the US visa waiver scheme. John questions how a a mysterious call was made by
some person or some organisation which had access to the flight’s passenger list,
alleging that he had made threats to the President; a call that ensured that he
would be subject to detailed questioning at JFK. 9.10.2011
Barred from America
I have been barred from America. Or, more precisely, I have been denied a visa
to do a series of talks about the successful campaign to stop a third runway at
London’s Heathrow Airport.
It all started in dramatic fashion when I was escorted off the plane by six armed
American policemen minutes after it had arrived at JFK Airport on Thursday 29th
September. I was rushed through customs past the waiting queues of passengers
straight to Immigration Hall. Over the next seven hours I was to remain there,
questioned by the Immigration Service, the FBI, and the American Secret Service
before being put on a plane back to Heathrow.
My papers had been in order. I was travelling on a Visa Waiver which the US
authorities encourage passengers to get if they are on relatively short visits
on business or to see family. I learnt from Fox News after I had arrived back
in Heathrow that, when I was in flight, a call had been made saying that a passenger
– myself – had made threats against President Obama –http://www.myfoxny.com/dpp/news/delta-flight-investigated-after-threat-against-the-president-20110929-akd My Visa Waiver had been cancelled when I was in mid-flight.
The Police asked me about threats to the President as they rushed me through
customs but the threats hardly featured in my interviews with the Immigration
Service, the FBI and the Secret Service. When they discovered who I was they
were much more interested in my speaking tour. What seemed to worry them was
the fact that the Third Runway Campaign had included direct action, what the Americans
referred to as “civil disobedience”. They became particularly interested when
they realized that my fellow speaker in the tour was to be Dan Glass who, as member
of Plane Stupid, had taken direction action. (Dan is still waiting to hear whether
or not he will get a visa, months after applying).
I explained that the third runway campaign was led by residents; that direct
action formed just a part of it; that the direct action at all times was non-violent;
that I had not taken part in it; and that I had no criminal convictions. But
to no avail. The conversation with the FBI became surreal: concerns that I was
going to incite people at the meetings to engage in perhaps armed civil disobedience
against the airports. More details of the interviews can be found in this excellent
piece of investigative reporting by Kate Sheppard of the respected American journal
Mother Jones: http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/10/environmentalist-terror-threat-john-stewart
But, in retrospect, the details of what I was or was not asked are not so important.
The fact remains that a mysterious call was made by some person or some organisation
which had access to the flights’ passenger list, alleging that I had made threats
to the President; a call that ensured that I would be subject to detailed questioning
at JFK. Was it somebody from the aviation industry or the security services themselves?
The question is posed in this news piece from ITN’s London Tonight: http://www.itv.com/london/arrested-at-jfk37177/ or http://youtu.be/1JSM0RHJ3ig
The feeling that some of the authorities did not want the Heathrow Story told
in the US was re-enforced when, back in London, I went to the American Embassy
to apply for a full visa. No, they said, not for this tour. If you want to come
back to the US at another time, for another reason, you can apply again. But
this case is closed.
Has Green Become the New Red in America? – by John Stewart
John was denied entrance into the USA on 29th September, after arrival at New
York JFK airport, and six hours of questionning by the FBI, the American Secret
Service and immigration officials. He asks “Just why are the authorities so keen
to silence environmentalists?” The Bush Administration promoted the practice of
excluding people from the US because of their beliefs: ideological exclusion.
Has green become the new red, with environmentalists targetted?
I was denied entry to the United States on Thursday last week. I was coming
to America for a series of meetings and talks organized by the Aviation Justice
Express. I had been invited, along with Scottish community activist Dan Glass,
to talk about the successful campaign which defeated plans for a third runway
at London’s Heathrow Airport.
However I never made it beyond JFK Airport. I was escorted off the plane by
six law enforcement officers before being questioned for several hours by the
FBI, the American Secret Service and immigration officials. I was then sent straight
back to London. No reason was given.
I have now learnt via Fox News that I was alleged to have made some threats against
President Obama. That never came up in the questioning. I can only conclude
that this was simply an excuse to deny me entry to the country.
Just why are the authorities so keen to silence environmentalists? Has, as a
new book by Will Potter suggests, green become the new red? Are they now seeing
a green under every bed planting seeds of revolution and sowing sedition?
The campaign against the third runway at Heathrow was the most diverse ever assembled
anywhere in Europe to protest against an airport expansion. It included local
residents, many of whose politics are far to the right of President Obama, politicians
of all political parties as well as representatives of environmental NGOs and
green activists, some of whom took part in non-violent civil disobedience. It
was this coalition of interests, which I chaired, that persuaded Conservative-led
Government, when elected, to scrap the plans for the expansion of Heathrow.
The aviation industry in the UK, perhaps in the whole of Europe, had never suffered
such a reverse. Expansion at Europe’s busiest international airport had been
denied by a fiscally-conservative Government on the basis that the environmental
and economic arguments didn’t stack up.
If this process were to be repeated across Europe and the US, it would harm the
corporate interests of the aviation industry. Potter argues in Green is the New
Red that it is precisely to protect the profits of corporate interests that environmentalists
are being targeted. He has written, “Much like the Red Scare and the communist
witch hunts of the 40s and 50s, the Green Scare is using one word—this time, it’s
“terrorist”—to push a political agenda, instill fear, and chill dissent”.
There may be something else going on here as well. The Bush Administration promoted
the practice of excluding people from the US because of their beliefs: ideological
exclusion. Although the Obama administration has made some positive strides towards
putting an end to the practice, the American Civil Liberties Union is arguing
that it should retire it for good.
A reduction in flying in the US would hit the profits of the aviation industry.
So a message which argues that flights should be curbed is one the American aviation
industry doesn’t want to hear. It would threaten its profits and corporate power.
It doesn’t want the public to know that high-speed rail could potentially provide
a realistic alternative to many short-distance flights in the US. Easier to silence
the messenger. But the message will be heard. The tour will go on. Dan Glass
and myself will be skyped into the events we were due to speak at across the country.