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John Gilmore: I was ejected from a plane for wearing "Suspected Terrorist" button
- Date: Sat, 19 Jul 2003 01:54:38 -0400
- To: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Subject: FC: John Gilmore: I was ejected from a plane for wearing "Suspected Terrorist" button
- From: Declan McCullagh <email@example.com>
- Cc: firstname.lastname@example.org
Previous Politech messages:
"John Gilmore's suit over secret FAA regs in SF court on 1/17"
"John Gilmore sues Feds over secret your-papers-please rule"
And here's an article I wrote seven years ago about John:
To: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: I was ejected from an airplane today for wearing a "Suspected
Date: Fri, 18 Jul 2003 21:29:28 -0700
From: John Gilmore <email@example.com>
Your readers already know about my opposition to useless airport
security crap. I'm suing John Ashcroft, two airlines, and various
other agencies over making people show IDs to fly -- an intrusive
measure that provides no security. (See http://freetotravel.org).
But I would be hard pressed to come up with a security measure more
useless and intrusive than turning a plane around because of a
political button on someone's lapel.
My sweetheart Annie and I tried to fly to London today (Friday) on
British Airways. We started at SFO, showed our passports and got
through all the rigamarole, and were seated on the plane while it
taxied out toward takeoff. Suddenly a flight steward, Cabin Service
Director Khaleel Miyan, loomed in front of me and demanded that I
remove a small 1" button pinned to my left lapel. I declined, saying
that it was a political statement and that he had no right to censor
passengers' political speech. The button, which was created by
political activist Emi Koyama, says "Suspected Terrorist". Large
images of the button and I appear in the cover story of Reason
Magazine this month, and the story is entitled "Suspected Terrorist".
You can see the button at:
(Reason hasn't put the current issue online yet, for some reason.)
The steward returned with Capt. Peter Hughes. The captain requested,
and then demanded, that I remove the button (they called it a
"badge"). He said that I would endanger the aircraft and commit a
federal crime if I did not take it off. I told him that it was a
political statement and declined to remove it.
They turned the plane around and brought it back to the gate, delaying
300 passengers on a full flight.
We were met at the jetway by Carol Spear, Station Manager for BA at
SFO. She stated that since the captain had told her he was refusing
to transport me as a passenger, she had no other course but to take me
off the plane. I offered no resistance. I reminded her of the court
case that United lost when their captain removed a Middle Eastern man
who had done nothing wrong, merely because "he made me uncomfortable".
She said that she had no choice but to uphold the captain and that we
could sort it out in court later, if necessary. She said that my
button was in "poor taste".
Later, after consulting with (unspecified) security people, Carol said
that if we wanted to fly on the second and last flight of the day, we
would be required to remove the button and put it into our checked
luggage (or give it to her). And also, our hand-carried baggage would
have to be searched to make sure that we didn't carry any more of
these terrorist buttons onto the flight and put them on, endangering
the mental states of the passengers and crew.
I said that I understood that she had refused me passage on the first
flight because the captain had refused to carry me, but I didn't
understand why I was being refused passage on the second one. I
suggested that BA might have captains with different opinions about
free speech, and that I'd be happy to talk with the second captain to
see if he would carry me. She said that the captain was too busy to
talk with me, and that speaking broadly, she didn't think BA had any
captains who would allow someone on a flight wearing a button that
said "Suspected Terrorist". She said that BA has discretion to
decline to fly anyone. (And here I had thought they were a common
carrier, obliged to carry anyone who'll pay the fare, without
discrimination.) She said that passengers and crew are nervous about
terrorism and that mentioning it bothers them, and that is grounds to
exclude me. I suggested that if they wanted to exclude mentions of
terrorists from the airplane, then they should remove all the
newspapers from it too.
I asked whether I would be permitted to fly if I wore other buttons,
perhaps one saying "Hooray for Tony Blair". She said she thought that
would be OK. I said, how about "Terrorism is Evil". She said that I
probably wouldn't get on. I started to discuss other possible
buttons, like "Oppose Terrorism", trying to figure out what kinds of
political speech I would be permitted to express in a BA plane, but
she said that we could stand there making hypotheticals all night and
she wasn't interested. Ultimately, I was refused passage because
I would not censor myself at her command.
After the whole interaction was over, I offered to tell her, just for
her own information, what the button means and why I wear it. She was
curious. I told her that it refers to all of us, everyone, being
suspected of being terrorists, being searched without cause, being
queued in lines and pens, forced to take our shoes off, to identify
ourselves, to drink our own breast milk, to submit to indignities.
Everyone is a suspected terrorist in today's America, including all
the innocent people, and that's wrong. That's what it means. The
terrorists have won if we turn our country into an authoritarian
theocracy "to defeat terrorism". I suggested that British Airways had
demonstrated that trend brilliantly today. She understood but wasn't
sympathetic -- like most of the people whose individual actions are
turning the country into a police state.
Annie asked why she, Annie, was not allowed to fly. She wasn't
wearing or carrying any objectionable buttons. Carol said it's
because of her association with me. I couldn't have put it better
myself -- guilt by association. I asked whether Annie would have been
able to fly if she had checked in separately, and got no answer.
(Indeed it was I who pointed out to the crew that Annie and I were
traveling together, since we were seated about ten rows apart due to
the full flight. I was afraid that they'd take me off the plane
without her even knowing.)
Annie later told me that the stewardess who had gone to fetch her said
that she thought the button was something that the security people had
made me wear to warn the flight crew that I was a suspected
terrorist(!). Now that would be really secure.
I spoke with the passengers around me before being removed from the
plane, and none of them seemed to have any problem with sitting next
to me for 10 hours going to London. None of them had even noticed the
button before the crew pointed it out, and none of them objected to it
after seeing it. It was just the crew that had problems, as far as I
PS: For those who know I don't fly in the US because of the ID demand:
I'm willing to show a passport to travel to another country. I'm not
willing to show ID -- an "internal passport" -- to fly within my own
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