I Fought the Law. . . And I Won

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.

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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.

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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.

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November 19, 2009

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.

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