In an exclusive interview with Judson Phillips, the founder of Tea Party Nation, which hosted the first National Tea Party convention in Nashville, I learned that the Tea Party movement is outraged at the TSA’s “nude” body scanners and search procedures.
For a political movement that is often criticized as a cynical, right-wing ploy to lower taxes for the rich (or something like that), this key player in the Tea Party movement sounds refreshingly bold in his affirmation of civil liberties, putting Tea Party ideology right in line with the ACLUs and Michael Moores of the world when it comes to defending the civil liberties in the U.S. Constitution, except that it seems like Tea Party activists and sympathizers have actually been the most vocal critics of the TSA lately.
If Phillips’ views are truly representative of the vast swath of activists and voters who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters, that’s a great sign for the Tea Party. It means their belief in strict constitutionalism and individual liberty isn’t selective or merely a front for some partisan agenda, but a firmly-held and consistently-applied set of principles. You can read Phillips’ words for yourself and decide:
CAIVN: Thank you for the interview, Mr. Phillips. For our readers, would you mind briefly summarizing the national role that you’ve played in the Tea Party movement?
Judson Phillips: I founded Tea Party Nation, one of the largest national tea party groups. We hosted the National Tea Party convention in Nashville in February [editor’s note: this event featured Sarah Palin as the keynote speaker]. We have helped organize and connect tea party groups throughout the country.
CAIVN: What do you think about the TSA’s “nude” body scanners?
Judson Phillips: I am appalled by them. First is the radiation hazard which the regime does not even address. Second, I don’t want people staring at me without clothes or my wife or my teenaged daughter or my grade school sons. There are other and better ways to protect us.
CAIVN: With your finger to the pulse of the Tea Party movement- what are the general attitudes you’re hearing from Tea Party activists towards these scanners?
Judson Phillips: I think most people in the tea party feel at least as strongly as I do. When we posted something about this on Tea Party Nation, our online numbers went through the roof. We got a lot of responses.
CAIVN: The TSA’s new procedures allow it to give passengers a much more aggressive pat down if they refuse to submit to a body scan. What do you think about these new procedures?
Judson Phillips: Typical heavy handed government retaliation. You will submit or we will punish you.
CAIVN: Again, what attitudes are you hearing from the Tea Party about these new procedures?
Judson Phillips: Pretty much the same. Emotions range from appalled to angry.
CAIVN: The Tea Party generally seems to support enforcing the U.S. Constitution as a document that limits Federal power. Would you say that the TSA’s searches violate the Fourth Amendment right of people to be secure “against unreasonable searches and seizures,” which it defines as those which occur without a warrant, without probable cause, or without “particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized?”
Judson Phillips: I think it does. I think we can do a much better job of security without abusing law abiding citizens. I am reasonably certain a 2 year old child is not a terrorist and a 90 year old grandmother in a wheel chair probably isn’t either. Yet they are treated the same in the eyes of the government as some 25 year old man who just arrived from Yemen.
CAIVN: There’s a National Opt Out Day planned for this November 24th (and another for May 7th) where air travelers are urged to opt out of the body scans en masse. Do you think we’ll see participation from the Tea Party in this protest?
Judson Phillips: Possibly. I have told people on TPN to call the airlines and tell them they are not flying anymore as long as this nonsense is going on. If the airlines hear from enough people, they will put pressure on the government to act.
CAIVN: The Tea Party generally seems focused on economic issues like the bailouts, stimulus package, and health care bill… is there room for civil liberties in the Tea Party platform, and will Tea Partiers end up standing for them?
Judson Phillips: I think that is included in the idea of pushing back against an over reaching government.
CAIVN: The TSA’s annual budget is $8 billion. Is that money being well spent?
Judson Phillips: Is any government budget well spent?
CAIVN: Do you think conservative bloggers and activists would be just as outraged right now if this were all happening under a Republican administration?
Judson Phillips: I would hope so. We saw the first stirrings of the Tea Party movement in the last months of George Bush’s administration. I think if John McCain were in the White House and doing the same thing, I think you would see this movement out there.
CAIVN: Conversely, do you think we’d see a lot more outrage from progressive groups right now if Bush were still president while these things were happening at airports?
Judson Phillips: No question about that.
CAIVN: Do you have any new events or plans for the Tea Party in the works?
Judson Phillips: We are working on a couple of things that are not yet ready for public announcement.