2011 Jefferson Muzzle Awards for abrogating free speech

January 6, 2012 • 12:14 pm

Each year the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression serves up its “Muzzle Awards” for attempts to limit free speech.  This year’s selection is a doozy; there are eight but I’ll just highlight a few.

The Jefferson’s center commented thus:

Although there have been conflicting reports about who initially suggested removing the video, it is clear that the decision was ultimately approved by Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough. The incredibly short period between Donohue’s criticism and Secretary Clough’s capitulation is puzzling because it was surely anticipated that some might object to ‘Hide/Seek’ because of its subject matter of the gay and lesbian experience in modern society. In a commentary on the incident, staff writer Philip Kennicott of the Washington Post wrote, “Clough’s decision, made hastily and, it seems, over the objections of his curators…showed an astonishing lack of perception about the humanities as well as the dynamics of museum culture.”

  • As the Center notes, “On December 30th, twenty-one-year-old Aaron Tobey put into effect a plan he devised to protest the invasion of privacy he felt the new security measures represented. In preparation for a trip from Richmond, Virginia, to Cincinnati, Ohio, Tobey used a marker to write the text of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution (which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures by the government) on his bare chest, with the intention of displaying both his chest and the amendment to the folks manning the security checkpoint at Richmond International Airport. When he reached the conveyor belt, Tobey removed not only his shoes, but also his shirt and sweatpants. As he stood attired only in the Fourth Amendment and a pair of running shorts, he was detained by the TSA and then arrested, handcuffed, questioned, and charged with disorderly conduct.”
Here’s the miscreant, cuffed and detained:

Tobey was charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor, but the charges were later dropped by the Henrico County Attorney since Tobey’s actions did not constitute a crime.

I really abhor the way the TSA runs its show. Yes, we may need better screening, but my personal experience is that these people behave like bullies, yelling and ordering people about. They are too enamored of their own power.

These incidents may seem trivial (do read about the five others, which are equally distressing), but unless we protect our constitutional rights when they’re threatened even this minimally, we’re enabling even greater erosion of our freedom of expression.

62 thoughts on “2011 Jefferson Muzzle Awards for abrogating free speech

  1. When I was growing up, we would laugh at the USSR for their abuses of civil rights. Sure, they had a noble constitution, but nobody did anything but pay it lip service.

    I mean, really? Internal passports required for travel? Police who make snapshots of bridges hazardous to your health? Random warrantless searches and rampant secret surveillance? Not to mention the secret prisons where political dissenters where tortured, plus the single-party political system with the illusion of choice between two barely-indistinguishable factions. How could anybody put up with such bullshit?

    Today’s America makes me nostalgic for the ’80s USSR.


    1. The American people are sheep. And the TSA has more tricks up its sleeve in store for us…

      Between the TSA and its abuses of power and the Obama administration signing that defense bill with the blatantly unconstitutional provision for arrest and incarceration of American citizens, I’m not sure what country I live in anymore. But do you see people in the streets over either of these issues? Nope. We’re doomed.

    2. Unlike the Soviet Union, our stores are full of food and consumer goods. Many people are willing to give up their political freedom in exchange for an iPad, a bag of Doritos, and some reality TV.

  2. On the contrary, these incidents are emphatically not trivial.

    It seems to me that the mundane, quotidian nature of the “offenses” bring the issue all the more into sharp relief. Why are such innocuous examples of speech being censored?!

    It’s a much larger problem that a person is not free to refrain from mouthing the PoA w/o severe punishment (*mouth gapes*) than a person not being free to do or utter something really deleterious.

    This would be a good spot for me to repost the YT video Jerry linked to a few days ago of Hitchens addressing the issue of free speech in front of a Canadian audience. But I can only link to the mobile version from my phone.

    1. Yes, these are clearly more severe cases, as the overreach of the abuse is inversely proportional to the justification of the abuse and the scope of the target.

    2. Agree. These incidents are not trivial, because they have been going on forever. Can’t we even agree on free speech? Is the concept really that hard?

  3. “Tobey was charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor…”

    Hmm. My idea is that there should be a special express lane at airports for those willing to strip down to their skivvies.


  4. The TSA will tell you that you do not have any 1A or 4A rights in their turf, they have essentially Gestapo powers. Even things that are not remotely threatening are considered terroristic if they ‘impede the actions of TSA agents’

    You can be arrested for ‘not showing sufficient deference’ to agents

    One woman was detained because of a metallic emblem of a gun on her purse. Apparently TSA could not tell that from the real thing (makes you feel really safe, doesn’t it)

    A teenager was arrested for ‘terroristically’ putting a note IN HIS BAGGAGE reading ‘f*** you’

    After becoming frustrated because the scanner kept being triggered by her underwire bra, a woman from France whipped off the garment and was charged with terrorism with a potential 5 year jail term. The French embassy had to get involved over this idiocy.

    A student at MIT who made her own blinking led jacket as an electronics project (just when these were becoming popular in Walmart as a commercial product) was arrested by agents pointing automatic weapons at her for creating a ‘simulated bomb’. Yes the fact that it was not a bomb did not get her off the hook, merely having the appearance of a bomb (to these jerks) is a crime. Question, if someone was planning to bomb a plane, would they put lots of blinking lights on it?

    1. What you’ve almost, but not quite, realized, is that the TSA is, indeed, there for security reasons.

      It’s just that they’re there to protect the security of the state, not of the people.



    2. Smartass that I am, I still will not mess with the TSA. I would like to make my flight, thank you, not spend my vacation in jail. Humorless goons.

    3. “A teenager was arrested for ‘terroristically’ putting a note IN HIS BAGGAGE reading ‘f*** you’.”

      He should have said (as I heard second hand from a college chum), “I hope you don’t get f***ed for six months!”

      “After becoming frustrated because the scanner kept being triggered by her underwire bra, a woman from France whipped off the garment and was charged with terrorism with a potential 5 year jail term. The French embassy had to get involved over this idiocy.”

      Verily, assault by areola.

    4. Wait, I thought they didn’t have any real power beyond carte blanche on Intimidate, Bluff and Summon Police Officer.

    1. False dichotomy

      I don’t mind jumping through hoops that are actually necessary for safety, but current TSA procedures are not. They are security theater, designed to make us feel safe.

      Also, being safe does not mean I need to show deference or respect to people in uniform.

    2. Because the “hoops” the TSA puts out are not related to security. Everytime they start something new, it is immediately proven to be full of holes and easily breachable. In the meantime, we are being radiated and frisked. Ever wonder what those new machines do to your eyes? We may know after about 5 or 10 years of being human guinea pigs.

    3. Because the TSA causes far more harm, physically, legally, and psychologically, than any terrorist could ever possibly hope to cause.

      Every month, as many Americans die in car wrecks as did on 9/11, and the property damage is the same. Flying, 9/11 included, is literally thousands of times safer than any other form of transportation, period.

      The TSA, on the other hand, performs sexual assault on every single passenger, and exposes significant numbers of passengers to known-unsafe levels of radiation. Not to mention, of course, that their job description is to perform unwarranted searches and seizures of everybody who flies.

      I better stop right there, because I don’t think I can contain my rage at the situation if I don’t.


    4. Every single TSA agent I have dealt with with a single exception has been rude and borderline incompetent. I travel several times a year, live in the US but am not a citizen. The one time I raised my voice, to make myself heard above a goon that was shrieking at people waiting meekly in a line, I asked him to explain clearly what he was asking us as no one could understand. I was taken OUT of the line and given my own personal shrieking. I asked to see his superior and was immediately put back in line and told to keep my mouth shut ‘or else’. This was Atlanta by the way. These are not a few hoops to jump through, this a gauntlet of sociopathic gauleiters

    5. The infuriating thing is that compliant people who pose no threat still wind up getting punished. Take a look at jay’s first and last example. Those individuals weren’t even trying to make a point the way Tobey was.

      Okay, I’ll submit to random screenings/searches. Even though the practice is nowhere near sufficient to be effective itself, I can appreciate that it might serve as a deterrent to some degree.

      But it’s inexcusable that I might be carted off for absent-mindedly leaving my Swiss Army knife in my pocket.

      1. The way the TSA “randomly” selects victims to publicly terrorize and humiliate is intentionally designed to maximize the fear they induce in the populace. It’s a feature, not a bug.

        Indeed, it’s how they’ve convinced you that you wouldn’t object to random screenings if they’d just stop picking on helpless people who’ve done nothing wrong.


        1. I love the way they randomly select my 90+ year old mother in law. It takes her 10 minutes to take her shoes of and on, and they have to practically take her walker apart to screen that. Srsly. Goons.

          1. Exactly.

            They’re not merely “just doing their jobs.”

            Their jobs are to make our lives hell so we’ll shut up and do what they tell us to if we know what’s good for us.

            There are few ways more effective to establish their authority over us than by stripping and assaulting helpless little old ladies while forcing their families to stand by and watch.


            1. No, that’s the wrong way around. In a free society no one gets to establish their authority over anyone; authority is always granted from below, not imposed from above. Authority imposed from above is tyranny.

            2. You can’t even turn back and leave without additional harrassment.

              “There is no escape” seems the intended message.

          2. My 90+ parents had to simply stop flying when the airport duress became more than they could bear. Multiply this by all the other US families so disrupted. How many lives are being severely impacted if not actually shortened due to the stress, depression, humiliation and, often, heartbreak so unnecessarily visited upon some of our most patriotic (in the positive sense, if there is one, any more) citizens? This was the so-called “greatest generation,” after all…

        2. Well, hopefully at least somewhat in my defense, my inclination to comply isn’t born so much out of brainwashing as it is out of (like daveau up there) selfish and pragmatic concerns.

          1. Oh, believe me. I know. Their techniques are amazingly effective.

            It’s been a long time since I’ve flown, in large part because of the TSA. But it looks like I’ll be flying again this summer to go to my niece’s wedding.

            Every fiber in my being tells me that I must demand to see the TSA’s warrant before permitting them to search me, yet I do not think I will. And the only reason I’ll be a sheep is because that battle was lost long ago, and I don’t think there’s anything to be gained by turning myself into a martyr. I wouldn’t even be a blip on the radar, and I doubt even the ACLU would be willing to defend me.

            I have no clue how we’re supposed to regain our country, how we’re supposed to resurrect the Constitution. And that’s the worst part of it all.


            1. It won’t help us regain our country or restore our civil rights, but someone sells boxer shorts with the Fourth Amendment printed on them in metallic ink. They’re designed to be worn when going through the full-body scanner.

              1. The thugs hate America, they hate the Constitution, and they have no sense of humor. They’d just use that to call you a terrorist and then proceed to terrorize you even further.

                The “joke” would be funny right up until the moment that the thugs realized you were laughing at them, and then you’d be in serious trouble. Very, very serious trouble.

                You’d be guaranteed to not travel that day, always be subjected to “enhanced inspection” any time you encountered them thereafter, and be lucky to escape without bodily injury. That they would violently sexually assault you under threat of deadly force is a given. I doubt you’d get a refund for your missed flight, either.

                And if you’re thinking that you don’t fly that much so it might be worth it anyway…well, the TSA is now taking over “security” for Amtrak and Greyhound. And they have roaming van-based scanners. And there’s even talk of them “securing” large entertainment venues and shopping malls.


            2. What you need is young people. Not in years specifically. People like what I was some years ago.

              I love making people assault me and laugh at them until they end up crying in frustration. I did it all the time up until the point I established certain responsibilities that require a long life, that I would betray by ruining my own life.

          2. If I flew at all regularly, I’d be unable to help myself, and you’d probably never hear from me again. David who? I hate living in fear like that. I feel diminished. It’s not right.

            I used to be a commercial pilot. I used to fly all the time. I used to love it. Now we take driving vacations and fly only when we absolutely have to. Goddammit!

            1. I used to be a commercial pilot. I used to fly all the time. I used to love it. Now we take driving vacations and fly only when we absolutely have to. Goddammit!

              So … from the reducing global warming etc point of view, that’s a good thing.
              I fly all the time – presumably because I’ve got experience that people on other continents think they want to hire. I hate every minute of every trip. When I’m working in my “back yard”, I fly all the time because it is the only way to get to the worksites. I get an average of about one serious in-flight incident (engines stopping in mid-landing ; oil leaking through the roof of the cabin ; landings aborted for a return to base because of weather and fuel shortage ; that sort of thing) and none of that makes me any the happier about flying. But I get paid reasonably well to put up with the risks.
              Anyway, as fuel supplies get tighter, the money price is going to approach the total unsubsidised price. which is going to reduce flying itself. I notice the Chinese are squawking unhappily about the prospect of taxation on aviation fuel being started. Expect more squawking.

        3. “intentionally designed to maximize the fear they induce in the populace.”

          That reads like a charge I’d see on a NRA site. You can’t possibly know what their *real* intent is, so why even make the claim?

          Organizations of almost any size will develop dysfunctional behaviors through purely faithful attempts to fulfill their assigned responsibilities. There’s no real need to look for further motivation.

          1. You may think the TSA deserves the benefit of the doubt, but I would submit that whatever standards cause you to arrive at that conclusion would, if applied equally, cause you to give the same benefit to the KGB.

            The consequences of the policies of the TSA are known to even the most amateur students of history. As are the consequences of the just-signed bill authorizing the military to kidnap and torture citizens, entirely free of even the pretense of oversight.

            You may not have read your history or your Machiavelli, but I assure you that those calling the shots have. And this is a textbook example of the establishment of a tyranny. By the numbers, even.

            I challenge you to find one example in history of a state that granted these types of powers to a police force and the military which did not soon thereafter degenerate into an unquestionable tyranny, or to find one example of a free state with police and military forces with these powers.

            Or, for that matter, to find such a tyranny which openly admitted that it was tyrannical, or that it was doing all these (“not-so-“)terrible things for any reason other than in response to a state of emergency or to protect the security of the state.


            1. Precisely the argument against the British Army going into Northern Ireland during the ‘Troubles’. A few months later ‘Bloody Sunday’ and the shooting down of 14 marchers. It didn’t lead so much to tyranny, as to murder.

              It took nearly 40 years for the U.K. government to admit the soldiers’ guilt.

              By the way, the concept of a free state doesn’t make much sense; free of what? Of its citizens? Of its duty to abide by the law? That’s why the nomenclature of the ‘Irish Free State’ was sheer mystification.

              I suggest ‘independendent state’, rather than ‘free state’.

            2. @Ben Goren

              ‘I challenge you to find one example in history of a state that granted these types of powers to a police force and the military which did not soon thereafter degenerate into an unquestionable tyranny.’

              In general, I think you are correct; however, there are cases in which the ruling class of a state loses confidence in its own ability to rule in the old way. I would cite 80s USSR under Gorbachev.

              I would also nominate apartheid South Africa. In the latter case, I knew a few Marxist refugees from SA during the 80s and we discussed what on earth could be done to overthrow the apartheid state at that time; all of us assumed that violence would be involved.

              None of us foresaw the severe loss of self-confidence, partially caused by those very same Marxist oppositionists, of the de Klerk/Botha clique, that led to their secretive approaches to Mandela; this eventually resulted in the attempt at liberal democracy in that country.

              The apartheid state appeared so strong that we underestimated the corollary – that the ruling class in a totalitarian-type state must feel self-confident in order to continue its rule; if it has the perspective that its rule is no longer tenable, then it will seek accommodation with its erstwhile enemy.

              Occasionally, police states seek their own negotiated dissolution in the face of mass organised resistance. This may be the situation in Burma at the moment. And the serious representatives of apartheid understood this. There is no need to speak truth unto power, for power already knows the truth.

          2. Regardless of their intent, it is the same method and result.

            I personally always assumed it was because they felt they had to bend over backwards to look like they aren’t profiling. For every swarthy male with a beard, they have to rough up an old lady or a kid.

            1. Which, I should’ve added, makes me shake my head all the more, since the idea is supposed to be that not profiling is the humane thing to do.

              Penny wise, pound foolish…

  5. The dying AIDS artist case is the most distressing to me, of those mentioned here. To suppress his reaction and action against the disease that is said to kill him is inhumane.

    Of course, the openly fascist Donohue is expected to act thusly. But the Smithsonian Secretary should act humane.

    The Mississippi Supreme court acted humane though:

    “A judge will be reprimanded and fined $100 for jailing a lawyer who refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in his courtroom. The State Supreme Court affirmed the recommendation from the Commission on Judicial Performance against Chancellor Talmadge Littlejohn of New Albany. The commission said that Judge Littlejohn acknowledged violating the rights of the lawyer, Danny Lampley, in October with a contempt of court order.”

    [That google catch is date stamped June -11, so the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression seems a bit out of date.]

    Finally, how come the figure 4 on the image is mirror reversed and not the text? Maybe a dyscalculist, or just a citcelsyd rorrim start.

    1. The David Wojnarowicz story really pissed me off. The fact that they caved to Donohue drove me over the edge.

      I caught that reversed 4 too. I’ve never written on my chest but I imagine it is difficult.

    2. He wrote the text himself, in a mirror. It’s a common class of mistake.
      A couple of years ago I made a present for my Mum’s 70th birthday – a signet pendant with her initial carved into it, from a very unique piece of rock (it would be “Whitby Jet” if it had come from Whitby ; but it came from 2 miles vertically below the surface of the North Atlantic, so it’s just “jet”). I put about 3 days of work into it … and at the end … I realised that I’d put the slope of the italic letter in the wrong direction.
      “Proves it wasn’t made by a professional.” That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

  6. I’m glad to report that European security is much more humane. Once when flying from Ecuador to London I accidentally forgot to remove a large (10-inch) knife from my backpack. (I carry it for field work.) Somehow Ecuadorian security did not catch it, so I flew to Schipol with it. Imagine my surprise and dread when the security woman at Schipol found it!

    But she was completely nice. I explained it, and she was amused, and let me continue.

    (A few minutes later, my passport somehow fell out of my pocket without my noticing. At boarding time I discovered the loss. Shit!!! But the sweet person who found it was running methodically up and down the terminal looking for the guy in the picture, and she eventually found me!!!!)

  7. From the Jefferson website:

    “As a private college, Hamilton is not bound by the dictates of the First Amendment.”

    Is that true so long as the college does not receive federal funds?

    As we know, there is a push in the U.S. to reduce government involvement as much as possible, and as much as possible to make the “public” “private,” and therefore as much as possible circumvent the U.S. Constitution.

    It’s reflected in the language of the sphere of the corporate private tyranny. It used to be the “personnel” (Fr., “person”) department. Now it’s the “human resource” department. I.e., one is not a human “being”; one is a human “resource” or human “capital.”

    On the eve of the U.S. civil war Northern states were referred to as “labor” states and Southern slave states were referred to as “capital” states.

  8. I am amazed, sadly, at how completely submissive the US population is. We now have ‘enhanced searches’ which, under ANY OTHER CIRCUMSTANCES would be sexual assault and people accept it.

    WHAT, dear Americans, WHAT LEVEL OF INVASION AND DEGRADATION would cause you to finally say ‘enough is enough’??!!

  9. If you want to read about another list of censorious asshats, check out the post at Popehat: http://www.popehat.com/2011/12/27/vote-for-popehats-censorious-asshat-of-the-year/

    In fact, if anyone wants to feel outraged on a daily basis, I recommend reading Popehat every day to see what violator of free speech and common decency Ken is covering.

    (I realize I’m shilling for the site a lot, so I will take the time to point out that I don’t write for it or any such thing.)

  10. In my youth, there were quite of few of us living there who agreed, “Richmond is a great place to be FROM!” No wonder I left, decades ago. To the young man who wrote the Fourth Amendment on his chest: I stand and applaud you, sir!

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