John Gilmore, Suspected Terrorist

John Gilmore: I was ejected from a plane for wearing "Suspected Terrorist" button

"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."
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64 Responses:

  1. dbaker says:

    Wow -- and to think that people bother to contribute to society when you can just do this sort of thing all day.

    It's not just an ignorant airline pilot, but it really is a federal crime to disobey or interfere with anyone acting as a crewmember on an aircraft.

    But, sigh, I get it.

    • jwz says:

      Wow -- and to think that people bother to contribute to society when you can just do this sort of thing all day.

      Um. What?

      it really is a federal crime to disobey or interfere with anyone acting as a crewmember on an aircraft.

      And it also really is a federal crime to violate the Constitution. And now he gets to sue the airline and/or the FAA because they have done so.

      If you don't know who Gilmore is or why he does these things, read the links in the article.

      • dbaker says:

        Oh come on, you think that behavior specifically to instigate trouble will ever be ignored? You're always going to get a rise out of people with these sorts of things, and it's not like any resolution can end this line of activity.

        I've known John for a few years and known of him for much longer. I've seen the media cover the stunts for a while now, too.

        • jwz says:

          No, I don't think, given how fucked up this country has gotten, that such behavior will be ignored -- but that doesn't make it right.

          If, in fact, he wore that button with the specific intent of getting tossed off the plane so that he could then sue them and make it a test case, then more power to him. "Stunts" like that are good and important.

          • dbaker says:

            What part of the constitution did they violate?

            • jwz says:

              Oh, which part do you think?

              So not interested in arguing about this here.

            • mcfnord says:

              the first part of the Bill of Rights.

              I think it's an important detail that the people around the guy didn't care or mind about this pin.

              It was just overreaction from naive football jocks.

              Is it reasonable to believe that discreet political speech is identical to a boxcutter?

              It does illustrate the ways in which the system is a bit paranoid and out of control. Because we have to remind ourselves that regardless of historical context, we still must abide by the principles of free expression, even on airplanes.

              This other kid was prevented from flying because he brought some goofy (forgotten which) books to read.

              These things remain books, not boxcutters. They remain ideas, not actions. They remain speech and thought. We can say it's a private company (though it is a common carrier) but am I to believe the whole argument that this person was a threat to the aircraft? I cannot.

        • baconmonkey says:

          no kidding. he's a bastard. Him and the rest of his attention-seeking trouble makers, like Rosa Parks, John Scopes, The Sons of Liberty, Oliver Brown, Mahatma Gandhi, and all those other other miscreants.
          How dare they disrupt our way of life.

          • rxrfrx says:

            That's a terrible analogy. All of those people went on trial to test (and hopefully destroy) elements in their society which fundamentally oppressed people. I'm all for the right to be a smartypants on an airplane, but the fact that I often won't be able to do so is not a significant infringement on my right to liberty and happiness. If you're suggesting that wearing a smartass pin is representative of some greater repression of free expression, I must ask: why not just protest and test that injustice directly? A further problem here is that the "Suspected Terrorist" pin is neither funny nor particularly emotionally powerful.

            • baconmonkey says:

              Sitting at the back of the bus is not repression. you arrive at your destination at the same time anyways. you don't have to be a smart-ass and make everyone late by refusing to move.

              Don't like the taxes on tea? well then, don't drink as much tea. what kind of juvenile jackasses dress up funny, break into a shipping vessel and then waste the product by tossing it into the ocean - just because they don't like taxes?

              Look, Plessy Vs. Fergeson declared separate but equal is ok. if the facilities, teachers salaries, materials, and other measurable tangibles are equal, then who cares?

              etc.

              The button incedent is not about fighting for our right to wear clever buttons on airplanes. It's more about the wider picture of the sort of paranoia and bullshit we, as a society have been forced to accept in the wake of the govt's obsession about cracking down on terrorism. on one hand, it does seem a little bit smart-assed to wear a button that essentially says "hey asshole, prove me right", but by the same token, they did prove that they are assholes, and that much of the "searches" criteria is useless. I can't think of a single case where someone made themselves visually stand out, to draw attention to themselves, and then hijacked a plane.

              • Precisely. What a great argument.

              • rxrfrx says:

                Paying taxes, having to sit in an inconvenient place (or losing your seat altogether) because of the color of your skin, and being restricted from a given school because of your physical appearance are all severe impairments to our quality of life. Not being able to wear a smartass pin is not.

                I'm not saying that one cannot protest a greater injustice by flaunting one's disobedience in a smaller matter, but what exactly is the person trying to say with his pin? Where have our free speech rights been violated that we cannot go protest those injustices more directly? I'm just as against paranoia and bullshit as the next guy, but the "suspected terrorist" pin incident seems unnecessary and unhelpful to the cause of freeing us from paranoia and bullshit.

                • jwz says:

                  what exactly is the person trying to say with his pin?

                  He explained that in the article: "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."

                  Seems pretty straightforward to me.

                  Where have our free speech rights been violated that we cannot go protest those injustices more directly?

                  How about the first Google hit for bush free speech zone? It would seem that one is only allowed to express disagreement with the president if one does it miles away and out of camera range.

                  But I guess free speech has its time and its place, doesn't it.

                  • rxrfrx says:

                    Actually, what the article describes Brett Bursey as doing is exactly what I'm talking about. No, he was not "allowed" to protest where he did, and that is why he committed civil disobedience. I suppose that one could technically describe John Gilmore's actions as civil disobedience, but what I'm trying to say is that my quality of life isn't particularly strongly affected by my inability to wear a "suspected terrorist" pin. If the point here is to protest infringements on our quality of life, I think refusal to drink one's own breast milk (i.e. a direct protest) would be more appropriate.

                  • jwz says:

                    And my quality of life isn't particularly strongly affected by my inability to wave a sign within sight of the president. But that doesn't make it any less important that people be allowed to do so.

                  • flipzagging says:

                    but what I'm trying to say is that my quality of life isn't particularly strongly affected by my inability to wear a "suspected terrorist" pin.

                    Why do we have to justify it with some quality-of-life calculus? You might not realize it but you've flipped over into the "everything not explicitly permitted is forbidden" philosophy. And when people start thinking like that, it's very subtle but it has a chilling effect on everything.

                  • rxrfrx says:

                    I haven't flipped over into that philosophy, but I can see how my comments might be interpreted as such...

                  • jabberwokky says:

                    To sum it up, the concept of "innocent until proven guilty" should more than just a legal concept but also a social concept to base ourselves on. I'm not sure he's on firm legal footing right now, which is more of a comment on the problems with current laws than his actions. That's pretty much what all those great protestors were doing - violating laws that were fundimentally wrong according to their ethics. And their ethics eventually won out.

                    As a near offtopic aside, I'd like to see a list of protestors who fought for their beliefs that didn't jibe with the changing times. It would be interesting.

          • dingodonkey says:

            Thankfully, Ghandi has been done away with. Who knows what horrible acts of peace could have taken place otherwise? Won't somebody please think of the children!?

            But really, I'm all for the First Amendment and I think the guy should have been allowed to wear that pin and all, that's his right. But the fact that he did it just to get kicked off and sue is pretty asinine to me -- if you really wanted that flight, over something that pety, you'd have taken it off and sued after the flight.

            I don't like the feeling I get that "if you think John Gilmore is an ass, you have no respect for your rights." Granted, nobody is saying that, but it is the sleezy feeling I get (even though I know it's not true) from other people in these types of arguments.

            • aaronsw says:

              I don't think John wore the pin just to get kicked off; I've attended several public events that he was at and he was wearing it (or another political pin) at all of them.

              • dingodonkey says:

                That's good to know, thanks for commenting on it. Regardless, I still view the situation the same way -- he could easily have just taken it off for the flight. Should he have had to? No. Am I losing sleep over the fact that he's making an issue of it? No. Should he just give a little now and then? I think so, as I think anybody should. Oh well.

          • If you want to badmouth Gandhi, you should call him Mohandas. Mahatma is a term of respect.

        • mcfnord says:

          yes, legislation and historical context aside, it's really more about high school than anything. like those football players who said i can't sit against those lockers each morning no more. yeah they're gonna show me! what makes me so special! "we kill on the football field. you just kill on the chess board!" true story. true quote. still requires confronting.

      • And it also really is a federal crime to violate the Constitution. And now he gets to sue the airline and/or the FAA because they have done so.

        I was under the impression that, while the airline got money from the FAA, the only body bound by the First Ammendment to the Constitution was the US Congress. That's why it says "Congress shall make no law..."

        Now, there are plenty of governmental violations of First Ammendment rights out there (we really only have one of the first 10 ammendments left; unless they've quartered soldiers in your house recently, in which case we're fresh out), but Gilmore's pin is very much like making jokes about bombs while waiting in the check-in line. It's just a bad idea and unnecessarily provokes people who he knew were on edge. There are appropriate places for statements like this, and aboard an airplane bound overseas is not the appropriate place. It is Gilmore's fault that those 300 people were delayed, not the captain's, nor the airline's.

        If you don't know who Gilmore is or why he does these things, read the links in the article.

        I know very well who Gilmore is (and so, I think, does <lj user="dbaker">). He's one of the founding cypherpunks, and has always been a media whore. (Those two things together are why Declan sucks Gilmore's cock so publicly so often.)

        • vample says:

          the only body bound by the First Ammendment to the Constitution was the US Congress. That's why it says "Congress shall make no law..."

          The "due process" clause of the 14th Amendment has been read to apply a number of the amendments, including the First, to the states as well, not just the federal government.

          Clearly this isnt a state issue either, but you need to read beyond the amendment itself to see what it applies to.

    • unstable says:

      Hmm, I'm wondering if deforesting is a valid form of personal expression.

    • mcfnord says:

      it's an ignorant airline, all things considered.

      i wrote them a long and rambling angry letter. i hope this is no crime yet!

  2. sw00p says:

    somehow i was reminded of that cop convention hotel check-in scene in Fear & Loathing, where the clerk gets to lay it out on the narc ... not quite where my sympathies lie, but i guess it ties in with how i view customer service in britain, especially BA crew, now that they're all so pissy (like the US postal service was, before it became popular to say 'gone postal' ...)

  3. crasch says:

    To be sure, the pilot's behavior was annoying and stupid, but aren't airlines ostensibly private companies? If they want to refuse service to someone wearing something they consider offensive, isn't that their right? If you didn't like someone wearing a t-shirt with the slogan "I * heart * the RIAA", and wanted to prevent them from entering the DNA lounge, I would support your right to do so. How is the airline employees behavior different?

    • jwz says:

      Airlines are only sort-of private companies; their behavior is very strictly regulated by the FAA, which is what makes this sort of thing a Federal (and thus Constitutional) issue. "He said that I would endanger the aircraft and commit a federal crime if I did not take it off."

      • sw00p says:

        don't you think this was more of a silly 'question authority' thing that got its bluff called by uptight, regimented (and stressed by their work environment, in more ways than one) types who said 'hey, guess what - we're the authority on this plane and we're going to show you' and not a political thing? it's obvious it was a power issue, since i really doubt they believed he was any kind of a threat ...

        the 'Federal' charge makes me laugh ... a british consulate and a british airways steward both counselled me to lie about my citizenship to the US authorities (keep both passports, IOW) ... so did canadian customs ppl. - that's a 'Federal' crime, too!

        • flipzagging says:

          don't you think this was more of a silly 'question authority' thing that got its bluff called by uptight, [...] types

          Yes, that is what I think. May I suggest you are not grasping the full import of what you just said?

          The whole anti-"terrist" footing enables anybody with a little power over you to behave arbitrarily, and take away your rights. Even your right to make 'silly' political statements.

          • sw00p says:

            i realise that (2nd para), but my context is this - in my limited experience of airlines and customs since ~1980 it's ALWAYS been like that ... their ppl are all pretty much smiling pancake masks until they encounter the first problem they can't solve, whereupon they become the jackboot forever stomping into your face, if you offer enough resistance and should they be able to get away with it. i haven't been on an airline since 2001, so i don't know how more anal they are after 9-11 ...

            point is, he could've worn a "fuck flight attendants, i'm gonna kill you" 'badge' (same import) and still had problems ... esp. since the BA FAs are revolting (npi).

            also, it's possible he was targeted for special attention after checking in ... which would piss me off even more than some pissy BA FAs fucking with him ...

  4. bitwise says:

    Next time Capt. Peter Hughes tries to get a hotel in San Francisco, perhaps someone should deny him service because of his scary politics.

  5. deeptape says:

    I'm glad someone with a lot of resources is making a stink about these problems.

    Still, Annie must be a very understanding person if she is willing to have travel plans randomly dustbinned. ; )

  6. cmm says:

    very, very intelligent of him.
    next time he should try making jokes about the explosives in his suitcase.
    or, perhaps, pointing a plastic gun at armed soldiers.

    I mean, why not?   there's no problem whatsoever to rationalize up some progressive politic reason for one's juvenile stupidity.   perhaps he should also try antiglobalism.

    • king_mob says:

      Yes. A clearly ironic metal badge is obviously the equivalent of possession of lethal weaponry.

      • cmm says:

        I understand that anyone having any sense of humor (and not mortally afraid to be out of line) would happily ignore the badge.
        but this is so not the point.

        • king_mob says:

          My brother's a laissez-faire economist by training, so I learned years ago to be skeptical of anyone who says "That's not the point" without going on to explain what the point, in fact, is. Help me out here.

          My point is that throwing someone of a plane for wearing a button that reads "SUSPECTED TERRORIST" is within epsilon of throwing someone off a plane for wearing a tshirt that reads "Gee, Bush is kind of dumb, isn't he?"

          The "companies can refuse service to whomever they like" argument fails on two accounts: first, that the airlines had already accepted his custom, and two, that this particular attempt to deplane him was backed up by the threat of federal marshals.

          • cmm says:

            fair enough.
            my point is that one can always find a dumb mechanism to irritate, no matter what agenda one happens to have.   airline security is such a dumb mechanism -- and given the current level of paranoia, it is trivially easy to irritate, thus rendering any point one would want to prove by irritating it irrelevant.
            btw: the epsilon you mention is, I think, very large.   try harder.

            • king_mob says:

              btw: the epsilon you mention is, I think, very large.


              I disagree. I also have to leave for Akron in two minutes and therefore can't justify it very well, except to point you at this story.

    • zapevaj says:

      Juvenile stupidity, huh? Yes, Gilmore was probably provoking the airline, but provoking an unjust legal mechanism into publicly humiliating itself and polarizing public opinion against it is a long-standing tradition with a good record of success. The majority of the Civil Rights Movement is a good example (the right of white restaraunt owners to not serve blacks was protected by state constitutions, after all), and the most notable example was the death blow that Joseph Welch dealt to Senator McCarthy during the Army hearings. Dunno if you know this story, but Welch knowingly kept on his trial team a young lawyer who had a brief dalliance with Socialism, so that when Joseph McCarthy uncovered this fact and tried to discredit Welch with it, he would be made to look a fool (this is the "Have you no shame, Senator?" speech.)

      McCarthy was actually right; the young lawyer in Welch's employ did technically have past Socialist associations, and so Welch -was- in the wrong, by the letter of the argument, and Welch's defense team -should- have been discredited and lost the trial. However, Welch used that moment to protest McCarthy's behavior and the legal power to persecute and harass that he had. Average Americans saw Senator McCarthy attacking an upstanding member of a respectable legal firm- basically what he had been doing all along, only this time he was attacking folks with impeccable reputations. That was essentially the last straw for many Congressmen, and the HUAC never did much after that. Senator McCarthy went down in history not as a crusader for truth, but as a hateful fanatic. So, not only is provoking an authority figure to do something stupid a time-honored tactic, it's also very effective in changing public opinion. Given enough time and press, people will listen to stories like John Gilmore's, and say things like "Now, I never liked troublemakers, but this air-security concern is just going too far", just as they said similar things at the end of McCarthyism and Jim Crow.

      So, yeah. You wanna insult Gilmore, go ahead and insult Joseph Welch too. And Martin Luther King Jr. You know, all those sit-in protesters were really just impeding all the good white customers from getting their coffee, weren't they?

      • cmm says:

        wow, that's an impressive display of your evidently well-developed ability to whip yourself into a righteous frenzy.
        now stop being an idiot and try some thinking.

        I know that the airline security system is dumb.   anyone with an IQ higher than that of a common hedgehog knows that.   I doubt anyone whatsoever is happy with it, just like nobody's really happy with the lack of finesse displayed by any big organization where the stakes are high and hiring only examplarily intelligent humans is not an option -- like the police, or the military, well -- you should get the idea by now.

        thing is, the danger of planes falling out of the sky on unsuspecting office buildings is real.   if you've got any bright ideas as to how to optimize the air security system without increasing the danger, please share with us.   but do keep in mind that no matter what rules you propose, you'll have to hire stupid people to implement them, so the likes of Mr Gilmore will have no problem whatsoever making fun of them, should they desire to do so.

        • zapevaj says:

          thing is, the danger of planes falling out of the sky on unsuspecting office buildings is real.

          *snork* *giggle*

          You're probably the last person not in the employ of the government who thinks that someone will be dumb enough to try to hijack a US airliner in the next couple of years.

          In addition, anyone who is drawing the attention of airline authorities to themselves on purpose is -not- a terrorist. Need I remind you that the 9/11 hijackers dressed like software engineers when they boarded their flight. They certainly did not wear "Suspected Terrorist" buttons, nor did they have books on obscure 19th-century radical environmentalists with them, nor were they reading "liberal articles and wearing a beard" (as the guy who was detained at a Starbucks recently was doing). My ideas for "optimizing the air security system" entail the FAA pulling its head out of its ass and realizing who is a threat and who isn't, and figuring out which of the two categories it should be harassing. Cause right now, it REALLY doesn't seem to have that last one figured out. (Which is, of course, Gilmore's fucking point.)

          • cmm says:

            > You're probably the last person not in the employ of the government who thinks that someone will be dumb enough to try to hijack a US airliner in the next couple of years.

            I have two parallel answers to that.

            1. you're spectacularly underestimating just how dumb/crazy some people are.

            2. you are probably right that the chances of anyone hijacking a US plane are infinitesimal.   now, pretend to suspend your disbelief for a moment and take it for granted that some people are just dumb/crazy enough to try.   so, what exactly is it that makes you right when you say that nobody will hijack a US airliner in the next couple of years?   easy question.

            > My ideas for "optimizing the air security system" entail the FAA pulling its head out of its ass and realizing who is a threat and who isn't, and figuring out which of the two categories it should be harassing. Cause right now, it REALLY doesn't seem to have that last one figured out. (Which is, of course, Gilmore's fucking point.)

            you are either not reading for content or refusing to engage your brain.   what makes you think that the FAA has its head up its ass on purpose, just to harass you or Mr Gilmore?   what makes you think that the FAA has any ability whatsoever to pull its head out of there?   my fucking point is that it cannot, by definition, what with it being a big dumb organization dealing with extremely dangerous stuff.   if it bothers you, don't fly.

            (well, I'm oversimplifying.   one existing model of airline security that is not dumb is the one El-Al uses.   they don't harass random people because they don't need to.   instead they check the intelligence on every passenger in advance.   the security guys at the boarding desk know you by name without ever looking at the monitor.   aside from being just a touch more irritating than simple dumb checks & searches (to me, at least), it also probably doesn't scale that well, certainly not to domestic flights.   but it's sure much harder to make fun of).

            • jonabbey says:

              Anyone who tried to hijack a plane in the united states would find themselves on Flight 93 all over again.. now that passengers are acutely aware of the possibility of planes being used as weapons, you're not going to find a plane of people who will sit idly by as a strange voice on the intercom assures him that the hijackers have made a reasonable argument and "we're just going to turn around and go back home."

              That's not to say that hijacker's couldn't kill a mess of people on a flight, but they're not going to be given the chance to fly the plane wherever they want to go.

              • cmm says:

                > That's not to say that hijacker's couldn't kill a mess of people on a flight, but they're not going to be given the chance to fly the plane wherever they want to go.

                and this is an argument for stopping those nasty annoying security checks, right?

                (I'm not trying to be funny, I only want to get your point).

                ((anyway, what I think is more likely is that such a flight would nowadays be simply downed by military, no heroics needed)).

                • jonabbey says:

                  and this is an argument for stopping those nasty annoying security checks, right?

                  It's an argument for a more moderate standard for them, at least. The 9/11 trick really isn't something that will be easily repeated, and I don't expect terrorists to try the same thing twice in any event.

                  I myself have not flown since 9/11, but the stories I've read have really made it seem as though the lets-make-it-seem-more-secure-by-harrasing-innocent-grandmothers factor is a lot higher than it really needs to be.

                  I guess I'll find out next month when I fly up to Alaska.

  7. anonymous says:

    From "You Are All Diseased":
    "That's another thing they don't like at the airport: jokes. Yeah, you can't joke about a bomb. Well why is it just jokes? What about a riddle? How about a limerick? How about a bomb anecdote? You know, no punchline, just a really cute story. Or, suppose you intended the remark not as a joke, but as an ironic musing. Are they prepared to make that distinction?"

  8. He should have took off the button, composed a rap about his experience and kept singing it during the flight.

  9. anonymous says:

    Call me Franklin or Jefferson but I don't understand why people seem so comfortable with any loss of liberty for no gain in security. Are you not outraged? Not being American (call me Canadian, then) I wasn't sure if this was a localised power trip incident or a mindset more broadly shared by the populace. From this thread it's looking pretty bad.

  10. anonymous says:

    I'm flying from Tel Aviv to Montreal in a few weeks...moving back to Canada after living in Israel for 3 years.
    Should I think of pulling this stunt? I think they'll laugh.

    amira

  11. transiit says:

    I'm torn on this one.

    On one hand, we have an uptight airline crew that can't take a joke. Even a stupid one.

    On the other hand, everybody's got their collective panties in a bunch defending freedom of speech based on a pretty amateurish gag.

    I'm not sure I yet see the constitutionality in all of this. Last I checked, the airlines were not acting as an agent of congress writing laws limiting speech.

    Can we think up something a little more clever next time we take a stand?

    • jwz says:

      Well, Gilmore does not characterize it as a joke.

      I agree with Lessig's take:

      At a time of terror, we should demand reasonableness of those with authority - even more strongly than in times of peace. I view BA's behavior here to be unreasonable. I don't doubt they have the "right" to do what they did - such is the nature of law in a time of terror. That's not, in my view, the point. They have the responsibility to behave reasonably in the face of possible threats. Gilmore's behavior was not a threat. If it was a threat, removing the button would not have eliminated the threat. Demanding he remove the button as a condition of flying therefore serves no good end, except the end of showing who's in charge. Reason, not power, should be in charge always, but especially now.

      • transiit says:

        Perhaps I'm making too many assumptions along the lines of "Novelty pins are jokes, not serious political statements"

        I can agree with Lessig's sentiment, although it sounds like it's a pretty tall order. My general view of airline security lately is "Alright, we've got the barn door secured. Let's see those horses get back in here now!"