Brittney Hotel owner Mark Domangue can’t resist a good dare.
A friend recently bet him $50 to hang some banners from the hotel windows to prompt public response on the Mount Carmel standoff.
So Domangue grabbed a can of black spray paint and sprayed “Let Vern Speak” and “Go Get ’Im, Vic” on two white sheets.
The messages referred to Vernon Howell, the Branch Davidian cult leader who has been holed up with followers at the Mount Carmel compound since Feb. 28 — the day of a deadly gun battle between cult members and federal agents.
Domangue said “Vic” refers to Austin attorney Vic Feazell, who has offered to represent the Davidians if they surrender with no further bloodshed. The “Go Get ’Im” message harks back to a popular bumper sticker that circulated during Feazell’s legal troubles in the late 1980s.
What’s out there?
By nightfall Wednesday, Domangue had draped the banners out the fourth floor windows of the hotel on Austin Avenue. They were still visible Thursday morning. He said he removed them at about 11 a.m. Thursday.
Domangue said he hung the controversial banners to spark public reactions about the standoff.
“Just to find out what was out there,” he said.
He found out.
The hotel fielded 130 phone calls. Most callers were “extremists,” either supporting federal agents or the cult itself, Domangue said.
The rest of the calls ran the gamut. All disagreed with Howell’s interpretation of scripture. Many argued that federal agents botched the Feb. 28 raid. Others said cult members deserved a fair trial. Still others said the drawn-out-siege was wasting taxpayers’ money.
A few callers voiced some startling opinions.
“One even said Howell should be elected president,” he said.
One caller hotly threatened to blow up the hotel.
Domangue said “Let Vern speak” related to the banner cult members hung from the compound that read “God Help Us We Want The Press.”
He said the public should be able to hear firsthand what Howell tells negotiators.
Many callers agreed, he said, and questioned if Howell is manipulating the public through the media.
Domangue said a conversation with is friend spawned the bet.
Gauging public reaction
“We were just talking about all the different reactions to this thing,” he said. “That’s how it all started. We were kicking it back and forth. We wanted to gauge public reaction, which may sound stupid, but I’ve been watching this whole thing play out. I just think it’s interesting to know people’s honest opinions.”
Domangue said his hotel has accommodated up to nine agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement officials. On one day, journalists filled 40 rooms.
Most hotel guests didn’t notice the signs, he said.
“I don’t think they knew it was up there, honestly,” Domangue said.
Nevertheless, his friend paid up.