He landed back in South Florida, joined the North Miami Beach Police Department in 1998, and sank into what he calls the lifestyle of "sheep." He remembers the exact moment he began to drift from the herd. It was more than a decade ago, and Harrell was prowling a Broward beach wearing nothing but a Speedo and a nipple ring. "I bumped into a commander, and he was just like, 'Uhhhh, um, OK...' That was when I knew I was different."

But he didn't yet know just how different. That realization came last year, eight years after he and his wife divorced and she moved with their boys to New York. As Harrell recalls, his PlayStation had broken, so he was stuck clicking through the stations. A puzzling show called Ancient Aliens came on. It transfixed him. "I thought, If they were trying to cover something up about life outside our planet, what else would they be covering up? Then I started doing research and learning more of what they were really doing."

They were apparently doing a lot. In the span of several days, Harrell's social media identity took a wild turn. Conspiracy theories supplanted romantic squabbles with his girlfriend, whom he's dated for years and refers to as "baby mama." A Guy Fawkes mask soon infiltrated even the most idyllic of photographs showing the child he's had with "baby mama." And then there were streams of articles that had been spawned in the darkest fringes of the internet.

Copping an attitude.
Copping an attitude.

He dislodged a story claiming that the U.S. staged 9/11, another that the "powers that be are suppressing information," and one more alleging the EPA has been testing "lethal pollutants on humans." Last January 3, he posted a picture of himself in his police uniform clutching his Guy Fawkes mask. "Expect Us!!" he wrote as a caption and called himself an "Oath Keeper" — one of a cadre of law enforcement types who fear that the government may soon outlaw guns. They contend their vow to "defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic" trumps allegiance to any democratically elected government.

After he began posting his new political views on Facebook, rumors shot through the local police community. "Everyone was saying, 'Eric's gone 43,' " recalls Miami-Dade officer Ciprian Puscas, referring to the police code for the Baker Act. "People had thought he'd gone crazy." Puscas, however, was intrigued. He hadn't yet met Harrell but arranged a meeting at an IHOP on NE 163rd Street. "That was when I started to awaken too," Puscas says. "We talked about 9/11, Benghazi, and the 'fast and furious' scandals... It's easy to dismiss someone as crazy, then move on to talk about the football game."

In the months before he donned his cape and mask for his November protest, Harrell felt the same friction at his own department. "Everyone just talks about sports, and no one's awake to what's happening," he confides. "One time I confronted a captain and said, 'If the government tries to take our guns and trample the Constitution, are we going to carry out that order?' And he said, 'Uhhh, I'll have to ask my supervisor.' And I was just shocked. Everyone else was saying, 'Man, when did you become so weird? We want the old Eric back.' And I had to tell them, 'The old Eric's gone. I've evolved.' "

On November 22 — the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination — Harrell made his final adaptation, refusing to remove his mask or identify himself to police, who arrested him. His department immediately placed him on administrative leave. "Though you have historically had a good employment record, over the recent past you have demonstrated a pattern of behavior which has generated significant concern," Chief of Police J. Scott Dennis wrote Harrell in a letter dated December 6, demanding he take a psychological evaluation.

Days later, however, charges against Harrell were dropped, and Broward prosecutor Sarahnell Murphy wrote in her closeout memo that the 1951 Florida mask law was "vague, ambiguous, and overbroad." Murphy said Harrell, even though he's a cop, has a "lawful right" to "protest in a non-threatening manner" in the "public forum." The law, she wrote, hadn't obligated Harrell to identify himself or to remove his mask.

The North Miami Beach Police Department tells New Times that the internal investigation is still open but that the agency dismissed the pending psychological evaluation and put him back on duty.

One of Harrell's first days back on the job will be the graveyard shift on New Year's Eve — just in time, he says, for all the crazies to be out.

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