Beware of Robert Johnsons and Anyone Named Ted Kennedy

My latest Civil Discourse comic tackles the government's Terrorist Watch list, which has almost million names. Who's on it? Toddlers, dead people, congressmen, and Iraq War vets. You know, the people most likely to harm America. See the ACLU's watch list counter for more info.

Common names like "Robert Johnson"are listed without specific details. So far, 12 Robert Johnsons report being interrogated at airports . In an attempt to find the elusive John William Anderson they detained a six-year-old. Sometimes you really can be too careful.

The artist formerly known as Cat Stevens changed his name to Yusuf Islam. Apparently, that's too Islam-y for the government so he's on the no fly list as well. (He should change it to an unpronounceable symbol, like Prince did, just to mess with them). Were he to be allowed on a flight, the coach section could spontaneously break out into a rendition of "Peace Train." The airline industry is suffering enough. We don't need anyone reminding them of trains at this point-especially peaceful ones.

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I discovered that I had been placed on the airline terrorist watch list when I attended a mental health consumer conference last October 2007 (I'm on SSDI for Bipolar Disorder, Type 1, and while quite capable of crazy behavior, particularly when manic, I have not nor do I expect to do anything remotely terroristic--my mania typically involves self-destructive behaviors like drinking, spending my life savings, having lots of sex and driving way too fast). Anyway, on my outbound check-in, the woman at the SWA counter looked at me sternly while handing over the SW equivalent of their cattle-call boarding pass and said, "You're on our watchlist." I walked away bemused, thinking that maybe she meant waitlist but no, she gave me their boarding group thingy so that wasn't it, and then I got to the security check-in and my bags were all hand-searched. OK, I thought, maybe random check, no big deal. I flew American on the return leg and attempted to use my credit card in their self-service automated check-in machine to get a boarding pass. The machine printed out what I thought would be the boarding pass, but upon closer examination it said 'Take this card to the nearest American Airlines representative'. I tried it again, same thing. So I got in the long line to check-in and when I got to the counter, the CSR took my cards and I.D. and started typing, and typing, and typing! I finally asked, "Is there a problem?" and the gentleman replied exasperatedly, "Oh, you're on the watch list!" I must have looked dumbfounded because he then added, "It's your name! It's your name!" I decided discretion was the better part of valor at this point and waited quietly until he finished his typing and gave me my boarding pass. Same thing at security--bags hand-searched. When I got home, I went to DHS and filed a complaint with their TRIP (Travel Redress Inquiry Program). It is now May 2008 and they are still investigating my case (and, ominously, advising me that they are coordinating with other agencies in their investigative process). Because I'm certifiably nuts, my reaction is mixed. On the one hand, I'm deeply distressed at my ongoing predicament. On the other, someone really is watching me--it's not just paranoia! The bottom line is that I wish I had been born and raised and lived happily in western Europe (or Costa Rica) or any other place on earth where actual democracy appears to continue to flourish. Since that is not my current reality, I will patiently read my George Orwell and Ayn Rand novels while awaiting the next chapter in my personal saga to unfold. If you have had a similar experience and would like to converse, please feel free to email me at Regards, JOHN


I was told at work that I was listed as a person to watch for because my mother and other members of my family have a history of mental illness. Even though, I show no signs of the disease. I was told that I was to be watched for possible signs of "going postal."

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