Take My Freedom, Please!

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As a result of last week’s article (The Libertarian State of the Union) I got into a discussion with one of my acquaintances over the no-fly list. His stance boiled down to this – he’s willing to put up with increased government regulation in exchange for a more secure life, or as he put it, “Sometimes a little inconvenience provides a higher level of freedom for everyone.”

Obviously his use of the word “freedom” has nothing to do with actual freedom. When the government tells you what you can and cannot do, it doesn’t give you more freedom, it takes freedom from you. It was clear from the rest of our discussion that the “freedom” he referred to is freedom from worrying about other people. It’s fine with him if someone else is “inconvenienced” (being stopped from boarding a plane that flies from Europe to the US is a bit more than inconvenient) as long as he can travel without his plane explosion nightmare coming true. To statists, security is paramount, rights be damned.

For the moment let’s give my friend the benefit of the doubt and assume that restricting your right to travel freely is worth it if it makes us all safer. Nobody wants to die because some crazy follower-of-the-prophet thinks he’ll net 72 virgins if he blows-up a plane, incinerating you with him. But does the no-fly list stop this from happening?

The no-fly list actually predates the 9/11 attacks and was called the no-transport list. When 9/11 occurred the list had a total of 16 names on it and those 16 people were identified as “specific threats” to aviation. In other words the feds were investigating these folks and had reason to believe they would hijack a plane. Do you know who wasn’t on that list? The 9/11 hijackers.

Post-9/11 the Bush administration created the transportation Gestapo (TSA) and put them in charge of the no-fly list. Within a few months the list mushroomed to 1,000 names … and then it exploded. In three years it grew to 70,000 people and as of 3:23 PM on January 20, 2016 there are 98,885 “terrorists” on the list. You can even check to see if you’re on it. Just go to www.No-Fly-List.com and enter your name. One thing though, just because it says you’re not on the list doesn’t mean you’re not on the list. We can’t let the terrorists know the government is on to them, right?

For the first couple of years that the no-fly list existed the government insisted that it wasn’t real, but then they screwed with the wrong person. In March 2004, Senator Ted Kennedy was detained five times when trying to board US Air flights because the name “T. Kennedy” was on the list. Never mind that the Senator’s first initial is “E”, as far as the TSA was concerned Kennedy was a dangerous individual who couldn’t be allowed to move freely about the country. At a Senate hearing on the 9/11 commission, Kennedy recounted the difficulty of trying to get his name off the list, which he was eventually able to do because he was one of the most powerful politicians in Washington. But how many other innocent T. Kennedys were detained or even prevented from flying? According to the ACLU, the TSA detained at least 350 Americans between 2001 and 2004 for being on the list. During that time 0 (zero, nada, nilch) terrorists were arrested for being on the no-fly list and trying to board a plane.

So what other dangerous madmen have been detained or even denied the right to travel because they’re on the list?

Georgia Congressman John Lewis – he spent 2004 being detained at least 35 times. Lacking Kennedy’s clout it took him over a year to get his name off the list.

Yusuf Islam a.k.a. singer Cat Stevens – in 2004 he made it onto a plane from London to Washington but mid-flight the TSA became aware of his presence and had the plane diverted to Maine. Stevens was forced to return to Britain. Apparently by 2006 he was off the list and flew without incident to the US.

Catherine Stevens – the wife of Senator Ted Stevens was detained because her name is similar to Cat Stevens.

US Marine Sergeant Daniel Brown – prevented from boarding a flight home at the end of his tour in Iraq.

US Marine veteran Abe Mashall – prevented from boarding a plane in Chicago. The FBI refused to tell him why he was on the list but then tried to blackmail him by saying he would be de-listed if he became an undercover informant for them. He is now suing the FBI, TSA, and DHS.

Dave Nelson – apparently anyone with this name, including the son of Ozzie and Harriet.

Gulet Mohamed – an American teenager who was prevented from boarding a flight home to Virginia after visiting relatives in Kuwait. As a result, he overstayed his visa and was imprisoned, beaten, and interrogated by the Kuwaitis. He was finally allowed to return to the US after filing a lawsuit against the feds.

Federal Air Marshals – a number of marshals (who are TSA employees!) have been prevented from boarding flights they were assigned to protect. One marshal spent six years trying to get his name removed from the list.

Numerous children – even if the rest of the family is clear to fly. At least one infant and several toddlers have been prevented from boarding planes.

The list goes on and on but there is another list the government doesn’t want you to know about … the list of terrorists who AREN’T stopped by the no-fly list. Shoe bomber Richard Reid had no trouble boarding a flight between Paris and Miami in late 2001. Underwear bomber Umar Abdulmutallab faced no delays in boarding an Amsterdam to Detroit flight in 2009. And the most famous recent examples are Syed Farook and his wife Tasfeen Malik, the San Bernadino gunmen. They both flew to the US from Saudi Arabia in 2014 without any difficulty. As far as can be ascertained, no real terrorists have ever been stopped from committing mayhem by the no-fly list.

Thus it appears that the no-fly list is populated mainly with people who pose no threat to anyone else and the bad guys most likely to hurt you don’t even end up on the list. How does this make you safe?

It doesn’t.

But it does trample on your rights and freedom. Most obviously your freedom to travel is restricted but that’s not the only right that is infringed. The feds refuse to say what the criteria are to put someone on the no-fly list but leaked documents and court hearings have allowed a peek at what they might be. One of the most chilling is your speech. All it takes is a Facebook rant or snide tweet and you could be travel black-listed.

Have you pissed off a cop? The local police also get to contribute names and it doesn’t have to be for terror related reasons. You don’t even have to break the law. In 2008, the Maryland State Police added 53 non-violent political activists to the list for opposing the death penalty and the Iraq War.

Have you traveled to the wrong country? You know, anywhere Muslim? That could get you on the list. You Muslims better not exercise your freedom of religion by going to Saudi Arabia for the Haj … you might not be allowed to come home. In fact, it’s really not a good idea to be Muslim in the first place if you want the government to allow you to fly.

And let’s not forget your freedom of association. Did you like a Facebook post by the younger sister of some guy the feds are watching? Bam! You are on the list.

But most importantly your 5th Amendment right to due process is completely ignored. At no point in the process of being added to the list is there ever a hearing in front of a judge where the TSA must prove your right to travel should be restricted. At no point do you get to defend yourself in court. In fact, you’re not even allowed to know it is happening. As far as the no-fly list is concerned, you have no rights because FYTW.

But hey, the degradation of your freedom of speech, freedom to travel, freedom of religion, freedom of association, and right to due process is completely justified. After all it allows the big government authortarians who live in a fantasy world populated by demonic terrorists to feel safe. Isn’t the loss of freedom a small price to pay for the luxury of false security?


 

As the year progresses I plan to keep a running tally of the number of unarmed citizens and dogs killed by police. I will also keep tabs on the number of cops killed in the line of duty.

Here’s the count for the first 3 weeks of the year:

Unarmed Americans killed by police: 2

Woman, Dog Shot and Killed by El Cajon Police After High-Speed Pursuit

Dogs killed by police: 1

Police killed in the line of duty: 2

2 Cops Shot, One Fatally, After Serious Car Crash in Salt Lake City Area

Danville Officer Thomas Cottrell Shot Dead, Weapon and Cruiser Stolen

Wayne Middlesteadt is the author of Five Ways to Beat the Market and The Golden Age of Distance Running.

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Wayne Middlesteadt is a 1986 graduate of Georgia Tech and has an MBA from Georgia State University. Currently working as a financial writer and track and field historian, his latest book is Five Ways To Beat The Market.