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"Suspected Terrorist" button gets Gilmore ejected from airplane
01 July 2003
You probably 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".
(See Reason Article
(Buttons are not available now but should be soon here
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 s