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.

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.

  • >That’s because there’s a struggle within the movement to define who belongs, and who doesn’t.

    I don’t understand this comment. I’m not aware of any “struggle” among TSA protestors. In fact, I’m (sadly) unaware of any organized “movement”

    Having said that, I am not particularly impressed with the arguments that Rausseo makes. I fear that he is, in fact, on private property and that he can be prevented from filming just as I could legitimately prevent him from filming invited TSA agents checking guests at a party in my home (as if!).

    I’m glad he’s protesting the TSA, but his arguments do seem to dilute the potency of what other, better informed, protestors are saying.

  • ToriBlue

    Personally, I’ve been saying for awhile we need to “up the ante.” By this I mean calling out individual screeners. Post names of gropey screeners, heck, post their facebook pages. Let’s make flipping burgers more honorable than working for TSA.

  • bob

    I posted a reply earlier but it has not showed up. So i will try again.

    This is not the TSA. This is Amtrak Police. Amtrak Police are sworn LEO’s. Notice the gun and holster.

    The station is Amtrak property. It is private property. This is unlike the situation at Airports. Airports are owned by local municipalities and the terminal area’s are public.

    Amtrak policy is quite clear –


    The public can take pictures, in common area’s but Amtrak reserves the right to question them. Ticketed passengers can take pictures of the boarding platforms.

    Passengers cannot take pictures in restricted area’s. Journalists can IF they ask for permission.

    Julio did not have a ticket AND walked into a secured area. Therefore he was A. Trespassing on Amtrak property B. In violation of Amtrak photo policy.

    Amtrak Police are ticked off because someone posted a youtube video of them walking past security and taking pictures in a secure area.

    Yes he could have been arrested, and it has nothing to do with the TSA.

    • LeeAnneClark

      Well hello Blogdad Bob. Sleeping well lately? What must it be like to look in the mirror and see someone who defends sexual assaulting children, humiliating the elderly, and harassing the disabled?

      • bob

        Sorry Ann – I am not Blogger Bob. In fact i have posted here, and submitted stories many times, and do not support the TSA, I support the rule of LAW. I stand by what i said. This has nothing to do with the TSA. Amtrak property is federal, unlike the Airport environments. He violated Amtrak policy. He was threatened by Amtrak police. The TSA was operating in the same useless fashion as they do at local Metro area’s. That is swabbing for explosives with local LEO’s in charge. TSA did not bully this guy, Amtrak police (sworn LEO’s) did. And they did so because he walked into what was supposed to be a secure area. And because he posted the video of him breaking the law they do have every right to arrest him for trespassing on Amtrak property. I can imagine Chief O’Conner was pretty PO’d when he saw a video on youtube of someone walking past Amtrak police and put the hammer down on these guys.

        • 1amWendy

          O’Connor has retired. Don’t know who the new guy is but I’ve already written Amtrak that I expect that O’Connor’s upholding of the Constitution continues.

        • LeeAnneClark

          Well Bob, Mea Culpa. I’m glad to know that you do not support the TSA – we need every American we can get to open their eyes to their uselessness and abuse. I made the (obviously erroneous) assumption that you were defending the TSA, which I see from your post now, wasn’t the case.

  • johnstamos

    “Being too organized will result in domestic terrorism hysteria and fear mongering on the part of the DHS.
    Being organized is not the key to success.” What I am reading here is an admission of fear. you let the government with this statement

    • ElizabethConley

      Being “organized” pollutes the message and weakens our effectiveness.
      Ironically, while the current administration publicly derides “conspiracy theories” and even spins legislation and covert counter measures to counter “conspiracies”, the DHS incessantly spins out conspiracy theories of its own. The enemy is organized, and cannot conceive of opposition that is not organized.
      There is no better attack strategy than one which your opponent is incapable of conceptualizing.
      This is why organizing is not the key to success. Organizing plays to the strengths of fascist government entities. Time and time again we have seen our government disrupt the organizations that oppose it, thereby attaining victory. Organizations are well understood by government entities, because they are organizations themselves.
      The most effective counter to the filthy disease of fascism is public awareness. The U.S. can be inoculated against the spread of the police state one person, one community, one state at a time. Such awareness spreads exponentially from person to person. This inoculation of awareness is beyond the police state’s ability to counter, because there is no organization to infiltrate and disrupt.
      It is entirely natural to the human condition that we share information. That’s all we need do. Each human with whom we share will do the same, as it is entirely natural and healthy to do so. As individuals, we relentlessly share what we know. It will break the back of tyranny more effectively than any organization we might choose to build.
      Frankly, it’s our only hope. “Organizing” is counter-productive.

      • Interesting. The Occupy movement was criticized for precisely this.

  • ElizabethConley

    Being too organized will result in domestic terrorism hysteria and fear mongering on the part of the DHS.
    Being organized is not the key to success.

  • anc1entmar1ner

    According to the TSA:

    “We don’t prohibit public, passengers or press from photographing,
    videotaping, or filming at screening locations. You can take pictures at
    our checkpoints as long as you’re not interfering with the screening
    process or slowing things down. We also ask that you do not film or take
    pictures of our monitors.”

    So why was this citizen journalist harassed and threatened with arrest? It’s not because of what he did, it is because of what he believes. TSA doesn’t tolerate dissent.

    That said, I have to agree with Drontil. There is no widespread movement against TSA and there is no organizational support for those who commit overt acts of resistance. If TSA gets its fangs into you, you are pretty much on your own, and success stories like John Brennan’s are rare indeed.

  • Michael

    Seeing that the courts no longer believe in any firm principles, and show no interest in this issue, I think the only way you’ll make a difference is through co-opting politicians. I have not yet seen an organized move to persuade / guide people to go this route. Other than justified rhetoric in individual articles, I have heard no ‘organized’ talk of pinpointing the problems that caused the breach and concrete steps to fix the problems.

  • Drontil

    Sadly, I had to vote “no” on the poll. I don’t think we are there yet and believe it will take some time before we do get there.

    IMO, a NP needs to be established to accept tax deductible donations that will be used to fund lobbyists, to organize demonstrations at airports and, perhaps most important, to establish a relationship with the media.

    Christopher, among the true dissidents you forgot to mention is Bill Fisher.