CHARLOTTE, N.C.—My wife told me that I’d be subject to more scrutiny at the airport today on my way to the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) 2012 Spring Task Force Summit in Charlotte, N.C. Because I had bought my airline tickets less than a week before the event and because I chose to fly down and return on the same day to save on hotel costs and minimize the time away from my family, she said that I could expect the maximum level of scrutiny at the airport. She was right about her prediction, though I can’t say for sure if her rationale was correct.
As you may know, I am the co-sponsor of HB 628, an act relative to searches conducted for purposes of transportation-related security, which is a bill that would create a public database for complaints against the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) enhanced airline screening activities and require state law enforcement officials to take such complaints. I’ve always believed that when we shine a light on something, it encourages good behavior. That is the very purpose of the TSA Accountability Act, as I’ve called it.
The bill passed the House, but it was killed in the Senate by Derry Sen. Jim Rausch’s Senate Transportation Committee. Currently, I have attached the same language to Sen. Rausch’s senate bill, SB 332, which addresses a prohibition relative to auxiliary state troopers. To my knowledge, the TSA Accountability Act is still moving forward as part of SB 332, and I am hopeful the Senate will see the importance of this bill the second time. Perhaps this was the reason for my enhanced screening this morning?
Regardless of whether we pass the law to create the public TSA Accountability database; however, I still have the power of the pen, which they say is mightier than the sword. It is for this reason that I am now writing about my experience this morning with the TSA, which I would explain only as a gross violation of my constitutional rights with a smile. The experience was beyond inappropriate, however I must say to the TSA’s credit that its agents, whom are not law enforcement officials, were very professional and courteous.
Additionally, I have the power of passive resistance, which you will see, I fully exercised today without any trouble. I hope that more people will follow my example and do just what I have done as explained here, as I have followed the example of some of the most effective liberty activists before me. Please read my story below and take action as you believe you should.
When I entered the TSA screening area this morning, the TSA agent wrote three blue lines and the word “HAS” on my airline boarding pass, also in blue. He was pleasant and the interchange was brief. I removed my shoes, belt, jacket and all of my other personal belongings. I took my computer from my backpack and placed it in a separate container. I then sent two containers and my backpack through the belongings scanner.
I was directed twice toward the backscatter scanning machine, directions that I ignored. The majority of passengers were headed toward the scanner, largely because they were being herded that way by airport crowd-control ropes. The metal detector, directly next to the backscatter machine, was mostly roped off in front of it, but it had a 2-foot access area on the left. I walked away from the other 30 or so passengers headed toward the backscatter machine and weaved my way behind the ropes so that I was standing in front of the metal detector. I stood and waited there. The TSA agent standing on the other side of the metal detector took a moment to realize I was standing in front of him.
This TSA agent then inquired whether I was opting out of the backscatter scan, and I politely informed him that I was. He reminded me that I would be subject to a pat-down as a result of that decision, and that the backscatter machine no longer takes naked images but rather produces an avatar for TSA agents to see. I said I was aware that a pat down was required for me to go about my business and that the naked images were not my concern. At this point, I said I had health concerns about the technology, to which he replied that the radio waves I’d receive would be no different than any I’d receive using my cell phone. I replied that I’d rather not expose myself unnecessarily to any additional radiation and that I didn’t believe the technology had been properly tested.
In truth, the machines should be calibrated after each scan or they could emit harmful radiation. I am not aware of the TSA’s calibration policies, and I would rather not take any risks. This, of course, is beside the fact that the backscatter scan constitutes an illegal search that relies on consent under duress.
The agent then motioned me through the machine and inquired whether I would like a private screening. I informed him politely that I would prefer to stay in the open where everyone could see what was happening to me. He then took me around the baggage screening area to an open area on the other side and directed me to stand on a mat. He identified my belongings and then carried them over to a metal table near where I was standing.
At this point, he very professionally informed me what would be happening to me, and then he did what he explained. He asked whether I had sensitive areas, and I informed him that I didn’t. He then asked me to spread my arms and patted down all sides of my arms and areas that were covered, grabbing them with gloved hands. He then went along my back and legs with the same scrutiny and afterward patted down my rear. He used the back of his hands to feel my under arms and the inside of my thighs. He felt the inside of my waist band front and back, and patted down my tie.
At this point, I was informed that I had been flagged for further screening. Three TSA agents—one apparently a supervisor—were directly surrounding me. Apparently, something I had with me had residue from firearms on it, because when the TSA agent tested his gloves, it set off an alarm. He asked me whether I had been to the shooting range lately, and I informed him that I had (several months ago, actually). My guess is that the machine picked up residue from the inside of my suit pants, which are often in contact with my concealed carry weapon, for which I have a license. Of course, I had left my gun at home today.
The agent explained to me that he would be first going through all of my belongings to test whether any item in there had set off the alarm. He again noted that I could have avoided this additional screening by going through the backscatter machine. I simply acknowledged his statement. Upon searching my suit jacket pockets, he found and opened my Altoids box and briefly looked at my pens and business cards, and then he saw my state representative badge in my upper suit pocket and inquired whether I served in the State House. I answered in the affirmative. He then proceeded to inform me that his neighbor was Rep. Dick Barry, and that I should tell him that I was patted down by his neighbor the next time I saw him. I took the exchange as one of friendliness, but it was still unsettling to have someone who is in the process of violating my constitutional rights make light of the situation. I responded in kind, noting that Rep. Barry and I had sponsored a bill to repeal the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative together, information that seemed to please the agent. The agent proceeded to look through my entire computer bag, wipe down my computer with a small white cloth that resembled a gun cleaning cloth, and then wipe down several other items in my bag. All those items checked out.
At this point, I was informed that I would have to be patted down again, this time more invasively, and that it had to be done in a back room. I politely responded that I would prefer that any pat down be conducted in public regardless of how invasive. The supervising agent then intervened and informed me that I didn’t have that option. I repeated that I wanted the other people in the airport to see what was being done to me, and it was for that reason that I preferred not to go into the back room. The supervising agent informed me that I had to be screened in a private room per TSA policy and that if I didn’t consent, I would have to leave the airport and cancel my flight. He noted that I could bring someone with me if I wanted into the back room. I told him that I didn’t have anyone to bring. He then advised me that a second agent would be going to observe the pat down. While not comforted at all that I would then have two agents against my word should anything go wrong, I did not want to miss my flight, so I relented under duress and politely made it clear that was what I was doing.
I was taken into a small control room or utility closet, which had what looked like regular workplace equipment in it, an orange bag and perhaps even some janitorial equipment. My memory of what was in the room is vague, though I know for sure it was small and looked like a utility closet. The TSA agent who lived near Rep. Barry observed the pat down, while a second, younger agent conducted the same pat down as before, with no variation. When that was done, this second agent then used the front of his hands to feel all around my groin, albeit through my clothing. During this entire interchange, my demeanor was one of polite, passive resistance. I stood silent, with a stoic look, and allowed these agents to violate my rights. Apparently, for some reason, this second screening cleared me for travel, and I was told I could leave the room.
As I left, the supervisor came over to me and asked me again why I didn’t go through the backscatter machine. He said, point blank, “you could have avoided all of this today if you would have just gone through the scanner.” I replied that I understood the situation, but that I would not be using the backscatter machine at any point due to health concerns. I also informed him that I believed that my constitutional rights to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures would have been violated either way. He didn’t respond to my statement, but appeared to make a mental note of it. I was then on my way.
Upon reflection, I realized why what I did today was the right thing to do, and why I’d urge all of you whom have read to this point to do the same. Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior whom I look to to advise my every action, said that if someone slaps you on the right cheek, to turn the other cheek; that if someone asks you to carry their equipment for one mile, for you to go an additional mile whether they want you to or not; and that if someone asks you for your coat, to also give him your undergarments (Matthew 5:38-42). This behavior our Lord advocated was nothing other than passive resistance, and it is the type of passive resistance that asserts your authority over the authority that has attempted to control you while still showing mutual respect (love) for that person. Yes, it is more invasive for me to have a pat down, but it is also uncomfortable for the TSA agent. The agents certainly made it abundantly clear to me that they’d prefer I chose to use the backscatter machine, because it would be easier for everyone involved. The fact that I chose the more difficult option made it clear to those agents that what they were doing was wrong. They need to get that message as often as possible if we are ever to restore our liberties.
Regardless of whether I chose to go through the backscatter machine or opt-out for the pat down, my rights would be violated: My right to travel freely without interference would be violated. My right to bear arms to protect myself from terrorists on the plane or anyone or anything else would be violated. My right to be free from unreasonable searches without probable cause and a warrant indicating the items that were the subject of the search would be violated. My right to be innocent until proven guilty would be violated.
Because my rights would be violated either way, simply so that I could legally travel to a conference in Charlotte, N.C., via a plane ticket I had purchased with money my family had earned, it made sense for me to use whatever passive, peaceful and direct approach left at my disposal to make it clear what was happening was wrong. It is such passive resistance that brought about the greatest religion in the world and the faith that will defeat all evil in this world through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. It is such passive resistance that freed India from the caste system. It is such passive resistance that brought light to the plight of former slaves in the Southern United States. It is such passive resistance that will help us restore our liberties today, if only more of us take a stand against the treatment we as innocent people are subjected to by TSA agents without any probable cause that we might be doing something wrong.
By choosing to walk the extra mile, to turn the other cheek, to give up my clothes when asked for my coat, to go for an invasive full body pat down when asked to step through a simple backscatter screening machine, we are asserting our own authority and taking control of a lose-lose situation. We are highlighting the abuses of the system and raising doubts in the minds of these very TSA agents conducting the pat downs that they are doing the right thing. It is for that reason that I will always opt-out of the backscatter scanner, or take any available opt-out procedure that I can, from this point forward. And I will always tell you what happens when my rights are violated. Never will I silently allow my rights to be stripped from me. I was born free as an American. And I will die free, too, as an individual sovereign man, under the authority of my Almighty God alone.