How I nearly got arrested for holding a sign at Denver International Airport

DIA, COLORADO- Last weekend I joined thousands across the country protesting Trump’s executive order restricting entry visas from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Spontaneous demonstrations had erupted at international airports nationwide on Saturday January 27. Denver’s airport was no exception but the lively gathering of sign holders was ultimately persuaded by police to leave the premises. Supposedly a permit was required to hold signs. Demonstrators the next day were quickly ushered outside, to rally instead between the terminal and adjacent lightrail station, where only a tiny fraction of travelers would see them. This much we knew as we monitored events online while we reconnoitered DIA from the short-term parking garage. We made our way swiftly to the International Arrivals doors at the north end of the main terminal WITH OUR SIGNS.

International Arrivals
The point was to reach immigrants, right? We walked to our intended protest spot unhindered and inconspicuous, because of course signs are not an unusual sight at an airport. Travelers who’ve been a long time away, in particular soldiers returning from deployment, are frequently greeted by family members holding signs. Often limo drivers have to page their corporate clients. We carried our placards with their message facing inward hoping they’d be mistaken for everyday signs. When we raised them above our heads we attracted immediate attention. They read “#NO MUSLIM BAN #NO REGISTRY, END WHITE PATRIARCHY” and “FIRST THEY CAME FOR THE MUSLIMS AND WE SAID: NOT TODAY MOTHERFUCKER.” Immediately a man with a “DIA Operations” cap informed us that we weren’t allowed to hold signs. We assured him the opposite was true. He called for backup.

We weren’t alone in front of International Arrivals. In addition to the families awaiting loved ones, there were a couple dozen law firm employees holding signs which read “Pro Bono Immigration Legal Services”. We surmised that their presence might have already been negotiated with DIA. Soon a couple of those lawyers approached us to announce loudly that the public protest was outside the building and that we could continue there unmolested. We thanked them for their assistance but urged that they also clarify publicly that we were within our rights to stay inside as well. I was upset that their gravitas, as lawyers, was seen as supportive of the authorities telling us to stop.

Police officers arrived in short order, a first one filming us with a digital point-and-shoot, then a second filming with a cell phone, both surely streaming to a command center. After six officers assembled, a sergeant approached us flanked by two DIA employees. She gave us our formal warnings. We were given instructions to “cease and desist” while we countered that we knew our rights. After a second warning we were assured that a third would mean our immediate arrest. We held our signs higher, all the while asserting their order was unlawful. The immigration lawyers huddled as far away from us as they could. Sgt. Virginia Quinones then got on her phone to consult somebody.

I recount this scene like it was a nail-biter, but of course we’ve held this standoff many, many times before. For activists with Occupy Denver, it’s become the routine. I was wearing an OD hoodie on this visit to DIA and I suspected whoever was on the line with Sgt Quinones had likely dealt with OD before. To be honest, this standoff too often does lead to arrest, so we were not proceeding without trepidation. Denver jail is an excreble experience. But it’s an unlawful arrest and that’s where we have to push back. As the sergeant kept talking, she and her entourage retreated. We stood our ground smiling and winked to each other. For onlookers however, the tension lingered. Several lawyers approached us to offer their cards, in case of arrest.

Though we were confident about asserting our rights, the six officers standing at the ready made it near impossible to entice other sign holders to join us. Our encourgements would be followed by the DIA operatives offering their advice to the newcomers. Nearly every newcomer opted to go outside. Only after hours of detente, with officers projecting a more relaxed inattentiveness, did we succeed in building a consensus of demonstrators.

In the meantime DIA operatives installed queue barriers to keep us from intermingling with the lawyers and family members waiting for international travelers. This strategy might also have meant to force us into the flow of passengers entering the nearby security check. We stood clear and even as our numbers grew, no obstruction occured.

One interesting fellow, a Mr. Gene Wells, wore a jacket with a message taped on its back. It read:


with the letters diminishing in size every line. He was warned by DIA personnel that he could only wear his jacket outside. DIA operatives wouldn’t leave his side as he walked through the terminal, but abandoned their effort to intimidate him as he rejoined us at the arrivals door.

A couple of travelers joined in before they had to catch a flight, they held signs they’d printed that morning at their AirBnB. We were joined by Quakers and even a former Denver Occupier. At most we numbered eight, compared to the hundred outside.

The protest outside
The protest outside was seen only by those travelers arriving or leaving by light-rail. And potentially by only half of those departing DIA through the B and C terminals, whose security check queue necessitated passing the windows facing the south. Perhaps. Most travelers approaching security aren’t lingering to take in the sights. The other half of passengers departing DIA go through the north security check, or over the walkway to Terminal A.

All arriving passengers, on the other hand, enter the main terminal from the north or using the underground train. They pass through the center of the main terminal before exiting at the baggage claims to the east and west. International arrivals enter the terminal from the north and proceed directly to parking or ground transport. If they are met by family they are very UNlikely to be riding the light-rail to downtown Denver.

While the protest outside did garner local television coverage, it was prevented from reaching immigrants or those awaiting arrivals, to convey the solidarity which those who opposed the Muslim Ban wished to express.

Inside our signs prompted a constant stream of public support. Passing travelers gave us thumbs up, high fives and thank yous. Muslims shook our hands and offered their heartfelt thanks. A couple gentlemen made speeches expressing their pubic appreciation of what we and the lawyers were doing.

The DIA operatives kept explaining that protesters need only apply for permits. The catch was that they required seven days advance notice. And of course activist do not expect permits to be granted.

One of the Quakers who joined us expressed confidence that her group would be granted a permit to protest at DIA. She explained to me that she was personal friends with the new Denver DA.

I told her applying for permits set a bad precedent. Asking for permission implies those rights are not already protected by the First Amendment. Permits also restrict others to the code of conduct agreed by those who signed permit agreements. Often permits are used to exclude public participation on public grounds temporarily reserved for the use of the permit holder.

Worse, the police can intervene when “others” aren’t abiding by the permit agreement, when they aren’t complying with police intrusion, or aren’t acquiescing to the authority of the permit holder.

Never the less, this Quaker wanted to inform me that as the anticipated holder of the permit at DIA, she wished to invite me to participate with her group. However, she anticipated that her church colleagues would be made most uncomfortable by my sign (which ended with the word “motherfucker”). So if I did choose to join, she was expressing her preference that I not bring my sign.

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Eric Verlo

About Eric Verlo

On sabbatical
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7 Responses to How I nearly got arrested for holding a sign at Denver International Airport

  1. Brother Jonah Brother Jonah says:

    Yeah, they’re not consistent on anything. Saudis can come in, not because their Royals are Sunni instead of Shia… STRANGE LADIES LYING IN PUDDLES DISTRIBUTING SWORDS IS NO BASIS FOR KINGSHIP sorry, that’s my standard answer to royalty, but because the Saud dynasty was set up by the British king (yes, there was a King of England at the time), Parliament and most importantly British Petroleum.

    And the Yemeni are without substantial oil fields. And Iran isn’t cooperating with american and british oil tyrants. They get a better deal selling to China and Indonesia without having to eat American shit. And Syria, Iraq and Libya aren’t fully conquered yet. And probably won’t be. And Trumps fan cult have to eat it and smile, because they wanted ALL Muslim people not only deported, even those born here, but slaughtered. Or something like that. Trump is having hissie fits over being required to actually obey laws. He’s not just narcissist but also OCD, which means he just got hit with a double whammy, his carefully crafted ‘first hundred days’ schedule has been upset, therefore his other projected priorities are going to be delayed, no perfection for King Anal. That and people don’t like him and that really steams his crabs. The fun begins. His cabinet was picked based on their own similar OCD problems. Imagine that. A whole psych ward emptied to build his cabinet.

    Imagine his disappointment that Hannibal Lecter is fictional. I love being a snotmuffin about targets like them.

  2. Avatar Chuck Noland says:

    I’m with you on not requiring permits for free speech (First Amendment). A right subject to a permit is a right denied…or something like that.

    Are you with me on no permits for owning firearms? That would be the Second Amendment.


  3. Brother Jonah Brother Jonah says:

    Depends. Which of your fellow ‘mercans do you want to shoot? That’s what guns are for…

  4. Eric Eric says:

    A permit doesn’t prevent ownership of guns. Permits “regulate” as per the 2nd Amendment. Permits can abridge free speech and assembly.

  5. Avatar Chuck Noland says:

    I am writing down your answer as “no”.

  6. Brother Jonah Brother Jonah says:

    Well, again, who are you planning to kill? I know the Colorado Springs pigs don’t give a damn if any of us gets killed. If you want to end any person’s life, just get your ass deputized. We have a really hate-filled right wing sheriff in office, he’ll deputize you. You wouldn’t even have to go to Pig School, and if you as a cop were to blow somebody away, which is the whole essence of having a handgun in the first place, but if you as a deputy would get smooth away with any murder you care to commit.

    Now, the Second Amendment does also qualify it as “in a well regulated militia” and the only local Militia groups are just fucking nazis who are too lazy to join the Official Pig Department or get deputized by a Judge. And in those events, the lynch mobs like the Minutemen have judges and sheriff’s deputies running the show anyway. Now, if you’re in a militia like the Klan or similar racist pukes, you already have a permit from your fellow pigs to pack heat and burn people down with whatever weapon you can afford or steal.

    If you don’t want the pigs to know you’re packing heat, which some anarchists agree, and you blow somebody

    apart… then you wouldn’t have to worry at all about carrying weapons.

    The sentence for blowing somebody


    is quite often a street execution where the pigs will simply say they were afraid of you and if you survive to go to trial you’d be at least charged with aggravated assault.

    Allow me to elaborate, as there is a great big difference between carrying heat and actually using it. Carrying Heat is either a F7 felony, with the same sentencing guidelines with a misdemeanor.

    Depending on how many wounds or amount of damage or number of victims, or level of seriousness, you could get a 300 year sentence.
    But if he dies it’s a straight life without parole.

    and carrying a gun doesn’t guarantee you’ll win the fight. There was a drunken brawl a few years back, on E Platte I believe, at a cheesy bar called the Wagon Wheel, in the parking lot **see next comment
    where one percent got smacked upside the head with a rock. Lots of rocks all over the place. Maybe you’ve noticed. Any hoo, the guy who got rocked died. And there was a rumor, don’t know how true, that he had a gun, but the rock got him first. That’s just the way it is.

    If Society breaks down or remains in the broken state it is, en courant, and there’s plenty of gunplay on a constant basis, the gun toters who lose the firefight, well, you can pry their guns from their cold, dead physically abusive psychotic hands. Don’t forget to get the ammo too. Any money or trade goods too. Hell, they won’t be needing it any more, right? Taking his clothing would be a maybe not, as a few hours will get this awful stench from a combination of livor mortis and pissing and shitting as he died…

    And if society gets really bad like that, you have a far more likely chance of starving or dying of plagues. Bullets don’t work against microbes or the vectors, usually insects and rodents, of those microbes. Any cops at that point will be in their bunkers clicking their worry beads and praying not to die. Permits will be the last thing you’d have to worry you.

  7. Brother Jonah Brother Jonah says:

    **extra snark. The Wagon Wheel, there’s usually one in any town which have actual bars. And they’re always in my experience the type of place where you don’t actually go to get happy, more like rowdy.

    **extra extra snark… every country in the world forbids drinking and driving. But every bar I’ve ever seen has a parking lot. Imagine.

    Last snark. I’ve seen a few people, up close, who died of gunshot wounds. How many and under what circumstances ain’t your business.

    I have never seen anybody get killed by a protest sign. And I’ve seen a lot more signs than I have guns.

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