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Investigative Report / November 24, 2010

This Libertarian Radio Host Lied About TSA Harassment

This article was published in The Nation on November 23, 2010

Does anyone else sense something strange is going on with the apparently spontaneous revolt against the TSA? This past week, the media turned an “ordinary guy,” 31-year-old Californian John Tyner, who blogs under the pseudonym “Johnny Edge,” into a national hero after he posted a cell phone video of himself defending his liberty against the evil government oppressors in charge of airport security.

While this issue is certainly important—and offensive—to Americans, we are nonetheless skeptical about how and why this story turned into a national movement. In fact, this whole campaign feels a bit like déjà-vu: As the first reporters to expose the Tea Party as an Astroturf PR campaign funded by FreedomWorks and Koch-related front groups back in February, 2009, we see many of the same elements driving the current “rebellion” against the TSA: Koch-related libertarians, Washington lobbyists and PR operatives posing as “ordinary citizens,” and suspicious fake-grassroots outrage relentlessly promoted in the same old right-wing echo chamber.

So far, all we know about “ordinary guy” John Tyner III, the freedom fighter who took on the TSA agents, is that, according to a friendly hometown profile in the San Diego Union-Tribune, “he leans strongly libertarian and doesn’t believe in voting. TSA security policy, he asserts ‘isn’t Republican and it isn’t Democratic.’ ” [Emphasis added.]

Tyner attended private Christian schools in Southern California and lives in Oceanside, a Republican stronghold next to Camp Pendleton, the largest Marine Corps base on the West Coast.

At least one local TSA administrator wondered if Tyner hadn’t come to the airport prepared to create a scandal. Tyner switched on his recording device before even entering the checkpoint—and recorded himself as he refused to go through the body scanner. Most importantly, Tyner recorded himself saying, “If you touch my junk, I’m gonna have you arrested!”—which quickly morphed on blogs into the more media-savvy tagline, “Don’t touch my junk!”

According to the Union-Tribune, when asked if the TSA was set up by Tyner, the local administrator coyly replied, “I don’t know that it was an actual set up—but we are concerned that this passenger did have his recording [on] prior to entering the checkpoint so there is some concern that it was an intentional behavior on his part.”

Tyner scoffs at the suggestion of a set up. “I can’t set up the TSA side of this action,” he said. In an interview with The Nation, Tyner said he doesn’t belong to any libertarian organizations and did not have any contact with anyone mentioned in this article until after he posted his encounter with TSA agents.

Strangely enough, just a few days before Tyner’s episode, another self-described “libertarian,” Meg McLain, went online telling almost the exact same story of oppression and attempted sexual molestation at the hands of TSA agents. McLain is an occasional co-host of a libertarian radio show out of a libertarian quasi-commune located in Keene, New Hampshire. As reported in theWashington City Paper, the libertarian “Free Keene” movement where McLain makes her home is yet another libertarian project tied to the billionaire Koch brothers, the prime backers of the Tea Party campaign, through the Koch-funded Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

Meg McLain almost became a national celebrity as the first victim of the body scanner/TSA molesters. On November 8, McLain was preparing to fly out of the Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, airport, when she claimed to have been the victim of invasive TSA molestation. According to McLain, when she refused to have her body scanned, the TSA agents supposedly started screaming “Opt out! Opt out!” and pulled her aside and “molested” her—specifically, they “squeezed and twisted” her breasts so hard that “it hurt.” (“OptOut” is the name of a “grassroots” protest movement designed to tie up airports during the holidays—more on that later.) As she described it, “It’s getting to the point where I feel more physically molested [by the TSA agents] than if some random guy actually came up and molested me. It’s more intrusive than that.” McLain also claimed that she was made to stand in an open area next to the metal detector, where every passenger could look at her while a TSA agent “screamed” at her, until, finally, she was handcuffed to a chair by a “dozen cops.” McLain immediately called into the Keene libertarian radio show to tell her awful story, which was posted on YouTube, and spread virally after it was promoted on Drudge Report.

There was only one problem with McLain’s story: she made it up. The TSA released video evidence showing that McLain wasn’t molested, wasn’t screamed at and wasn’t attacked by a dozen cops and half a dozen TSA agents. In fact, other passengers don’t seem to notice her, although a TSA agent does seem to be trying to comfort McLain, offering her tissues as the libertarian rebel breaks out crying.

By her own account, McLain was down in Florida visiting a pair of traveling libertarians who were spreading the word of libertarianism in what they billed as “Liberty On Tour,” funded at least partly by Koch-backed organizations like “Students for Liberty.” One of the libertarians that McLain met with, Peter Eyre, has spent much of the past five years on a variety of Koch payrolls: as an intern at the Koch-founded Cato Institute, a “Koch Fellow” at the Drug Policy Alliance and nearly three years as director for the Koch-funded Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University, home also to the Koch-funded Mercatus Center.

George Donnelly, a libertarian colleague of McLain’s who writes that he “loves” her traveling libertarian friends in Florida and “learned a lot” from them, also happens to be one of two men behind the WeWontFly.com, one of the main websites pushing the “National Opt-Out Day” movement. The domain was registered on November 3, 2010, five days before McLain’s fake airport incident. Donnelly provided McLain with the funds to return back to her libertarian commune in Keene, New Hampshire, after the (fake) incident.

McLain wasn’t the only questionable libertarian “victim” of the TSA turned into a freedom-hero on the Drudge Report. In fact, according to the TSA’s account, the 6-year-old who was allegedly “strip-searched” by evil TSA agents had his shirt removed by his own father—and not at the TSA’s request. And the latest “hero” of the Drudge Report, Samuel Wolanyk—who stripped down to his underwear in alleged anger at TSA agents in San Diego, earning himself top billing on Drudge—is also a libertarian activist in the San Diego area, home of the self-described “libertarian” hero John Tyner, III. (According to an SEC lawsuit that dates back to 2002, a Samuel Wolanyk from San Diego, roughly the same age as the TSA libertarian hero, was charged with securities fraud for engaging in illegal “pump and dump” stock schemes that ripped off investors for millions of dollars.)

Then there’s Brian Sodergren, founder of the “National Opt-Out Day,” when “ordinary citizens standup for their rights.” But Sodergren is no “ordinary citizen.” Cached and scrubbed online LinkedIn records show that Brian Sodergren is a Washington lobbyist specializing in “grassroots education” for the American Dental Association and ADPAC, the American Dental Association Political Action Committee. No wonder that Sodergren has gone out of his way to scrub his employment record.

So now let’s take one more look at the TSA hysteria, and re-evaluate if we should continue to simply accept the surface narrative, or consider what we might learn by looking beneath the surface. Because everywhere you look, the alleged victims’ stories often turn out to be false or highly suspicious, promoted by lobbyists posing as “ordinary guys,” and everywhere the cast of characters is always the same: drawn from the cult-ish fringes of the libertarian movement, with trails leading straight to the billionaire Koch brothers’ network of libertarian think-tanks and advocacy groups.

We could take it all at face value and just trust that they’re all “ordinary guys.” Or we could ask, “Who profits?”

One person who seems to have the answer is Rep. John Mica, the Florida Republican who is set to chair the Transportation Committee. Mica co-wrote the bill establishing the TSA in 2001, just over a month after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC. A little-known provision in that bill allowed airports to “opt out” from the federal agency’s security umbrella and to instead hire private contractors. As Media Matters pointed out recently, the whole reason why the TSA was formed was because private contractors paying airport security minimum wages were considered a big part of the reason why the 9/11 terror attacks were allowed to happen. Since the formation of the TSA, not a single terror attack originating from an American airport has taken place. But apparently that’s not nearly as relevant as the complaints of a few libertarians.

The links between Mica, the libertarians, the Kochs, and the TSA scandal are only now emerging, and we hope more journalists will dig deeper. So far, we have learned:

  • Mica’s longtime chief of staff, Russell Roberts, lists the Koch-backed Mercatus Center as the top sponsor of Roberts’ privately financed travel expenses, according to Congressional travel disclosure forms. Roberts stated in his form that he participated in discussions related to “transportation policy.”
  • Immediately after the launching of the “National Opt-Out Campaign” by Washington grassroots lobbyist and “ordinary citizen” Brian Sodergren, Rep. Mica sent out letters to the heads of at least 100 airports across America advising them to “opt out” of the government-funded TSA program and hand over the job to private contractors. One of the first airports to sign on to Rep. Mica’s privatization program, Orlando’s Sanford Airport, happens to lie in Rep. Mica’s district. The airport also happens to be a client of Rep. Mica’s daughter, D’Anne Mica, who is listed as a partner in two lobbying/PR firms consulted by Sanford Airport. One of Ms. Mica’s PR firms, “Grasshopper Media,” boasts of its “history of success in organizing strategic and comprehensive grassroots campaigns.” In other words: astroturfing.
  • According to a recent AP article, “Companies that could gain business if airports heed Mica’s call have helped fill his campaign coffers. In the past 13 years, Mica has received almost $81,000 in campaign donations from political action committees and executives connected to some of the private contractors already at 16 U.S. airports.” (“Airports Consider Congressman’s Call to Ditch the TSA”)

While so far there is no “smoking gun” linking Rep. Mica to the anti-TSA campaign, there is clearly enough evidence to call into question the official version of events as a “spontaneous” outbreak of anti-TSA hysteria carried out by “ordinary guys” that it claims to be. Instead, there is plenty of evidence of a coordinated campaign for purposes that are only just beginning to emerge—a campaign with a profit motive and a political objective. What we should not do is assume that, in the midst of the worst recession in decades, when untold thousands of families are being thrown out of their homes in fraudulent foreclosures, that the biggest most pressing issue facing Americans is the “porn scan” at airports.

But don’t ask us, ask Americans themselves: a recent CBS poll found that fewer than one in five Americans object to the TSA’s use of scans and pat-downs. Nevertheless, like the Tea Party libertarian protests that “erupted” “spontaneously” in February 2009, the protests against the TSA, and the media coverage of the spectacle, grips the nation.

This article was first published in The Nation…

21 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. matt  |  November 24th, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    After reading the comment section from the nation website version of this article I decided america is too fucked intellectually to ever get its act together.

  • 2. Anonymous  |  November 24th, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    I don’t really care if someone is funding this or not. I do not enjoy air travel (I do it a lot) and this further infuriates me. I get exposed to various sorts of radiation without a long term study and get nude photos taken (with no guarantee of data security or privacy) OR I submit to more groping.

    Frankly I go with the groping, at the shame is evident on the face of the agent who is groping me.

    I’m sure there’s people who exaggerate what is going on, but really what’s going is just a waste of time, an invasion of privacy and generally ineffective security.

    Dear TSA: please build your Maginot line somewhere else.

  • 3. Derp  |  November 24th, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    Derp derp!

    The Kochs are manipulating us… but it’s for freedom, derp derp! They ain’t making a penny off this and even if they was Soros does the exact same thing and what’s good for Koch is great for America!

    I don’t want no TSer grabbing mah junk, derp derp!

    You exiled people may be into “alternative styles” BUT NOT ME!

    DERP DERP!

  • 4. BenCorp.  |  November 25th, 2010 at 5:40 am

    It’s dissapointing that the TSA revolt is a Koch creation. I thought that Americans might finally be growing a spine. Turns out that Koch is their spine.
    What’s it gonna take yanks? Whats it gonna take?

  • 5. Omri  |  November 25th, 2010 at 8:38 am

    If this is the Koch apparatus in action, then at least the libertoid douchebags are finally making themselves useful for something and I’m ready to fall in line with them. Which is to say, I’m a libertard douchebag who loves Ayn Rand and believes someday I’ll be a billionaire too, just like Master Koch.

  • 6. Adam  |  November 25th, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    @Mark

    I’m totally with you. I couldn’t believe that virtually every commenter missed the point of the article: rage against the TSA is being funded by the private security industry. Some of the things they are saying about Ames/Levine is so far from the truth which is saddening because both of these writers have been speaking truth to power regardless if it’s the government or a private institution.

  • 7. GhostUnit  |  November 26th, 2010 at 10:23 am

    “fewer than one in five Americans object to the TSA’s use of scans and pat-downs”

    Well, fewer than one in five americans flies, duh.

  • 8. Victor Villain  |  November 27th, 2010 at 3:35 am

    @4, clearly it’s only the government that is the problem. Neoliberalism is teh New Left for 2011.

    Sucking Koch, It’s beyond partisan politics – it’s not just for rightwing fucktards anymore!

  • 9. J. Destroyer  |  November 27th, 2010 at 6:15 am

    This is weird. The way I read this–which isn’t at all the way that the article puts it, but the way I’m paid as a troller to read this is: Ames & Levine (of all people) supporting authoritarian excess in the TSA is very odd.

    Now comes my Frank Luntz part of my comment, where I pretend that I was always a big fan of Levine and Ames and now for the first time I’m upset. This way, I seem totally credible, rather than a troll. Ready? here goes:

    I was interested in Levine, the California water stories and pretty much all of Ames work because I thought it was anti-authoritarian, not because it was black helicopter conspiracy nut bullshit.

    Okay, got that part out of the way. Now, next part, I try to turn their documented facts linking the Kochs and John Mica to the anti-TSA movement into something like a “conspiracy theory” because we libertarians have learned, after decades of being conspiracy theorists about the government, that calling something a “conspiracy theory” discredits it. So, here goes:

    I can’t listen to Alex Jones and this smells a lot like writers just desperate for some sort of attention.

    Okay, and now I pretend I’m disappointed. Here goes:

    I know you don’t give a fuck that I am disappointed but I really like the Exile.

    But maybe I’m a shill for NewsCorp who doesn’t have an opinion of my own (because I disagree with you and that doesn’t exist without an agenda).

    I hope Dolan doesn’t do this.
    Johnny D.

  • 10. David  |  November 27th, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    Quite the shitstorm, eh? There’s definitely a story here. For all I know, you’re even right about Tyner. But then again I’m another troll working for the libertard network, so I won’t admit it here, only among fellow libertards. Too bad Greenwald decided to attack you so crazily and not disclose his relationship to Koch. Sorry to say it, but you guys are going to make all of us libertards, including Glenn Greenwald of the libertarian Cato Institute, look bad. I wish I could say your story was half-baked, but I’m sure that even though Greenwald is tainted by his connection to Cato, all of the libertarians who are ass-licking colleagues of Greenwalds and suck-ups to the Kochs will pile on you. I fucking wish I could blow Charles Koch every second of my life. Now I should get out and blow Glenn Greenwald of the libertarian Cato Institute.

  • 11. Dammerung  |  November 27th, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    I don’t get it. Maybe that’s why I’m a “libertard” which really means “retard posing as libertarian.” Here’s my thinking: I think the Koch people are distilled evil and when libertarians stand up against a fake-unpopular government program they’re STILL the suck-up fags who blow billionaire cock.

    Why exactly all the hate? Just because we libertards do the bidding of our billionaire masters, trying to get people to hate their government and love billionaires and corporations?

    the Koch-funded Lew Rockwell/Ron Paul libertarians have NOT protested:

    -the transfer of wealth from the poor to the Koch billionaires
    -rampant fraud in the mortgage/foreclosure scam
    -tobacco companies
    -BP oil spill
    -the bailout to the banksters (we pretended to be against it, but you never saw us do anything serious like we did with the TSA fake-scandal)

    -and yet they’re still the folks you dump on most. Why is that? Somehow a political party that gets 5% of the vote at best but billions of dollars in funding is running everything and ObamaCo. and the DNC are just doing the libertarians’ bidding almost as badly as the Republicans do the libertarians’ bidding. You’re right, libertarians are a fucking cancer.

  • 12. J. Destroyer  |  November 27th, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    Well played. Sorry to be a libertarian hurting working and middle-class Americans by spending my whole life licking the lint balls out of billionaires’ asses the way we libertarians do. You should try licking the dingleberries out of Charles Koch’s ass just like we libertards do, they’re pretty tasty.

    Good luck.

  • 13. J. Destroyer  |  November 27th, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    The (wired) world is made up of people who disagree with you because they don’t understand that you are right.

    Those who disagree must be undersexed because they can’t, really, understand the infallibility of your opinion.

    You’re a smart guy. Are there neutered people in the world? Can you imagine how hard my cock would be to be the sort of person who couldn’t walk into a building or down the street without popping a chubby behind everyone’s eyes?

    Could you edit my comments (I’ll give you head) in such a way that I can disagree with your points? You know that every time Charles Koch disagrees with your articles, I always comment because he asks me to. I am only stuff that I don’t agree with.

    Why do you suggest that I not read the site anymore? “Take my balls and go fuck off” Ames honestly says, but don’t get off?

    Don’t post this on your board – it’s my board. Just write that you said “I would never say fuck off” or dump a hot Carl on my chest.

    For the record, I am a university graduate (elitist swine), construction worker (selling out my fellow man) and a small business owner (exploiting the worker’s sweat). Really a very broad target. Oh, and I work for a Koch-funded PR agency too.

  • 14. SweetLeftFoot  |  November 27th, 2010 at 10:35 pm

    Some quality vindictive comment editing there. Nice story too.

  • 15. Dejo  |  November 28th, 2010 at 4:33 am

    http://www.observer.com/2010/daily-transom/how-libertarian-koch-bros-benefit-corporate-welfare

    I just found and read this. It’s very insightful and thought provoking. It seems that if we can separate Levine from Ames (because we can’t yet separate The Nation from Ames-Levine) then our problems are over. So how about we do this for a strategy: say that the problem of that particular “co-authored” article was caused by Ames, that Levine should continue writing articles by himself, he’s much better at it than Ames. This oughtta work, whattaya say guys?

  • 16. David  |  November 28th, 2010 at 7:49 am

    So anyone who tells you you need to bring better game if you’re going up against the libertards is a Koch troll now? Fine, I don’t give a fuck. Just get us the rest of the story.

  • 17. Zhu Bajie  |  November 28th, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    Libertarians, once again caught being the Janissaries of the super-rich! Who’d'a thunk it?

  • 18. Dejo  |  November 28th, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    Gee, you should bask in the glory of all these libertard fags who can’t handle how awesome you are. They should really be able to handle some constructive criticism.

  • 19. HamsterFist  |  November 30th, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    People who are not able to handle a ‘nuanced’ argument surprise the hell out of me. Not once did I see you defending a police state or the supposed violation of rights by the TSA. No, what I read was that Americans are NOT spontaneously rejecting their overlords. Americans are NOT actually standing up to their masters. No, they are PRETENDING to do so only so another rich fuck can make more money operating a private security force at the airports.

    How the fuck did the readers at thenation miss this? It just goes to prove my theory that the left is just as retarded, and pussy whipped as the right in this country. This is the same shit as arguing about Obama. Liberals, the dude sucks, stop defending him! Bush III. My solution? Vote for Palin and enjoy the schadenfreude of laughing at your ‘teaparty’ friends as she hastens the destruction of whatever is left of America. (Just don’t let them know you helped put the final nail in the coffin.) Hey, at least it will give you some smug satisfaction as the cannibals finish cooking you.

  • 20. Bobby  |  November 30th, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    The libertards complaining about the scanners need to shut the hell up and get out of John Galt’s way.

    His private plane lands in 45 minutes and you peons need to clear the runway.

  • 21. CensusLouie  |  December 3rd, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    The instant I heard mentions on news agencies about replacing TSA with private security, I pretty much assumed the same thing; that the entire outrage campaign was manufactured.

    One other thing I realized while readint TheNation article: I don’t think I’ve ever read a conservative “research” piece that cited sources, ever (or at least not properly). Can anyone point me to any instance where they have?


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