Gabriel Kuhn Denied Entry to U.S., Speaking Tour Canceled

By W. E. Evans

In January, Sweden-based anarchist writer and translator Gabriel Kuhn, PhD, unexpectedly canceled his three-month U.S. speaking tour after discovering his name on a “No-Fly” list that barred him from U.S. travel. Kuhn had planned to tour across the United States with three of his books published by PM Press, including Sober Living for the Revolution and Life Under the Jolly Roger. But the tour would never materialize. What’s worse, Kuhn’s dilemma is repeated in airports daily.

After Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. government created a No-Fly or Terror Watch List to identify suspected terrorists, with the aim of making air travel safer. There are two levels of security attributed to people on this list. About 2,500 people – more than 90 percent of which are not U.S. citizens – are denied the ability to fly entirely, and around 13,500 more are searched and frisked in connection with a “selectee list.” Due to the secrecy of the national security apparatus, however, it is impossible to know exactly how many names are on the No-Fly List or what they are. The only way to find out if a name is on this list is to attempt travel within or to the United States under that name.

After the failed bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit in December 2009, the U.S. government announced that it had lowered its standards for who is included on the No-Fly List, now requiring only one credible source to indicate that an individual is a threat, rather than the multiple sources previously needed. Because of these increased restrictions, Gabriel Kuhn’s application for travel to the United States from Sweden came back tagged “Travel Not Authorized.”

There are numerous and repeated examples of “false positives” in relation to the No-Fly List. A false positive occurs when an individual is denied air travel or is put through high-level security screening because of a shared name with a person who is on the No-Fly List. The most well known example of this is 8-year-old Mikey Hicks, who has been frisked and searched every time he has flown since the age of two. There are dozens of similar reports of people, including other children, who have been made to endure humiliating searches or are simply not allowed to fly because of their namesakes. Attempts to remove a name from the list ultimately result in failure and frustration, and some people who are repeatedly put through the security process end up changing their names in order to avoid it.

According to Kuhn, “To get removed from the list seems near impossible for someone like me. It took Nelson Mandela years to get off the list when he was already the president of South Africa.” He added, “Not being a U.S. citizen or resident, there are no rights I can claim, either.… If you started a serious attempt to get off the list, it would mean a lot of time, a lot of money, and you'd have to give up a lot of sensitive information in the process – all without any guarantee that it will ever work.”

According to the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, the names that appear on the No-Fly List are those of people suspected of threatening the national security of the United States or known terrorists. Gabriel Kuhn, however, has never been charged with a crime. He has also regularly traveled around the world and resided in various countries over time – including the United States. Kuhn’s appearance on the No-Fly List seems to be entirely based on his political views. “I was not surprised to be on some kind of watch list,” Kuhn said. “I expected problems when arriving in the U.S…. What I did not expect was that I would not even be allowed to board a plane.”

It is increasingly common for states to repress individuals or groups for entirely political reasons. For Kuhn, this repression means that he cannot enter the United States. “In my situation, it's sad that I can't travel to the U.S…. I would have loved to do talks and meet with activists all around the country. But I'm no way existentially threatened because I'm not allowed to go. At the same time, there are people all over the world who might lose their jobs, go to prison or even be killed for voicing their political beliefs.”

Kuhn is right; for example, in September 2009, several members of the Serbian Anarcho-Syndicalist Initiative were arrested and charged with “international terrorism.” No evidence had been produced to connect the group to a mild amount of property damage done to the Greek embassy in Belgrade the week prior. Additionally, in Germany, a grassroots labor union known as the Free Worker's Union Berlin (FAU-B) was banned by court order, seemingly for no other reason than their commitment to a non-hierarchical, self-organized structure.

So should people or groups be less open about their political beliefs in order to avoid repression? According to Kuhn, “In general, of course, I would never advise people to be less vocal about their political beliefs…. But, I can think of many situations in which it is completely understandable if individuals feel the need to be careful. And it doesn't mean that they are ‘giving up’ their beliefs, either. They can still live and act according to them – it will just happen a bit more underground.”

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