MARYLAND — Second city stop on my Terrorism & Tyranny book tour was Portland, home of some of the most vociferous anti-war protests in America. When I arrived at the San Francisco International Airport at 5:45 in the morning, security agents outnumbered the passengers and I sailed through.
Kurt Weber, vice president of the Cascade Policy Institute, picked me up at the airport. Weber is one of the most devoted, freedom loving, savvy think tankers I have met, and he was a joy to talk to. He drove me to the offices of the Oregonian, where I spent a lively hour chatting with columnist David Sarasohn, a former college history professor who has done some of the best and hardest-hitting pieces on the war on terrorism. (See, for instance, this article: the first time my and Newt Gingrich’s names have been linked since I attacked him in TAS shortly before his 1998 resignation.)
Next up was a luncheon debate at the Governor’s Hotel over the PATRIOT Act with Charles Gorder, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the “Portland Seven” terrorist cell. Gorder spent half his seven-minute opening statement telling a joke about an elk that got hit by a plane somewhere in Oregon. He finished his opening with a few broad comments on the Act that were indistinguishable from the Justice Department’s official Talking Points, including the obligatory condemnation of all misrepresentations of the Act.
I opened up by mocking Attorney General John Ashcroft’s claim that the Patriot Act helped make Americans “freer today than at any time in the history of human freedom.” In the portion of the show where the debaters questioned each other, Gorder asked me a multi-part question about whether I would oppose a “secret search” of the room of a terrorist staying in that hotel when the Justice Department had strong evidence that he was on the verge of launching an attack that would kill many people. I replied, there are some narrow circumstances where such a search would be justified, but that the PATRIOT Act’s provision for such searches is far broader than the case he presented.
I parried by asking Gorder why people should trust the government with the arbitrary power of the Act, considering the profusion of inaccurate statements by Ashcroft and the Justice Department over the last two years.
The audience asked excellent questions, especially on issues such as government surveillance of attorney-client conversations. I spoke to a reporter for KBOO radio in Portland afterwards and she said the station intended to broadcast a tape of the debate.
Afterwards, I met Claire Wolfe, the author of The State vs. the People and columnist for Backwoods Home magazine. Claire is a hardliner’s hardliner and also a lady with a fast wit and a very healthy laugh. I was relieved when she told me that Gorder’s debate performance had not swayed her position on the PATRIOT Act.
AFTER A BRIEF PAUSE, during which I discovered that Portland has the best coffee I ever tasted, it was off to Portland State U for a speech sponsored by the Portland Spectator, a zesty conservative magazine that is thriving in a hostile atmosphere.
The magazine’s staff had papered the campus with posters announcing the speech with a large picture of an armored cop holding a Billy club next to the slogan “Police State?” and the title “Terrorism, Tyranny, and the USA Patriot Act.” One staffer told me that this was the first time that the magazine’s posters for a speech had not been almost instantly torn down by other students.
The Spectator‘s editor-in-chief Joey Coons introduced me to a crowd that was a mix of hard lefties, moderate lefties, and conservatives and libertarians. I tried to use ample humor in the talk and different segments of the large classroom had completely different reactions to the punch lines. A bag lady sitting in the front row laughed loudly, out of sync with my attempts at humor. Apparently such things are obligatory at PSU political speeches.
The first question after the speech came from a bearded guy who demanded to know why I though al Qaeda actually carried off the September attacks. I said that’s where the evidence pointed, but added that it was unfortunate that the Bush administration refuses to cooperate with the special Commission on September 11.
A gentleman, likely of Middle Eastern origin, asked why the U.S. should not also go after other terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. I answered that these groups have not attacked the U.S. I further warned that the U.S. was diluting its antiterrorism resources in the war in and occupation of Iraq, reducing the effectiveness of its pursuit of al Qaeda.
After the speech, I enjoyed beer, pizza, and conversation with the Portland Spectator staff. I fielded frenetic questions from one editor who was astounded by my comment that Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind was a decisive influence in making me more libertarian than conservative.
The following afternoon, I left for Denver, the final stop on the book tour. As I was waiting in the line to clear TSA security, I spoke to one business traveler who told me there is routinely an hour delay for clearing the TSA gauntlet in Portland. He said he considered not taking his current job because of the requirement for so much flying and so much hassle. He explained that travelers in Portland are especially wary because, if people give the TSA agents any guff, they are told “you are banned from flying today” — one of the perquisites of the new federal airport occupation army.
As I was emptying my pockets of change and keys before crossing through the metal detector, I noticed that I had my cigar cutter in my shirt pocket. I thought the cutter — a rusty plastic device with a small metal blade — might not be enough to set off the alarm. On the other hand, if it did set off the alarm, there could be a great deal of unpleasantness, especially after articles I have written bashing the TSA for seizing cigar cutters.
I called over to a TSA agent lady, showed her the cigar cutter, and asked whether recent TSA policy changes permitted such devices to be carried onto planes. She looked very concerned, took the plastic device, examined it closely, and asked whether the blade could be taken out and used as a weapon. I said I did not think so. She wrinkled her brow and said she would have to talk to her supervisor about this.
I passed through the metal detector without setting off the alarm, which was good, because the last time I went through Portland after September 11 the subsequent vigorous “wanding” resembled a prostate examination. The TSA agent walked up to me, notified me that her supervisor ruled that the cigar cutter could be taken aboard and returned it to me. I thanked her, since that was the best $2 cigar cutter I ever owned.