Who are the real TSA dissidents?

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.

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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.

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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.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • We may not yet be sufficiently organized, but we are definitely working on it…

  • Dannielle Romeo

    it’s “none of his business”? why TSA is at the station? WTF?????

  • ClareClare

    Don’t know how to answer your poll question. If the govt deliberately chooses to ignore the Constitution, it won’t really matter how organized we are, will it?

  • SoBeSparky

    TSA administrators would rather err on the side of detection and terrorism prevention. The perception of an aggressive TSA is important to the agency, which believes its sometimes unbridled enthusiasm for searches and public confrontations deter terrorism. Seems logical, but many “logical” conclusions are not valid. Remember, the death penalty is no deterrent to capital crimes. So does an aggressive TSA deter terrorism? We really have no idea.

    Most citizens would rather err on the side of the Bill of Rights. Congress consists of the three monkeys, failing to see, hear and speak. They would rather not work, i.e. perform oversight of the TSA to generate legislation to make them more professional and user friendly. The Patriot Act is anything but patriotic to those who cherish the Bill of Rights.

    It is the duty of Americans to preserve their own rights within the bounds of the Constitution. The TSA deserves constant close scrutiny, as would any organization which skirts the along borders of free speech and unreasonable search and seizure. More effective citizen organization is necessary to get Congress to work for a change.

  • Susan J. Barretta

    Add Jennifer Abel to the list of journalists! She writes columns in the UK Guardian.

  • Susan J. Barretta

    Organization is extremely difficult. Everybody hangs around on Facebook. I think the day could come when FB tries to charge fees or boots us off.

    There is a also a profound lack of motivation by the majority of people who gripe about TSA to do something about it. Most think that a special pre-check program or using sniffer dogs will solve the problem, which they won’t.

  • cjr001

    Critics were organized enough to make a difference on National Opt Out
    Day: TSA shut down the pornoscanners in many airports to try and
    undercut the protest*. And while the media narrative that day was biased
    against the protest, the protest itself was hugely successful.

    Unfortunately, it hasn’t really been attempted again since.

    *Not only did this prove us right that TSA is useless, it also showed
    that they are more than willing to put everybody at risk for the sake
    of a little PR

  • ExplorationTravMag

    I truly don’t believe they really NEED to be organized, well or poorly, to work towards change. However, I also don’t believe TSA ever WILL change. This is a government organization and when dealing with the government, their idea of “change” is to throw more money at it, not make “change”.

  • scapel

    The most important thing is not what is getting on aircraft, but who is getting on. If by chance I become a suspected terriorist, by all means do all you think you have to do, but then tell me why you think I was a suspect.

  • Andrew Davis

    Thanks for this comprehensive list of traitors. We’ll be rounding them up promptly.

  • I appreciate my “real dissident” status. :) Regarding organization, I think there’s a lot more we can do (would be happy to discuss with you), but to some extent, the disorganization leads to the TSA being hit at every angle. People are suing, people are blogging, people are making videos, people are “traditional protesting” (flyers, tables, bullhorns, soapbox, etc.), people are contacting their representatives, people are donating money, and people are standing up and saying “no” (sometimes phrased as “I opt out!”). If organization increases, we still need to make sure that everyone continutes to the fight in the way that they can contribute most meaningfully.

  • I have spoken up at numerous checkpoints. Loudly. I’ve invited others to do the same. It disheartens me to see people avert their gazes as if I’m not even there. I wish I knew what more I could do to get people to take responsibility for their own freedoms. They just wander into the sheep pens without saying a word.

  • frostysnowman

    You, me, all of us, are already “suspected terrorists”, based on how we are treated at the airports simply because we want or need to fly somewhere. Telling us why we are suspects is meaningless since we all have to be treated the same according to the TSA.

  • Benjamin Franklin stated “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” This was true then and it’s true now. Apparently our current government, and especially the TSA have lost sight of this.

  • TravelingSalesman

    TSA still doesn’t get it.

    As long as they can’t search a woman in Muslim garb, we are so screwed.

  • plodder

    LOL – nothing changes. The TSA is entertainment.

  • IGoEverywhere

    Go for it. Re-training is in total order

  • Drontil

    People avert their gaze because they know that what you are doing is what should be done, but they are too much in a hurry to do the same. They are also ashamed by what happens at the checkpoint.

  • So my question is what is the law (or are the laws) to which the officer in the second video (mostly audio) was referring?

  • America as we knew it is gone. The only way to get it back is to be bold about the bullies and stand up to them. We need more people in TSA lines chanting in unison, “I’m mad as hell and I’m NOT going to take it anymore!” to make a scene the rest of America will have etched in their minds as just as historic as the day Rosa Parks refused to have her civil rights violated. The watchers need to be watched and reminded that they work for US and NOT the other way around.

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