John Brennan's Body Politics

Why a Portland man took off his clothes in an airport security line.

John Brennan walked into Portland International Airport the evening of April 17 with every intention of boarding his Alaska Airlines flight to San Jose, Calif. But when he got hassled at a TSA security checkpoint, something snapped—or rather, unsnapped. He stripped all the way down to his birthday suit, because, as he puts it, "My civil liberties had already been violated."

The 49-year-old Brennan was arrested by airport police, and has since been charged in Multnomah County with indecent exposure, a misdemeanor. Speaking last week from his home in Portland, Brennan says he has no regrets about his fleshy antics.

"Our civil rights are being eroded slowly, and TSA is one of the ways that's happening," Brennan says. "I knew that I could use the power of being naked to bring visibility to that issue."

Since his arrest was first reported by The Oregonian that Tuesday night, Brennan has been "bombarded" by media requests. The audacity of his protest—coupled with amusing details from the police report, like: "Some passengers covered their eyes and their children's eyes and moved away from the screening area; others stepped out of the screening lanes to look, laugh, and take photos"—turned him into an instant Internet celebrity.

Brennan works in the web industry, and he says he flies about once a month for business. He routinely refuses the full-body scanners, meaning he often is subjected to frisking. Such was the case this time around, only with one key wrinkle: TSA thought he might have been carrying a bomb.

After he was patted down, Brennan says a TSA agent swabbed his hands with a small piece of fabric. This was likely an Explosives Trace Detection, a relatively new procedure that tests for bomb-making chemicals.

"There was this sort of growing number of people around me and mumbling in the background," he says. "They were starting to gather my stuff up, and I'm like, 'What's going on?' I found out I tested positive for explosives. I said, 'I don't have any explosives, here you go,' and started taking off my clothes."

Brennan says he has disrobed in public only once before, to participate in the World Naked Bike Ride in Portland. But shedding his clothes at the airport, he felt like he "was entering a serene state." He recounts being oblivious to the gawking bystanders until he was in cuffs and being escorted through the terminal.

Brennan estimates he was naked for no more than 10 minutes. The arresting officers brought a drape to cover him up, and he got most of his clothes back after he was placed in an airport holding cell. But, he says, "For some reason they seemed to not be interested in giving me my socks."

 
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