News & Politics

17 Moments of Local Outrage That Defined 2015

Several of DC's most outrageous moments of 2015 involved the King of Outrage himself. Photograph via iStock.

As 2015 fades from view, there’s plenty to be concerned about in Washington going into the new year. Last year, the number of homicides in the District jumped by more than 50 percent over 2014. The cost of housing continues to go bonkers. Yet another year of record-setting heat suggests the region’s weather will only become more extreme. And Metro barely seemed to function at all.

Still, no matter how imperative some of Washington’s problems became in 2015, lots of the conversations online—where many of us really live these days—were consumed by madness, not constructive thought. Here are 17 moments of outrage, both legitimate and inflated, that defined Washington in 2015.

January 8: Elf on the Shelf vs. Anonymous Montgomery County Resident

The seeds for 2015’s first outburst were planted in late 2014 when the Montgomery County Police Department shared photos featuring two holiday figurines—Elf on the Shelf and Mensch on a Bench—mounted on a motorcycle. But someone complained, and the department responded by scrubbing the photos from its social media accounts.

Outrage-worthy? Hey, government departments, especially the cops, should be as inclusive as possible. But Elf on the Shelf is a dumb toy parents use to scare their unwitting children. And who ever heard of Mensch on a Bench before this? At the very least, the Montgomery County Police inspired a new Hanukkah tradition.

February 3: America’s No. 1 Immunologist vs. the Anti-Vaxxers

Remember when Chris Christie and Rand Paul were still considered plausible contenders for the Republican Party’s 2016 presidential nomination? That’s how long ago it was when the Dr. Anthony Fauci, the the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, reminded the public, yet again, that childhood vaccinations do not cause autism, although low vaccination rates can cause actual diseases.

Outrage-worthy? Yes! Unfortunately, in the months since Fauci expressed his frustration, the GOP field has since been overrun by Donald Trump, who occasionally spouts off the extremely debunked claim that vaccines cause autism. He has also said a vaccination syringe “looks just like it’s meant for a horse.”

February 26: Muriel Bowser vs. the Dutch

As the District prepared for legalized marijuana, the office of newly inaugurated Mayor Muriel Bowser distrubted literature aiming to clarify some of the confusion about a system that allows adults to grow and possess pot, but not buy or sell the stuff. “Is DC going to become like Amsterdam?” the document read.

Outrage-worthy? The Embassy of the Netherlands took offense to Bowser’s poke, and responded with a colorful flier of its own, boasting all the edges Amsterdam has over DC, including its better-defined marijuana policy, greater bike-lane milage (250 miles compared to our 50), and—in the sickest burn of all—functional streetcar network (15 lines compared to one non-functional line).

March 5: Children on Sleds vs. Congress

In February, Capitol Police chased away a group of children who attempted to sled down the west front lawn of the Capitol after a snowstorm, prompting a re-examination of an archiac ban against winter sports in the legislative branch’s yard. It also motivated a group of Capitol Hill parents—and their kids—to return after an early-March dusting and go sledding in defiance of the cops, who mostly sat in their patrol cars while the wintertime fun went on without incident.

Outrage-worthy? The Great Sled Uprising led to a retraction of the ban being included in a recent omnibus spending bill, which will be nice if it ever actually snows again.

March 16: Ron Machen vs. Expectations

Ron Machen, the US attorney for the District of Columbia since 2009, became a local hero for taking down the DC Council’s crooked members and getting associates of former Mayor Vince Gray to confess to orchestrating an illegal $668,800 “shadow campaign” on Gray’s behalf in 2010. The investigation might have tilted the 2014 mayoral election to Muriel Bowser when DC businessman Jeffrey “Uncle Earl” Thompson admitted to paying for the illicit operation and prosecutors named Gray as the beneficiary during the hearing for Thompson’s guilty plea.

Outrage-worthy? Machen’s departure left Gray’s supporters bitter, and the feds eventually closed the investigation without ever following up on the implications made against Gray during Thompson’s hearing. Machen is now back at WilmerHale, while Gray is expected to attempt a comeback by running for a DC Council seat.

April 20: Washington Nationals vs. “Bustin’ Loose”

The Nationals’ 2015 season will be remembered as a horrendous dogpile of misfires, but the first boneheaded move might have come over Nationals Park’s public-address system, which opened the season by celebrating home runs with a song other than Chuck Brown’s “Bustin’ Loose.”

Outrage-worthy? The team pinned the switch from the late Godfather of Go-Go to some pop-chart banger by Jessi J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj on its fans, saying they “would like to hear a broader genre of songs incorporated into our game-day experience,” even though no fan questioned by Washingtonian at the time would actually admit to preferring a throwaway single to DC’s unofficial anthem. “Bustin’ Loose” was eventually restored to its rightful place after home runs, but the team’s collapse was already underway.

June 1: Kendrick Lamar vs. Sweetgreen

During his headline set at the Sweetlife Festival, Kendrick Lamar invited Jonathan Neman, the founder of Sweetgreen, on stage to join him for a performance of his 2012 hit “m.A.A.d City.” Despite months of his salad company’s promoting Lamar’s appearance at its music festival, Neman didn’t know the lyrics, and was promptly booted off stage in favor of a fan who then, in Lamar’s words, “killed that shit.”

Outrage-worthy? Yes, and with it, Lamar and Neman proved that one does not win friends with salad.

June 23: Virginia Flaggers vs. Reality

The massacre of nine members of a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, sparked a long-overdue movement to remove the Confederate battle flag from public displays across the South. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced that the commonwealth would stop issuing license plates featuring the flag, leading to pro-Confederate-flag protests in Richmond from people calling themselves the “Virginia Flaggers,” a group that also maintains a large Confederate banner that can be seen from Interstate 95 near Quantico.

Outrage-worthy? Only if you support reality. The Flaggers put up their highway flag in 2014, 149 years after the brutal plutocracy it represented was defeated and reabsorbed into the United States.

July 14: Wall Street Journal vs. Wordless Shakespeare

Synetic Theater wins bushels of awards and favorable reviews for its arty, sultry, and wordless adaptations of Shakespeare plays, but not from Wall Street Journal contributor James Bovard, who used his column inches to diagnose the Arlington-based company as a symptom of “bad Shakespeare productions in America.”

Outrage-worthy? Synetic’s 27 Helen Hayes Awards since 2001 would seem to disagree with Bovard’s assessment, as would the mystery of whether he has actually seen one of the company’s productions—he wouldn’t say.

July 24: One-man Protest vs. The Producers

Montgomery County’s Olney Theatre last summer staged a production of Mel Brooks’s 2001 musical The Producers, but not everyone was delighted by the show-business spoof that features the musical-within-the-musical, Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp With Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden, that features the führer as a singing-and-dancing dandy. Jeffrey Imm, feeling that the show violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, even went so far as to picket Olney during the show’s final weekend. “Call the Southern Poverty Law Center and ask them if they think it’s okay to do a play about Hitler,” Imm told Washingtonian.

Outrage-worthy? Said an SPLC spokesman: “We don’t have an opinion on this.”

July 31: Donald Trump vs. José Andrés

Besides dog-whistling his way to the top of the race for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, Donald Trump is also renovating the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue into one of finest hotels in the nation’s capital and the world (his words). But Trump’s many comments about immigrants prompted a petition to get José Andrés to pull out of his agreement to open a restaurant at the hotel. Andrés, a naturalized US citizen, heard the petition and canceled his plans for the Trump hotel (as did fellow restaurateur Geoffrey Zakarian), and is now being sued by the Trump Organization for $10 million.

Outrage-worthy? At least the trial should be interesting.

September 2: Philadelphia vs. Washington

Yes, Pope Francis‘s US visit was wonderful and amazing and full of memorable moments, but one of the best parts was the brief trolling war it sparked between Philadelphia and DC. First, the Washington Post questioned whether Philadelphia was as up to the task of hosting a papal visit as Washington or New York. A Philadelphia CityPaper columnist responded by saying that not only was Philadelphia capable, but that it was ready to “fight back” if provoked, citing its Rocky statue, a prop from a series of popular boxing movies. Washingtonian pointed out the tiff, prompting Philadelphia magazine to take another swing at DC.

Outrage-worthy? Nothing could be known for sure until Francis actually made his trip—after the pontiff departed, it was clear Washington had prevailed.

September 27: Jonathan Papelbon vs. Bryce Harper

Screenshot via MASN.

Outrage-worthy? Enough said.

October 26: People Who Talk on the Quiet Car vs. Polite Society

The biggest moment of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s presidential campaign came when he was admonished by an Amtrak conductor for yelling into his phone while seated in the quiet car on a Trenton-bound train. After the incident became public, a Christie spokesman called the quiet car—which is supposed to be a sanctuary from cell-phone yakkers and noisy children—”notorious,” and was backed up by Washington Post columnist Alexandra Petri, who called passengers who uphold the quiet car rules “petty tyrants.”

Outrage-worthy? To this, I, a confessed quiet-car scold, took umbrage: A typical Northeast Regional train contains eight cars, only one of which is quiet—plenty of train for Christie, Petri, and the other noisemakers to be as disruptive as they want.

November 5: Washington NFL Team vs. Impolite Society

In appealing the US Patent and Trademark Office’s 2014 decision invalidating its federal trademark protections, Washington’s NFL team filed a brief defending its name—a derogatory term for Native Americans—by rattling off a list of companies, products, and performers with intentionally provocative names.

Outrage-worthy? One of those parties mentioned was the Reformed Whores, a satirical country-music duo who responded to their mention with a song. “We’re a delightful comedy band and musical entrepreneurs, while they’re a national football team whose name is a racial slur,” they sang. The team’s dirty-word defense also got the attention of John Oliver, whose reading of the document was just as delightful as the Reformed Whores.

November 26: Washington NFL Team vs. Thanksgiving

Fine, we live in an age in which every brand has to call attention to itself by sending holiday-themed tweets. But perhaps a brand whose name is a derogatory term for Native Americans should pass on marking a holiday that many Native Americans do not celebrate because of its origins in European colonialism?

Outrage-worthy? Maybe the franchise will figure it out in 2016, though an unexpected NFC East title might only encourage it.

December 7: Donald Trump vs. Jeff Bezos

Trump went on one of his famous Twitter rampages, this time against the Washington Post, claiming that the newspaper—which constantly writes about him, sometimes in unflattering ways—is a front used by its owner, Jeff Bezos, as a tax write-off against losses at Bezos’s much larger company, Amazon.

Outrage-worthy? No. Donald Trump appears to not grasp that Amazon, a publicly traded multinational corporation of which Bezos is chairman and chief executive, is structurally and financially distinct from the Post, which Bezos owns through his private holding company.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.