Government harassment or error?

Excerpted from CityPages BlogJay Nygard, as you may recall, is the Orono-based rabble rouser who nearly went to jail this summer for refusing to take down a personalized wind turbine. Well, a new battle presented itself last week — this one involving his son and an higher level of government.

“He took on the city,” says Nygard the younger, known as Kahler. “I took on the feds.”

Kahler is referring to a recent spat with the Transportation Security Administration. For several years, he says, he’s had to undergo extra scrutiny while flying — and at one time was denied the privilege to board a plane — because of comments he’d previously posted on a political website. (It’s unclear what those comments were, and Kahler declines to shed light on what he describes as his “unique belief system,” which is not “anti-government.”)

On Sept. 6, he had assumed he would be turned away again, but ended up boarding a Minneapolis-St. Paul airport flight to Denver after being padded down, along with his father.

The Department of Homeland Security won’t say what actions might get you on the naughty list, but the New York Times noted last year that the TSA has begun searching a wide array of databases, including vehicle and employment records, to access fliers for risk. The only way to know that you’ve been flagged is to check your boarding pass for an “SSSS” designation, as Kahler did.

Sometime in the air, however, TSA agents decided that his body and bag warranted a closer look. Flight attendants singled him out and forced him to leave the plane after it landed ahead of other passengers. He recorded what happened next on his cell phone:

The video picks up after Kahler enters the terminal. He asks whether he’s being detained, and a TSA agent named Alex responds, “I just need to clear some information with you.” Instead, Kahler heads for the exit.

Alex catches up and asks the 22-year-old man where he’s going. Three agents now surround him and wait for his bordering pass. Kahler says he left it on the plane, which prompts Alex to make a phone call. “He’s pretty objectionable, filming me,” the agent says.

Turning to Kahler, Alex explains, “So we need to do some screening that may or may not have been completed in Minneapolis.”

“Why can’t I just need to leave the premises?” Kahler responds, then tries reasoning with the man: “If I traveled from point A to point B safely, why does there now need to be more screening?”

Alex threatens to call Denver police and have Kahler arrested “for refusing our direction.” As soon as it becomes clear that the TSA cannot hold him, Kahler walks away. “Call ’em,” he says, meaning the cops.

Kahler tells us that before leaving the airport he spoke with a TSA supervisor named Max and ended the conversation on friendly terms. (The TSA would only say that staff are “reviewing the incident.”)

Last Thursday night, Kahler took a flight back to Minneapolis with his father and went through security without much trouble. Tom Lyden of FOX9 broke the story last week, and it got picked up by Buzzfeed. Kahler says he interviewed with Good Morning America, but the story got bumped Friday — “maybe because they couldn’t spin it in the right way to paint me in a negative manner.”

But what’s most frustrating is the inability to defend himself. He says the FBI questioned him six months ago, but wouldn’t comment on his flight status.

“Let’s say I go and steal $50,” he says. “I’m able to go in, make amends in a way. I’ll go through the criminal system, I’ll be given a punishment so that I can work my way out of this.”

DHS has no such mechanism. Either way, he’s never been charged with a crime. “There’s no way for me to just move on,” he says.

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