Disruptive Airline Passengers are Terrorists?

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January 30th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

The USA PATRIOT Act has yielded a new class of terrorists — disruptive airline passengers. Since the passage of that law after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, more than 200 airline passengers have been convicted of felony terrorism by such dangerous means as yelling or swearing at airline employees and swatting disobedient children. While it was previously in theory possible to prosecute some of these acts as violent behaviors on airlines, the USA PATRIOT Act has made it vastly easier and the climate it has created has encouraged prosecutions of even disruptive behaviors that do not appear to be threatening to safety.

Reportedly even kissing and fondling can be considered “an act of terrorism” on US airlines today:

From Los Angeles Times coverage cited below:

In one case, a couple was arrested after an argument with a flight attendant, who claimed the couple was engaged in “overt sexual activity” — an FBI affidavit said the two were “embracing, kissing and acting in a manner that made other passengers uncomfortable.”

It used to be that aggression on airlines had to rise to physical assault levels to be prosecutable. But no more. Due to the USA PATRIOT Act, merely being “disruptive” while on an airplane can constitute terrorism. Even threatening or conspiring to be disruptive is a criminal offense lumped together with what most people would consider real terrorism, such as threatening to or actually blowing up explosives or crashing a plane.

Tamera Freeman, a mother of two small children ages 2 and 4 at the time of the incident, was convicted of a felony terrorist act and lost custody of her children as a result of the airline security laws. She swatted her kids after they were fighting and spilled a drink, and then got into a verbal spat with an airline attendant who did not approve of her swatting the children.

Some of Freeman’s behaviors may have been due to drunken belligerency, some to poor parenting. Frontier Airlines flight attendant Amy Fleming said Freeman deserved a felony conviction. Other witnesses agreed that Freeman may have been out of line with her treatment of the children, but the argument with the flight attendant clearly was not a threat to anybody. The government clearly tried to spin Freeman’s actions in the worst possible way, referring to her slapping of the children as “open fist hitting” and other incendiary phrases. Freeman may not be the model mom and physical punishment not ideal, but slapping a child for disobedience isn’t generally a criminal offense, let alone an act of terrorism.

And what of Freeman’s children? They were taken by the government and shipped off to live in foster care in Hawaii. Freeman has been forced to stay in Oklahoma and banned from airplane flights, even to attend the custody hearings involving the foster parents who are moving to permanently adopt her children. Freeman may lose her children and the children their mother because of the government abuse enabled and encouraged by the USA PATRIOT Act.

So how many real terrorists have been convicted under this law? Apparently just one, Richard Reid. He’s the airplane shoe bomber who was stopped and apprehended by passengers and airline crew after he was observed trying to detonate explosives in his shoe.

One wonders if we have given up the uncertainty of terrorism for the certainty of government oppression and abuse.

Further reading:

Los Angeles Times: In-flight confrontations can lead to charges defined as terrorism

The Los Angeles Times Gets It Badly Wrong On A PATRIOT Act Story

Was Mommy a Terrorist, or LA Times Full of It? (Update)

Wikipedia: Richard Reid (shoe bomber)

Wikipedia: USA PATRIOT Act

Boston Globe: Bad behavior on flights prosecutable under Patriot Act – Foul language, drunkenness common offenses

HeraldNet: Patriot Act has tough consequences for air passengers

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