This is footage of Julio Rausseo, an activist and journalist, at Chicago’s Union Station the day after the Fourth of July.
Why is he so upset? Because there are TSA agents at the train station, and they’re about to set up a screening area.
This audio recording was taken a week later, after Rausseo posted the first video on YouTube. An agent recognized him from the video and began threatening him.
It takes courage to whip out your camera and record TSA agents engaging in what you believe to be an unconstitutional activity.
Standing toe to toe with an officer who is threatening you with arrest? Not for the faint of heart.
I’ve been thinking about TSA dissidents this week. That’s because there’s a struggle within the movement to define who belongs, and who doesn’t.
It’s all so kindergarten, because the struggle against the TSA’s wrongheaded policies needs all the help it can get.
Yet in coming weeks, you might hear from some well-organized individuals with slick fundraising appeals, who will tell you they are the movement — and that, by definition, those of us who are not with them, aren’t true members of the cause.
So let’s talk about the real dissidents.
I’ll begin with the obvious: Rausseo, who recorded the agents and posted the video to the Internet, is the real deal. Anyone who stands up to the well-documented bullying tactics of TSA agents deserves to be recognized as a bona fide dissident.
The confrontations aren’t always taped. The ones between Wendy Thomson and the TSA agents who repeatedly subjected her to invasive pat-downs, weren’t, at least not by her. Yet over several months, her anger turned into a cause: a grassroots organization called Freedom to Travel.
You don’t have to start an organization to be a dissident, of course. Sommer Gentry, the college professor who refused to fly after facing multiple pat-downs that, in another era, might have been considered a sex crime, could have done what most passengers do when that kind of thing happens: she could have walked away quietly. Instead, she risked her career to speak out against a government agency whose policies and procedures she disagreed with.
It’s not that the dissidents aren’t afraid of the TSA or what the Department of Homeland Security might do about them. It’s that they’re more afraid of what will happen to America if they fail to speak up.
Opposing the TSA can be messy. John Tyner’s infamous confrontation with TSA agents in San Diego (also taped) had its share of critics, but he bravely challenged the agents all the same; and for that, he deserves to be counted among the dissidents.
Jonathan Corbett, the activist who is widely credited with discrediting the TSA’s controversial full-body scanners, didn’t have to be threatened with arrest to earn his place in the TSA Dissidents Hall of Fame. And while some may argue with his tactics, he has done an invaluable service to anyone who thinks these untested machines have no place in America’s airports.
The list of legitimate dissidents is as long as it is varied. It includes journalists and commentators like Becky Akers, Amy Alkon, James Fallows, Jeffrey Goldberg, and Lisa Simeone. But it also features regular folks who, through circumstances, were cast as naysayers — people like Andrea Abbott, John Brennan, Yukari Miyamae.
There are others, many others, who are the real thing. And there are fakes.
I know a thing or two about fakes because I’ve watched the rise and fall of a fake consumer advocate in another industry. For five long years, this media personality claimed to speak for every consumer, trying to turn a single personal issue into the industry’s number-one problem. And the person almost succeeded.
I hope we’re not about to see history repeat itself.
It’s difficult to understate the kind of damage a single bogus activist can inflict on an entire movement. Many worthy causes were swept under the carpet because of this particular person’s uncanny ability to bend facts and manipulate a gullible mainstream media. The actions of this fake crusader divided other consumer organizations, rendering them more disorganized and ineffective. When the end finally came, the biggest losers were the people who were supposed to be getting help from the person’s memberless organization.
I can’t stand by and watch that happen again. This is too important. Because if the TSA’s dissidents fail, we’ll lose more than just a few years of momentum.
We could also end up living in a police state.