Security theater: C’ville native nets airport disorderly charge

The Hook

When Aaron B. Tobey decided to exercise his First Amendment rights by displaying the Fourth Amendment on his chest while going through security at the Richmond International Airport, he expected that he might be detained for further questioning.

“He was astounded he was arrested for disorderly conduct,” says his father, Charlottesville accountant Robert Tobey.

At the airport conveyor belt, Aaron, 21, removed everything but his shorts to reveal what he’d scrawled on his torso: “Amendment 4: The right of the people to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated.”

“He thinks like I do,” says Robert Tobey, explaining that his son, a graduate of Western Albemarle High School and now an architecture student at the University of Cinncinnati, finds that new airport security procedures that force passengers to choose between a full body scanner that produces what some consider a virtual strip search or an invasive body pat down are “security theater,” says Tobey père.

The account of the incident, first reported in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, said Aaron stripped down to his underwear, but his father says it was just a pair of running shorts. And the elder Tobey, who took part in protests during his own youth, contends that his son acted respectfully and complied with the security procedures. But apparently the Transportation Security Administration was not amused with Tobey’s corporal use of the Fourth Amendment.

“They accused me of being a terrorist,” Aaron told his father of his interview with the FBI and a federal marshal. And they arrested him for disorderly conduct, a class 1 misdemeanor that can carry up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.

According to Richmond International Airport spokesman Troy Bell, it is not illegal to write the Bill of Rights on one’s body when going through airport security. “He can write whatever he wants under his clothes,” says Bell. “This was clearly a protest.”

Is it illegal to protest airport security measures? “If it’s disruptive, you can be charged with disorderly conduct,” says Bell.

During the Thanksgiving holidays, when outraged air passengers organized an opt-out day to protest the full body image scanners, Richmond had a handful of people opt out, says Bell. No one was arrested.

John Whitehead, who has filed two lawsuits about the scanners and pat downs from his perch at the head of civil rights organization Rutherford Institute, applauds Tobey’s protest and calls the decision to arrest him “stupid.”

“They’re going to see his penis anyway,” says Whitehead, who has signed on to the Tobey defense team. “It’s become absurd. The fact [Tobey wrote] the Fourth Amendment is very patriotic.”

After his arrest, Tobey was released in time to catch his flight. “When I went through security, they just waved me through,” he told his father.

State Senator Creigh Deeds, Tobey’s attorney, declined to comment on the arrest, but Robert Tobey has no such qualms.

“I believe it’s an overreaction when someone is complying with the search,” he says. “I’m very proud of him.”

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