Airline Passenger’s Stripping Protest Lands Officers In First-Amendment School

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For failing to understand and respect the civil liberties of U.S. citizens, law enforcement officers at the Richmond International Airport will now be required to take a two-hour class on the First and Fourth amendments.

The new class is part of the settlement of a lawsuit brought by a man who was unlawfully detained for removing his clothing in protest against the airport’s full-body scanners.

In 2010, 21-year-old Aaron Tobey, a student at the University of Cincinnati, stripped to his underwear in the screening area at Richmond International Airport, revealing a handwrittenmessage on his chest that said, “Amendment 4: The right of the people to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated.”

Tobey said he didn’t want to go through the new advanced imaging scanners at the airport. By opting out, he was required to go through a pat-down procedure by a Transportation Security Administration agent.

According to Tobey’s lawyer, James Knicely, Tobey stripped down to his skivvies to show the agent he had nothing to hide and “communicate his objection” to the invasive screening process.

But the TSA agents didn’t find Tobey’s protest amusing and called airport police, who detained Tobey. Handcuffed throughout the 90-minute interrogation, Tobey was asked “about his affiliation with, or knowledge of, any terrorist organizations, if he had been asked to do what he did by any third party, and what his intentions and goals were.”

Tobey, who was traveling to Wisconsin for his grandmother’s funeral, was released and made his flight, but Richmond-area prosecutors filed a disorderly conduct charge against him. The misdemeanor charge was dropped days after it was filed. But Tobey fired back and filed a lawsuitagainst the TSA seeking $250,000 in legal fees and damages, claiming the agency violated his civil liberties.

In a lower court, Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson sided against Tobey, reasoning that the location of the protest was not appropriate.

“Had this protest been launched somewhere other than in the security-screening area, we would have a much different case,” Judge Wilkinson wrote. “But Tobey’s antics diverted defendants from their passenger-screening duties for a period, a diversion that nefarious actors could have exploited to dangerous effect. Defendants responded as any passenger would hope they would, summoning local law enforcement to remove Tobey — and the distraction he was creating — from the scene.”

However, Tobey’s case was appealed and brought to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled 2 to 1 to overturn the lower court’s decision.

“It is crystal clear,” the appeals court wrote, “that the First Amendment protects peaceful nondisruptive speech in an airport, and that such speech cannot be suppressed solely because the government disagrees with it.”

In his opinion, Judge Roger Gregory wrote: “Mr. Tobey engaged in a silent, peaceful protest using the text of our Constitution — he was well within the ambit of First Amendment protections. And while it is tempting to hold that First Amendment rights should acquiesce to national security in this instance, our Forefather Benjamin Franklin warned against such a temptation by opining that those ‘who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.’ We take heed of his warning and are therefore unwilling to relinquish our First Amendment protections — even in an airport.

The court said that while TSA’s job is to keep passengers safe, Tobey was not aggressive and posed no visible threat to any TSA agents or his fellow passengers.

Many First Amendment and Fourth Amendment advocates say that additional training for the officers is a positive step.

“Sporadic as they are, individuals such as Tobey who appropriately exercise their Constitutional rights are important in keeping under-trained and over-reactive government officials in check of their authority,” Alex Uriarte, a policy assistant at the nonprofit America Achieves, wrote for PolicyMic. “Better education, better training and greater awareness of our civilian rights might just make for a more cooperative, respectful, and constitutional system altogether.”

  • https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1285694644 Debbie LeBlanc

    ALL of TSA and HSA is over-reactive and under-trained!

    • WizardG

      In this country and in our world, the ‘elite’ are always going to be aggressively in power, and those who are wealthy and/or positioned enough to side with the elite will support them in almost every way. Those who receive their power from the elite (as the elite take the wealth of the people and use it to pay, and prop, and honor on them) will ignorantly and/or happily serve the elite even to the point of murder and genocide! The “good” people who are neither interested in wealth or power, will forever be on the defensive side of this ‘mad human existence’! The good people will forever remain the victims and we will always find ourselves fighting to get back to a place that is taken from us on an everyday growing bases! While the elite are always aggressively plotting against the people the people are always left in the dark, confused, misguided, and struggling to make sense of issues they are hardly ever aware of until it is too late. And even when it’s is too late to build on the good the elite are decades and even centuries
      ahead on strategies to thwart and steal and manipulate, and deceive, and lie, and kill and take, take, take!

  • Bat Mitzvah

    They have training?!?! Is any of it competency?!?!

  • May

    I agree with Debbie. I remember reading news such as hand cuffing an old lady for under-speeding, hand cuffing a first grader for tantrum in the class, suspending a first grader for kissing a girl – sexual harassment! I think people need to use their common sense too.

  • heenan73

    They totally over-reacted. They should have simply denied him the flight, and left it up to him. He has a total right not to be searched – they have a total right not to allow a non-searched person on the plane.

    Let’s face it, if they stopped searches altogether, there’d be two possible outcomes:
    1. 90% of people wouldn’t fly
    2. Planes would be bombed out of the sky on an hourly basis.

    No-one ‘likes’ these searches – but not many people like to be bombed, in my experience.

    • Brian

      Actually – he stripped down to his underwear, thus he was not a non-searched person. Since when does have part of the constitution written on ones body equate to terrorism/inability to fly.

      I recall such overreach when I travelled with my family to Colorado. We had two young children (4 yo and 2 yo), and a baby. The ‘well trained’ security insisted on having the kids go through first, while refusing to ensure the kids didn’t take off on the other side. They refused to allow me or my wife go through first, so we could take responsibility for them. So they got pissed when my 2 yo starting walking off, and I walked through the metal detector and stopper her – before they were ready for me to do so.

      The fact that I explained to them exactly why I wanted an adult to go through first, and that it occurred exactly as I told them it would, didn’t seem to matter. No freaking common sense.

      Then, since my wife had a nursing bra, they started harassing her – while I tried to keep the kids together. After showing them the nursing bra, they said she was going to have to take it off…so she was pissed enough to start taking it off right there. And they finally came to their senses and let us pass (evidently coercing a nursing mother to strip down finally crossed a line).

      not surprisingly, my letter of protest to the TSA went unanswered.

    • Jim Kahan ’64

      We have evidence about what would happen, based on behavior before these unConstitutional searches were instituted. (1) 99% or more of people would fly, and (2) planes would be bombed out of the sky perhaps once every ten to twenty years. I challenge Heenan73 to name a dozen instances when planes were bombed out of the sky.

      • heenan73

        Oh, please. The world has changed since then. Despite the security, there have been several attempts to blow up planes (Google is your friend), and if you scrapped them tomorrow, you seriously believe there’d be none?
        I’ll bet you’re not a frequent flyer. You have no clue. Even your home-grown terrorists might branch out, but if they don’t, there’s many thousands of foreign based terrorists who are being trained right now as suicide bombers. You clearly depend way too much on Fox News.

        • DJ

          I am a frequent flyer and I can assure you that what Mr. Kahan says is true. Attempts on everyone’s security happens daily. If we allow that to restrict our freedom we are allowing those that do that to win. Better police tactics and intelligence stops those attempts, not the lame screening and unrealistic searches conducted before getting on an airplane, bus or train. It appalls me to think that we have moved so far away from the freedoms that we enjoy in this country because of simple fear of the unknown. Get a grip! Everything we do has elements of danger in it and eventually everyone dies. There is no such thing as real security so get out and live your life and stop bitching. Oh and I don’t watch Fox news, ever.

        • jerrylovelight

          Yes, Heenan73, the world and technology have changed and they can do everything they need to do to reasonably check for bombs without doing what they do. Do uou even travel? I have been thru airports in China that do not have the kind of screening we have. Taking off our shoes forever because of one crazy failed attempt? I can hardly wait for someone to smuggle a cherry bomb in their ass. You, Heenan73 are a fucking sheep.

          • http://highdesertpermaculture.org Christine Baker

            I have to add here that the last time I flew to Germany in about 1997 I decided to NEVER fly again because of the Frankfurt security procedures. To make a long story short, I arrived with my dog three hours early, they refused to check him in until a few minutes prior to departure and then I was way late and ended up having some guys with machine guns take me to a room to inspect my notebook. I was the last person to get on the plane and as stressed as could be.

            However, at least I didn’t have to take my shoes off.

            I actually moved to the US in the early 80s and was REALLY sick of the German police state, the constant surveillance, road blocks and car searches due to the Germans’ hunt for the Baader Meinhof terrorists. If you watch the movie The Baader Meinhof Complex you may find it interesting to see how the Germans started to use data mining to locate them by looking for cash payers for utilities.

            It was a bit weird to live in the US under Reagan, but I ignored politics and enjoyed the freedom to travel, being able to drive thousands of miles without any borders or searches. And now it’s as bad here as in Germany.

            I am certain that this will never change and I don’t think that Snowden revealed any secrets as I’ve known about the NSA surveillance practices for many years.

            I’d again move to another country if I could find one that respects its citizens’ privacy and rights.

            I greatly appreciate the efforts of Aaron Tobey, Snowden and many others and its sad to see that so many Americans want to believe that living in a police state will make them safer. I just don’t see how things could change.

            The government will do WHATEVER IS NECESSARY to scare the crap out of Americans. If we actually had legislation curtailing surveillance, we’d have another 9/11.

    • MJG

      Those who would sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither.

      — Benjamin Franklin

      • http://twitter.com/wizardgynoid Wizard Gynoid (@wizardgynoid)

        Nope. Sorry MJG. “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin

        • Desdinova

          Actually, since we’re splitting hairs, the quote you posted was not the original version:

          This expression seems to have mutated over time. Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989) cites it as:

          Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

          Benjamin Franklin, “Pennsylvania Assembly: Reply to the Governor”, November 11, 1755; as cited in The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 6, p. 242, Leonard W. Labaree, ed. (1963)

          It shows up four years later in a slightly different form, according to Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (1919):

          They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

          Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania (1759); included in the work and displayed as the motto of the work, according to Rise of the Republic of the United States, p. 413, Richard Frothingham (1873)

          Back to Respectfully Quoted, we find yet another version inscribed in a famous monument:

          They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
          Benjamin Franklin; stairwell plaque in the Statue of Liberty

          It’s possible that Franklin said this in different ways at earlier times, but so far, the 1755 letter is the earliest source I’ve found. ~ Jeff Q (talk) 04:14, 19 April 2006 (UTC).

    • Wahoo The Druid

      Heenan73, you said that without searches “Planes would be bombed out of the sky on an hourly basis.” There have been literally millions of these intrusive searches, can you tell me how many bombs or explosive devices have been found? Exactly! It seems the only ones I recall were the shoe bomber and underwear bomber, both of whom apparently sailed right through security.

  • cml

    I’m sorry heenan73, but I feel that’s not the case. If searches were stopped 95% of flights would be uneventful. The problem is the few that would be bombed would be horribly tragic.

    • MichaelM

      5% of flights? That would be a couple of them each minute, more than 20 hours a day, 365 days a year. It’s hardly “few”.

      • heenan73

        I certainly wouldn’t suggest 5% would be destroyed; but you’d be incredibly naive to believe none would. Even with post 9/11 security, there’ve been a fair few attempts, some have actually boarded planes, at least two have only failed because their devides failed. Without security, they’d be using less sophisticated, more reliable bombs. Successfully.
        We live in a dangerous world; denying it won’t make it go away.

        • Tim!

          Two elements of post 9/11 security have had any significant effect on airplane security:
          1) secured cockpit doors
          2) increased passenger awareness

          Any other security measure at the airport is precisely zero percent effective, and is intended to make passengers feel safer, not to make us actually safer, to show voters that their representatives are Doing Something About This without any consideration of whether that Something is actually useful or effective.

          No effective security measure requires the forfeiture of our constitutional rights nor has such a tremendous negative impact on our economy.

          Other effective security measures include good old fashioned detective work, long before a plot reaches the airport; and the recognition that terrorist attack is nowhere near likely nor as physically or economically impactful as it feels. You are as likely to die in the bathtub as you are to die by the hands of an Islamic terrorist. You are 22 times more likely to die of a brain-eating parasite than any kind of terrorist attack. You are 187 times more likely to die of hunger in America than of a terrorist attack. You are 11,000 times more likely to die in a non-terrorist airplane accident than in a terrorist attack on an airplane.

          Let’s focus our efforts on real risks instead of imaginary paranoid fantasies. Very few people are out to get us, and very few of them are capable of doing anything about it.

          I’m sorry to hear that you’re so scared. Yes, the world is a dangerous place. But 9/11 didn’t change that. It’s no more dangerous now than it was before, we’re just more scared about it. Putting on an ineffective security theater production won’t make the danger go away. Read some Bruce Schneier.

          • Charlie

            Exactly how I like to describe 90% of politicians-Saying a whole lotta a something to say a whole lotta nothing. Big words…but no meaning.

        • NotInterested

          Actually, instead of 5% you suggested 90% …

          heenan73
          July 25, 2013 at 6:39 am · Reply


          1. 90% of people wouldn’t fly
          2. Planes would be bombed out of the sky on an hourly basis.

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  • https://www.facebook.com/batalus Art Davis

    It’s security theatre. Only a complete fool would think that such measures protect them from anything. It would be child’s play to circumvent such measures, but they are there to make us feel safe – when actually all they do is make us feel violated. When will we stop giving up our civil liberties because some asshole in washington who will never have to follow the laws he makes anyway says so?

    • http://highdesertpermaculture.org Christine Baker

      So true. And so many Americans are such incredibly stupid braindead morons and actually believe the constant humiliation makes them safer.

      Sad …

  • Maya Seting

    No clothes on…no need to pat down. FULL BODY RADIATIONsanitized to ADVANCED IMAGING SCANNER

  • http://www.con-toons.com Constance

    Homeland security and the TSA are ineffective and overreactive. The constitution might as well be considered a suggestion, it certainly isn’t being used as a guide for civil rights.

  • Robyn Ryan

    They WANT you to be afraid. They want you to knuckle under and take it.

  • Preacher Jay

    TSA- one more reason to live in Europe, where airplanes are bombed out of the sky all the time… lol

    • heenan73

      I’m beginning to realise that none of you tin-foil hat guys have ever been in an airplane – and anyone who thinks European passengers don’t get searched has zero clue. It’s just a game for you stay-at-home kids; for real people who travel by air, it’s life and death. Maybe you need to get a life before you understand about death?

      • Dave

        “real people”?

      • Russ

        Paging passenger heenan73, please return to security. You forgot your meds and are totally intolerable without them.

      • Seth

        I fly enough to hold Diamond Medallion status on Delta. Security Theater doesn’t make me any safer. The TSA itself admits it doesn’t catch half the guns it’s tested with.

        If you want numbers, the number of life-hours wasted by waiting in line for TSA Security Theater greatly exceeds the number of life-hours that would be taken by terrorists if airport security reverted to the levels of the 1990s.

        Do you work for the TSA or sell stuff to them?

      • https://www.facebook.com/tommyjonestheband Thomas Jones

        wow, you really are a scared little sissy, aren’t you?

        Terrorism only works on the terrified;. Obviously it works on you.

  • Desertthorn

    I’m 72 and have to announce that I wear a breast prostatic every time I go through those damn machines and still I get patted down. I often wish I could just remove the boob and put it on the conveyer along with my other stuff, but I might not get it back.

    • Adrianne Mock

      Oh, my gosh, I love that. Bet that would stop them cold… I can just picture that. Thanks for the laugh!!!

  • Cargoman

    Heenan, you are an idiot. As a cargo manager for over 20 years for an airline, I can without a doubt tell you that TSA screenings are futile and a facade for controlling the populace. Sticking your head in the TSA sand is ignorant…..

  • Jovelle

    First~~Mr. Aaron Tobey…..YOU ROCK!!!

    And they tell me that the terrorists haven’t won…yeah……….right?

  • D Lohr

    Whenever this stuff comes up, I like to remind everyone to do a search (can’t post the link) on Israeli airports. They do not do all of this. They are much more subject to bad acts. Their goal is to have you at your gate in 10 minutes. Their flights are very safe…. this wouldbe even if there was an incident as you would need to average the risks.

    Heartily agree with Mr Franklin!!

    • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

      Isreali security is also abusive — unless you’re the “right” type.” If you’re the “wrong” type, you’ll be harassed, even roughed up, and made to miss your flight. And if you’re a peace activist, forget it — you’ll be cavity-searched in a back room. Just ask Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, who has written publicly about her experience.

      Bombs still go off in Israel, just not on planes. Buses, cafes, marketplaces. There’s no such thing as 100% security. But Americans think there is; that’s why they’re willing to bend over and spread ‘em every time an authority figure tells them to.

  • George

    I was once going through a TSA security check right behind a uniformed pilot (who also displayed security credentials that she was who she claimed to be).
    I witnessed first hand the TSA agent confiscate a small nail clipper from the pilot.
    The pilot asked the agent “Why are you takiing them from me?”
    The agent responded with ” you could possibly take control of the aircraft with this weapon”.
    To which the pilot responded “Why wouldn’t you want me to have control of the aircraft? That’s why I’m on the aircraft!”
    The TSA agent became befuddled and just continued to repeat the stupid logic.
    Unbelievable!

    • Peter howie

      Brilliant story

  • http://russianhillhandyman.com rhh

    Aaron Tobey is awesome.

  • Amanda

    It makes me happy to see folk who use peaceful means to make their point and the point is heard. I think attaching anyone who goes by “heenan76″ or seventy anything really is pointless. Ben Franklin put it best when he said that to give up a little liberty for a little security will forfeit both.

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  • http://facebook Harry

    He should have been detained for psychiatric evaluation and the rest of the passengers should have been allowed to board and the plane leave without him.

    • Seth

      So, on your planet someone must be insane to believe in Constitutional rights? I’m glad I don’t live there.

    • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

      Henry, baaaa.

  • http://gravatar.com/lovelykatja lovelykatja

    Let’s face it, our rights are being stripped away at an alarming rate but Aaron Tobey was willing to do something about it. We are being watched, spied upon, and legislated to death. The patriot act, which is anything but, opened us up to more government intrusion and secret spying. We are watched on cameras, spied on by satellite, our phones track our movements, and even our very thoughts are censored online. America is becoming what we were taught to fear, a land of communism. A land where spying and searches and identity stops are becoming the rule rather than the exception. It is chilling and somehow mind boggling to think that this country is now as corrupt as the Soviet Union but it is happening. Our borders are left wide open for any terrorist to come waltzing through as they please, all while our president and senate are calling for the legalization of millions of illegal invaders many of whom have not only broken immigration law but also are part of drug cartels, gangs, they are pedophiles, rapists and yes, even terrorists. It simply does not make sense that the government has such a show at the airport and yet allows terrorists of all kinds to enter through our unprotected southern border. Where is the logic? But along comes one brave man, willing to stand up for what is right and there are these cowards who think he should have a psychiatric evaluation, etc. Really, Aaron Tobey, along with Edward Snowden are the kind of men who stood up to England and said enough. They are true patriots.

    • http://highdesertpermaculture.org Christine Baker

      Yet, they will accomplish nothing.

  • KMDAB

    I don’t see how standing there for a couple of seconds in an airport body scanner (with your clothes on) constitutes invasive procedure….but stripping to your skivvies is somehow less invasive? Sounds like this young man was just itching to make a statement about something. Probably wasn’t really flying anywhere, just bought a ticket so he could create a scene.

    • Kevin Zeese

      Of course, he was — it was a protest! We should all be protesting these unwarranted searches.

  • http://abombazine.com Lisa Simeone

    We’ve been covering the Aaron Tobey story at TSA News from the beginning. Also that of of John Brennan, Yukari Miyamae, Carol Jean Price, Andrea Abbott Fornello, Frank Hannibal, Carol Dintenfass, Nadine Kay Hays, and the many others who are courageously trying to fight the abuse of the TSA. Check us out at TSA News Blog dot com. Or click link at my name for more info.

    • Kevin Zeese

      You cover the abuses of TSA better than anybody! And, your outrage shows.