Campaign For Liberty — I Fought the Law. . . And I Won by Steve Bierfeldt
September 20, 2010 § Leave a comment
Steve Bierfeldt is the Director of Development for Campaign for Liberty. He co-authored the book Who Is the Real Barack Obama? and often writes on issues of liberty from a Christian perspective.
I Fought the Law. . . And I Won
By Steve Bierfeldt
View all 5 articles by Steve Bierfeldt
We often forget that the power wielded by government exists only because there are those willing to carry out its orders. The “Government” is not an Artificial Intelligence that exists in a science fiction movie. Rather it comprises real people who have the choice to either follow or refuse an order. In wake of the 1832 Supreme Court case, Worcester v. Georgia, presided over by Chief Justice John Marshall, President Andrew Jackson is famously rumored to have stated, “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.” Knowing the Supreme Court had no army, police or agents to enforce their decisions, the implication was clear.
A law passed by Congress, signed by the President, and upheld by the courts will never be carried out or enforced unless there are men with badges and with guns willing to comply. It is important we remember this when we reflect on laws that are passed, directives that are issued and agencies that infringe on our civil liberties. Just one such example of such an agency is the Transportation Security Administration or TSA.
Campaign for Liberty regularly holds conferences and events to energize our members and educate those new to the ideals of liberty. From the sale of tickets, books, t-shirts, and generous donations, a weekend of excitement often finds Campaign for Liberty with money to transport back to headquarters. In my responsibilities as Director of Development I often find myself tasked with carrying this money. On one occasion, things got interesting.
As I always do when transporting money from Campaign for Liberty events, I place the funds in a thin metal cash box similar to that found at a raffle or church bazaar, with the box then placed in my carry-on bag. After working my way through the numerous levels of checkpoints, I finally came to the baggage screening. I handed my ticket and my license to the initial TSA agent and proceeded to the screening. After I had walked through the metal detector and handed my ticket to the attendant for further verification, I waited for my items to come out of the machine. The screening attendant motioned for assistance and an additional TSA attendant soon came over.
This individual ordered me off to the side and proceeded to search through my bag. As he looked through my belongings, he eventually took out the moneybox and informed me he needed to look through it. I asked him if I was being detained or if I was free to go. Upon his second demand to search it, I asked if the box was being detained. Never did he provide a direct answer to my question, and likewise never did I offer my consent to a search.
He began to grow hostile and told me he was sick of the back and forth. He ordered me into a side room next to the security checkpoint. Not wanting to inform Congressman Ron Paul and Campaign for Liberty members I had lost their generous donations, I followed him. As I was being led into this room off the concourse, I thought of situations that often begin this way and far too often do not end well for the lone individual questioning the government’s presumed authority. As the agent settled in I quickly took out my mobile phone, highlighted the proper setting, slipped the phone upright in my front jacket pocket, and began recording the conversation. The full recording can be heard here.
It has often been said that, “The Camera is the New Gun.” Such words ring true. In an age where agents of the government create more regulations and wield more power, it can often seem hopeless for individuals to do anything to challenge an authority that does not follow its own laws. However, a simple video camera or audio recorder can often have a far-reaching effect. In this case, it changed the policy of the federal government. Some important things to remember when dealing with anyone in law enforcement:
• Be Prepared
Some have asked me if I planned the situation, wanting to be caught and wanting to cause a scene. In reality I was tired from the weekend, trying to respond to old emails via my cell phone, and gritting my teeth as I had another few hours of air travel ahead of me. The last thing on my mind was a desire to argue with the government. However, carrying a pocket Constitution and having the presence of mind to record a conversation are things everyone can do. Without question the inquiry most often made is, “What program did you use to record that?” The application was called “iTalk” and is a free application you can download to your iPhone. Determine if your mobile phone can record audio and if possible video. If it cannot, download or buy the software. The tool it will provide against government abuse will be worth it.
• Know the Law
While I do not have a tremendous knowledge of the law, in my interaction with TSA and subsequently the St. Louis police, I was aware of what I had to say and more importantly what I did not have to say. I knew full well that I did not have to tell the TSA where I worked, and despite the TSA’s lies or ignorance of the law themselves, I also knew I did not have to tell the police either. Don’t just talk about Constitutional liberties and what they mean. Study them and incorporate that knowledge into interactions in your daily life.
• Keep Your Cool
Despite the TSA’s and police department’s claim that I was “being difficult” or “acting like a child,” only one of us ever raised his voice, used offensive language, or threatened physical action. One slip up and the government’s whole story changes. Now the TSA is justified because you swore at them, called them names, or insulted their job. Don’t give them the slightest opportunity. In any interaction with any type of law enforcement, remain calm and respectful. You may find out that the officer knows the law also, and will let you leave. If not, you’ll be taking the high road (and hopefully remembering to record the conversation).
With the recording now going, I entered the room and watched the TSA agent sit down and begin filling out paperwork. He asked me what I did for a living and in return I asked him if that was relevant. Upon being told it was, I asked if I was legally required to answer. He was not pleased and amidst a fury of expletives stated that while I was not required to tell him, I would be required to tell a police officer. (I knew full well I wasn’t, though decided not to tempt the situation.)
What then occurred was a 30-minute interrogation at which any given time a half dozen individuals were crowded in the small office. At first a police officer entered and informed me that I did indeed have to tell the TSA where I worked. Upon my asking for clarification he backed off his initial statement. When a second police officer entered, the interrogation continued. Amid threats of involvement with the FBI and DEA, I saw firsthand the strong-arm tactics that unfortunately some in law enforcement use. The questioning went back and forth between myself, TSA, police officers, and random individuals entering and leaving. Consistently I kept my responses simple, yet polite, and asked questions in return. “Am I legally required to answer that?… Does the law state I have to tell you that information?… Can you please tell me what my rights are concerning that inquiry?…” As I continued, I was either yelled at or accused of refusing to comply.
At one point I was informed, “If you have nothing to hide, just answer the question.” I cringed as I listened to the argument used by those who give preeminence to the state over the individual. This line of training had apparently been bred into in these agents and was unfortunately well engrained in whatever type of training they had received.
Though it is easy to look back on the situation and claim that it was under control the whole time, I was still in a situation I would have preferred to avoid. I was in a small, enclosed room with no windows and a locked door. A half dozen government agents, some of them carrying loaded firearms, surrounded me. And I was cursed at, berated, and threatened with arrest. Anything can happen in that situation. Someone slips, someone falls, someone gets nervous, and suddenly you’re in a situation where you not only risk the word of six people against yourself, you risk possible physical harm.
After a half hour of back and forth, these “authorities” informed me I would be taken down to the station and asked me if I needed to be handcuffed, to which I politely declined. Upon my further statement that I was looking for guidance and did not fully understand the law, I was told, “We’re gonna help you understand the law.” One can only wonder what they meant by that. Thankfully I did not need to find out. I was actually led out of the interrogation room and about 10 yards down the concourse, a plain-clothes official stopped the parade of government employees. He called them back and upon looking at the money stated matter of factly that they were contributions to “Campaign for Liberty.” (The fact there were numerous checks that were actually written out to “Campaign for Liberty” was apparently missed by the half dozen officers taking parting in the interrogation.) After one of the police officers asked for my contact information and phone number in order to follow up (I graciously declined to give it to him), I was on my way within a matter of minutes.
Upon my return home I began to speak with individuals well versed in legal matters and decided to push forward against the government abuse that had taken place. Judge Andrew Napolitano featured a piece on his show, “Freedom Watch” and I spoke with legal experts on both the left and the right. I determined the American Civil Liberties Union was the most professional in this matter as they shared my goal to push for principle and a change in policy over financial compensation. The suit was filed in response to the violation of my Constitutional rights and soon Bierfeldt v. Napolitano, a suit against the Department of Homeland Security and its Secretary Janet Napolitano (no relation to the judge), was underway.
Curiously, only a week before the government’s response was required, the TSA stated they would be altering their policy for flight security. Their screening process would be limited to searches for the purpose of safety only and their illegal searches and detainments of the past could not continue. With this change in policy the ACLU voluntarily dismissed the suit, pending TSA’s compliance. No longer can the TSA harass passengers for carrying cash. Suspiciousness searches unrelated to airline safety should be a thing of the past. With an adherence to the Constitution, the latest technology, and a tremendous amount of support from Campaign for Liberty members and liberty advocates all throughout the country, we had been able to influence a direct change in federal policy. We had fought the law, and we had won.
Copyright © 2009 Campaign for Liberty