For the last few days, a letter written by Walt Sheasby of California has been making the rounds in which the author discounts and seeks to discredit the ordeal faced by Green Party USA co-coordinator Nancy Oden at the Bangor Maine International airport. A press release issued by GPUSA reported the story: “‘An official told me that my name had been flagged in the computer,’ a shaken Oden said.”
Without bothering to check with Oden, Sheasby termed Oden’s statement a “fib”, and therein severely hindered gathering the support that Oden (and many others) need. He wrote: “Nancy Oden was apparently not barred because of a computer check, but because she did not comply with standard screening for weapons.”
How did Sheasby arrive at this conclusion? Did he call Nancy Oden? Did he even call the FBI and ask about the existence of such a list of individual activists?
Sadly, the answer is no. He relied solely on a public relations official’s denial to a Bangor newspaper, which read: “She [Oden] was uncooperative during the screening process. … Obviously if they can’t submit to screening, [Federal Aviation Administration] regulations require that they not be allowed to board the plane.”
From this, Sheasby concluded: “it appears that her [Oden’s] name was not flagged by a computer search of potential terrorists or their supporters.”
Is Sheasby really that gullible?
In fact, Oden was targeted as soon as she gave her name to pick up her ticket. She was told this was NOT a random procedure. A uniformed soldier with automatic rifle started lecturing her about terrorism. Oden — a woman alone at the airport surrounded by armed military men — was indeed searched, as were her bags. She was deemed “clean.” Nevertheless, as has occurred in numerous venues across the country, she was banned from her flight, and from ALL flights from that airport.
Sheasby knew all of this but omitted it from his report, choosing instead to rest his case on the spin of a corporate flak — a statement Sheasby knew to be wrong.
Why did Sheasby do this, and cast doubt about Oden’s story at a time when she most needed support? And why did a few people who should know better accept and repeat Sheasby’s smear, without investigating for themselves?
One person who refused to accept Sheasby’s report is Fred Myers, an antiwar activist and Green in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Myers, who is often critical of Oden and the Green Party USA, nevertheless had the integrity to challenge Sheasby’s account. He wrote:
“Wait a minute…. This doesn’t add up. Why was she not allowed to board the flight? If she allowed the completion of the search of her person and baggage, then what grounds were there to deny her right to fly? “Furthermore, the Bangor Daily article did indeed say that agents would not confirm or deny that her name is on a list. … [T]here’s no denying the last point in the Bangor article: If she did something wrong, then she should be charged. If not, then denying her right to fly is absolutely unjustified. And posting a headline implying she ‘fibbed’ is quite sleazy to say the least.”
Another person who did her homework is Amy Goodman, host of the “Democracy Now” radio show. Unlike Sheasby, Goodman made the appropriate calls and featured a phone interview with Nancy Oden on her show. Oden explained how the whole incident started at Bangor airport. She said she gave her name and the ticket agent immediately recognized it and did not even ask for additional identification.
Many rank-and-file greens have expressed their outrage at the treatment of Oden, first at the hands of the authorities and secondly by Sheasby and his faction. Sure, there are many worse things happening in the world. But they all start somewhere. This is one such instance.
So Sheasby has now issued another statement. Without in any way apologizing for the harm he caused, he reverses field and now writes that he ACCEPTS the fact that Oden was indeed barred, as she reported, from getting on an airplane to Chicago to attend the GPUSA national board meeting because of her political work — this, after 4 days of bombarding listserves asserting the contrary. But, peering once again into his crystal ball, Sheasby now claims that the military barred Oden because of her involvement with anti-genetic engineering work, not her antiwar activity.
Oden’s name “is certainly familiar to the authorities in Maine,” he argues, “and the association with the corn field incident [in which Oden defended activists who had torn out genetically engineered corn at an experimental field at the University of Maine] may be the precipitating cause of her victimization. It now does not appear that her connection with Greens/Green Party USA had anything to do with her harassment at the airport, but it does seem that her other activities had brought some unwanted attention.”
Uh, excuse me, but who can know this for sure, and WHO CARES? The point is that Oden (and many people, including other Greens) are being targeted because of their politics.
“Oden had announced the day she planned to fly out, and of course everybody concerned knew which airport and her destination in advance,” writes GPUSA gadfly Paul Prior, whose website has been instrumental in questioning the bombardment of Afghanistan, the connections between the Bush family and the Bin Ladens, and the quest to control oil in Asia.”
The Green Party USA, which has for years condemned US’s gluttonous reliance on oil and which has organized around its program for shifting energy consumption to one based on sustainable and renewable energy (solar, wind, etc.), has been very active in opposing the bombardment of Afghanistan. You can view GPUSA’s oil-related antiwar statements by linking to http://www.greenparty.org.
“In fact,” Paul Prior continues, Oden’s “opposition to military presence in the Mideast is public at http://www.greenparty .org/911.html. She has enemies and the party has enemies. Nobody doubts the party has informants in its ranks and that they have an inside line to airport security and anybody else they need in intelligence. Anyone who would use that incident to try to discredit her and the party is only helping the fascist takeover,” Prior rightly scolds.
Just this week, the FBI has finally admitted to having arrested 1,147 people under the new anti-terrorism laws for “crimes” having nothing whatsoever to do with terrorist attacks. Not a single one of them is charged with any connection to the Sept. 11 horror.
Among the organizations the FBI admits to targeting is the anti-globalization Reclaim the Streets, which is actually listed as a terrorist group on the FBI’s lists.
Many activists are learning for the first time that the FBI is actually compiling and distributing lists of American citizens — some are called “terrorist profiles,” others are more explicit lists — and people have reported many instances at airports (and elsewhere) in which their civil liberties have been violated. It is often by someone “in charge” abusing their authority; at other times it occurs because they “fit” a profile; and still other times it happens because their name appears on one of the FBI’s lists.
The Oden case exposes some of this; it serves as a wakeup call to all Greens and others to put their sectarian differences aside and work to restore the Bill of Rights. With more than a thousand people in jail, no one knows who or where they are. The FBI is not releasing their names, nor are they charged with any terrorist-related crimes. Most are charged with overstaying their visas by a few weeks. And others are just picked up for “breathing while looking Arab.” The situation is outrageous, and we need to expose what’s really going on. Nancy Oden’s situation is but the harbinger of far more repressive times to come, unless we act quickly and stand united.
Mitchel Cohen is a member of the Brooklyn Greens and Green Party USA.