Trying To Get Into The Mile High Club Is An Act Of Terrorism?

Ken AshfordWar on Terrorism/Torture1 Comment

Heard about Carl Persing and Dawn Sewell yet?

They were the young couple aboard a Southwest Airlines flight from Los Angeles earlier this week.  According to news reports, they were engaging in a bit of a romantic encounter (more on that in a moment), much to the consternation of the flight attendants and fellow passengers.

"Persing was observed nuzzling or kissing Sewell on the neck, and … with his face pressed against Sewell’s vaginal area. During these actions, Sewell was observed smiling," reads the indictment filed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. On a second warning from the flight attendant, Persing snapped back threatening the flight attendant with "serious consequences" if he did not leave them alone.

They were subsequently arrested.  Fair enough.

But they were charged with violations of The Patriot Act.  Now what is that all about?

My thoughts are the same as these:

Let’s stipulate that the seats of a commercial airliner filled with other passengers is an inappropriate venue for sexual exploration. Can we nonetheless agree that this is not what the PATRIOT Act was aimed at?

Prof. Owen Kerr agrees:

This story doesn’t seem to add up. The relevant provision of the Patriot Act is 18 U.S.C. 1993(a)(5), which punishes whoever:

interferes with, disables, or incapacitates any dispatcher, driver, captain, or person while they are employed in dispatching, operating, or maintaining a mass transportation vehicle or ferry, with intent to endanger the safety of any passenger or employee of the mass transportation provider, or with a reckless disregard for the safety of human life.

In addition, 18 U.S.C. 1993(a)(8) prohibits "threaten[ing]" to do an act in (a)(5).

However, nothing in the story suggests that Persing actually threatened to interfere with, disable, or incapacitate the flight attendant while he was doing his job with intent to endanger his safety. It sounds like Persing was actually quite occupied with other things. And it’s unclear what role Sewell had here, at least in a criminal sense.