration as examples.
“The Patriot Act seems to be set up to be inserted right after a catastrophic event,” he said. “Now we have indefinite detention … you can be picked off the street and, without a lawyer, have your Bill of Rights suspended.”
Both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence hang in his office. He said Americans should be familiar with both to prevent having their civil liberties revoked.
When asked to give a message to students, he advised them to do independent research to realize things could be a lot better, especially in regard to civil liberties.
“You have to start activating yourself, not just going to football games and parties,” he said. “Those are just diversions from the civil responsibility to fight for for liberty.”