A group of British pranksters is facing jail time for staging a fake art robbery in the National Portrait Gallery last July, proving the consequences of going to pointless lengths to attain internet virality. While previously thought to be a strange protest against museum sponsor BP, the event was, it turns out, simply a senseless stunt by members of Trollstation, a YouTube channel that posts videos of disruptive public antics. The group has also been charged for orchestrating a phony theft and kidnapping at Tate Britain the same day — because harassing one museum for no reason is not enough.
The four jokesters pled guilty to two counts of “using threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behavior with intent to cause fear of, or provoke unlawful violence for their involvement in the two hoaxes,” as the BBC reported. The video of the prank at the National Portrait Gallery, still viewable on Trollstation’s channel, shows the men — ranging in age from 20 to 29 — wearing nylon masks over their faces and racing through the museum’s galleries as they wave cheap, framed paintings and black bags; in response, visitors frantically jostle to leave. One of the pranksters carries a speaker system that blasts an alarm, heightening the drama. According to the Guardian, one woman fainted during the event, which the men staged on the eve of the anniversary of the 7/7 London bombings.
Aside from the paintings, which were obviously foreign to the museum, the only indication that this was not your average robbery was one masked man yelling to the crowd, “Get the paintings! Everyone grab a painting with us!” Police arrived quickly but did not catch the Trollstation team, who then moved on to the Tate. There, they staged another faux heist, with one man dragging an unidentified but presumably willing woman out of a gallery in a headlock while two others pretended to steal paintings, as the Guardian reported (the video for the Tate caper does not appear to be on Trollstation’s channel).
The four men have received sentences of varying lengths, from 16 to 20 weeks in jail. In March, Trollstation founder Danh Van Le, who filmed the National Portrait Gallery incident and helped carry paintings into the Tate, was sentenced to 12 weeks in jail; the court also convicted him for a separate incident, in which he hid a ticking clock (reminiscent of a bomb) inside a suitcase that he planted at bus stops.
“The hoaxes may have seemed harmless to them, but they caused genuine distress to a number of members of the public, who should be able to go about their daily business without being put in fear in this way,” prosecutor Robert Short said. “We hope these convictions send a strong message that unlawful activities such as these will not be tolerated in London.”