Fact Check: That Delta Passenger Wasn’t Added To The No Fly List For Attending The Capitol Hill Riots

Since midday Sunday people were sharing to social media a video purportedly showing someone who attended the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday being denied boarding on Delta Air Lines because he had been added to the government’s No Fly List.

Political activist who occasionally spends time as head of a flight attendants union Sara Nelson had previously called for people who were there to be added to the government’s list of suspected terrorists banned from flying, and the Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Bennie Thompson (D-MS) called on the Executive Branch to do the same. The video was supposedly evidence that this was happening.

What Happened In The Video

Here’s a tweet containing the video which is described as, “People who broke into the Capitol Wednesday are now learning they are on No-Fly lists pending the full investigation.”

Given the strong language I’ll skip embedding the video but you can click through to the tweet to watch and listen if you wish.

The passenger in the video yells, “This is what they do to us. They kicked me off the plane. They called me a [f’ing] terrorist, and they [f’in] want to ruin my life.”

Another woman in the video tries to calm him, offering that she was “kicked off of Delta earlier” too.

The Video Had Nothing To Do With The No Fly List

I shared on social media yesterday that the description of the video didn’t quite add up. The man had checked into his flight and he had gone through security. He was clearly airside in the video and denied boarding at the gate. That’s not usually how the government’s No Fly List works.

And indeed the video appears to have been taken out of context by people who weren’t there to witness the incident.

Originally the video was posted to TikTok (HT: @David_Slotnick) and the person who posted it did not reference the No Fly List at all. Instead they wrote, “Homeboy had a full toddler level meltdown bc he was told to wear a mask.”

Others took the video and added the description about the No Fly List, perhaps combining the calls for use of the government’s arbitrary ban on travel with a person who was banned from travel and assuming that’s what had taken place, or perhaps with less honorable intent.

The No Fly List Is A Civil Liberties Nightmare

The ‘No Fly List’ is the government’s pre-crime profiling that keeps people off of U.S. airlines and airlines flying to the U.S. It’s a secret list that people haven’t been entitled to know they are on (until 2015), how they got on, or to confront the evidence relied upon to put them on it. Legally there is very little recourse, and when challenged the government claims ‘state secrets.’

Formal responsibility for the list rests with the TSA and under 49 U.S.C. § 46110 inclusion is only reviewable by circuit courts in which judges are required to defer to the TSA’s judgment about all alleged facts and are permitted only to review the administrative record created by and provided to them by the TSA itself.

That’s how people get on the list by mistake (FBI agent checking the wrong box on the form) and even maliciously (such as retaliation for refusing to cooperate in an investigation). People have gotten on by mistake (having a name similar to someone else).

Investigations are taking place after last week’s events and arrests are being made. After those attacks we must follow the Rule of Law precisely because that’s what protestors were attempting to subvert when they moved from exercising freedom of speech to physical assault in an attempt to stop the counting of electoral ballots.

Capriciously denying the freedom of travel, without trial, is precisely the mob rule outside of the rule of law that we’re supposed to be pushing back on. The last thing we need is an open-ended response, like a new Patriot Act or limits on freedom of speech, that puts people on the No Fly List for conduct (even criminal conduct) in advance of trial, and when losing the ability to fly on commercial airliners in not proscribed punishment in law.

Individual airlines are free to choose to ban passengers. That appears to be what happened here. Having the government ban travel on all airlines without judicial review is frightening in a democracy.

And if it’s justified now in being used against people not yet convicted of crimes then it will be used against unpopular people later the way that sedition laws were used against Eugene Debs, sending him to prison for an inflammatory speech in wartime that didn’t directly encourage violence, or the way the government cracked down on the Socialist Workers Party for antiwar rhetoric in World War II. Remember that expansions of power will be used later by the people you hate when they have power. Any new power should be one you’re comfortable with the next President Trump having and using.

Those who have committed crimes should be charged, tried, and punished under existing law, they shouldn’t be punished prior to being convicted and punishment shouldn’t include loss of freedoms that aren’t included as penalties for violations of the laws that have been broken. Certainly Americans shouldn’t have freedoms taken from them when they haven’t even been charged with a crime.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. So, he was denied boarding because he refused to wear a mask, followed by disruptive behavior, correct? (Trying to get to the facts here).

  2. If he refused to wear a mask they were correct in removing him or denying him boarding. The rest of what is going on in this country makes me feel like we’re moving closer to a civil war.

  3. Banning terrorists from airlines is very much constitutional. After the events of last week, can you honestly say these folks would not try and storm the cockpit of a commercial flight?

  4. @Panda Mick: I’d never considered that the storming of the US Capitol to subvert a democratic election was ever a possibility either

  5. Why is it always the big, strapping, bootstraps-pulling, bullying, chest thumping Trumpists whose lungs are so weak they can’t breathe through a piece of fabric?

  6. Just stop! No airline employee would have called him a terrorist for refusing to wear a mask. They would have been fired by now! They would have simply escorted him off the plane for noncompliance of a mandate after multiple warnings. PERIOD!

  7. It would be highly advisable to reread the last part of this article. Gonernment backed crime is way bigger than terrorists always.

  8. Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!

  9. Thanks for your diligence, Gary- yet more proof that nothing found on social media should be taken at face value.

    (I just took issue with another of your posts- via LinkedIn- so I’m happy to be able to balance with words of support here)

  10. Boo Hoo! Crock of S***t Tears! Wipe those pathetic teardrops with the mask you refused to wear and grow up!!!

  11. I, too, am confused by your article. If I understand correctly, this person was denied access to the plane because he refused to wear a mask and created a scene. He should have been denied. I do not want that person flying with me. Why you chose to then go on to describe how the No Fly List works was a bit odd.

  12. “Others took the video and added the description about the No Fly List, perhaps combining the calls for use of the government’s arbitrary ban on travel with a person who was banned from travel and assuming that’s what had taken place, or perhaps with less honorable intent.”

    On nearly every occasion where I’ve seen a video of something truly outrageous (or even a story where someone is quoted as saying something truly outrageous) and I have dug in and tried to find the context I have found that the real story has less than 10% of the outrageousness as the claimed one.

    The internet rewards outrageous stories with clicks. The resultant demand for outrageousness exceeds the supply..

  13. @SeanNY2
    I always assumed what you said about the difference between the claimed and the actual outrageousness. It is great to see you have spent the time and found it to be true. Thank you.

    Whether it is Delta or AA, I am just appreciative that they stopped him from flying if he was unwilling to follow the rules.

  14. They gave their own rights away. Safety of employees & passengers is any carriers obligation. If you act like an animal, you get treated as one. Drag their a.ses off aircracts. I wish to remain GREYHOUND STILL RUNS. BYE!

  15. You can be promoted to the watchlist if you are a “known or suspected terrorist” – independent of whether you have had full due process or not. If you have been associated with a major domestic terrorism event, you may find yourself designated as a KST soon. You have the ability to appeal your promotion to the watchlist through the DHS redress process which is nothing like the Byzantine secret process described in this article.

  16. No fly list needs to be fixed. If convicted for sedition or other high crimes then yes no flying allowed on international flights only.

  17. Hey guys a No-fly list list has existed world-wide for several decades, coordinated by domestic and International Trvl/ Transportation agencies. I doubt he was on that kind of no fly list lol. If it was for masking non-compliance, US airlines have already made it clear – no mask no travel and yeah, the airline can and does in general slap belligerent and confrontational people with a “travel ban” on THAT airline. He would not have made it to the gate if he’d already been on a no travel list. Need to know the facts….but if he feels guilty because he participated in the Capitol mob riots where people died well now that may just be his conscience talking…….. smh

  18. The man was kicked of the flights for not wearing a mask, not for being on a no-fly list.

  19. “And indeed the video appears to have been taken out of context by people who weren’t there to witness the incident.”

    Oh Gary, BoardingArea bloggers do this all day long. Bless your heart.

  20. I take offence to your sarcastic tone towards Sarah Nelson, minimizing her role as the president of the AFA. Thanks to her leadership, many of the safety measures onboard have been adopted. The AFA has also played a big part in lobbying for the stimulus packages from which everyone has benefited.

    You are correct that those passengers who were detained at the gatehouse could not have been on the no-fly-list, though I assume they will be banned from flying that airline for the time being.
    However, there were several incidents where passengers en route to DC had to be removed for disruptive behavior and the fact remains that those people who stormed the capitol were commiting acts of terror (we wouldn’t hesitate to use that word if they were any other color). We know who they are, there isn’t a constitutional right to fly, and do we really want to share the air with these people? What about the group of Trump supporters who surrounded and harrassed Senator Graham inside the airport terminal? Every one of those nutjobs should have been kicked out and had their flight privileges cancelled. Anyone willing to cause a scene inside the sterile area I don’t want on my plane.
    Furthermore, it’s naive to think that foreign agents haven’t used the chaos as cover to gain valuable classified information, as well as announcing to the world our weaknesses. I’m reluctant to give the government more power, but we must use the laws we already have to keep our crews and passengers safe.

  21. I [redacted -gl] hate airlines, airplanes and air travel. So why am I here? Because I wanted to commend Gary for his comments regarding civil liberties. What they can do to them, they can do to you. And they will. That’s why everyone should support the ACLU, and not be so eager to see someone else’s ox get gored.

    I don’t like these seditious [redacted -gl], or even the ones who won’t mask up, but they retain rights as Americans, and I didn’t know air travel was a right the government could take away from you. It shouldn’t be.

    Throw ’em off a flight, sure. But once they put on the mask, they oughta be able to fly.

  22. So why aren’t the rioters/looters/burners from all of the major liberal cities from last year not on the NO-FLY lists?? There were enough video’s of them running out of stores with free stuff and setting fires etc ..that they could be identified…. esp with their tee shirts and costumes

  23. Fact Check isn’t so about facts… Didn’t the guy in the video state himself he has been put on the no fly list?

  24. @dee – do you see the difference between “tee shirts and costumes”, vs. the armor/helmets/tactical gear worn by the Trump Terrorists last week?

  25. If people won’t comply with rules while the plane is still on the ground, then leave them on the ground. No one wants to deal with them at 37,000 feet.

  26. Foolish people. Do you really think that Washington DC sees you as anything other than a vote, and perhaps that is also no longer needed? Never ever confuse knowledge with wisdom. Wisdom appears to be sorely lacking in many of the comments. I suggest a through reading of Proverbs 4:7

  27. First of all, this country has a law, “Innocent until proven guilty” or is that no longer a law. 2nd. You can not “assume” that someone will storm the cockpit just because they stormed the capitol. An individual maybe angry at the leftwing government but not at the airline. No coralation what so ever. “To Assume” is to make an Ass out of U and Me. Denying people their right to “pursuit of happiness” , based on assumptions is like saying ” I assumed the government had enough money so I’m not paying my taxes this year. It’s against the law. 3rd ly, when has it become a the governments/employers right to keep me from going to visit a destination in this country. If I want to visit DC, that’s my right. If I want to go to Sturgis and see the motorcycles, that’s my right. When did we change the law on who you have to check with before you go on vacation. Be a cold day in hell when I give up that right.

  28. They can’t be prosecuted or blamed for just attending the rally sure the ones that rioted can but just for attending the rally that’s kind of a stretch.
    Americans have the right to support whoever they want they don’t have the right to Riot but not everyone who attended the rally rioted.

  29. Most of you people are starting to sound like the people that herded the Japanese into reconsentration camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. THEY ARE JAPANESE SO THEY MUST BE DANGEROUS. LOCK THEM UP. SHAME ON YOU. YOU KNOW BETTER.

  30. So then I’m guessing the Boston Tea Party would be classified as act of terrorism against the British which fueled the flames for the American Revolution. Hmmmm something to think about

  31. The reality is that the aristocrats, blue, red, green, or purple are not looking out for you and me. They care only about power and money and how to get more of both for themselves. The author has identified just one of the ways that these people that we elect to represent us have betrayed us. All of them are guilty of denying you your constitutionally protected rights. They promise security but want your rights and freedoms in exchange. Sadly, far too many people have failed to recognize this for far too long.

    And yes Brett, the Boston Tea Party, and in fact, the entirety of events surrounding the declaration of independence would have been considered terrorist acts by today’s standards. Likewise, many of the so called journalists, and certainly almost every single elected official could easily be described as a terrorist. A terrorist doesn’t need to be violent or even incite violence by others to terrify.people. Think about that and reflect on the events during the past year and you should be able to identify thousands of domestic and international terrorists that you may not have previously identified as such.

    I am a frequent flyer. Recently google sent me an email to tell me that during 2020 I flew enough miles to travel around the world more than 3 times and never left the continental US. I drove enough miles to go around the globe another 2.5x and walked enough miles to go from NY to LA and back to Chicago. I spent almost 500 hours in the air and another 500 in a restaurant. There was a 4 week period from mid March through mid April that I only drove to wherever I needed to go but only travelled a total of 8 days during that period. More than 2/3 of my travel was from April through December, during the pandemic. I don’t like masks but will wear them when I cannot socially distance and when entering a business that requires them but I maintain 6 ft of distance whenever possible. I’ve probably gone mask free more than 80% of the time. I get off tests for Covid-19 once per week since late April and have never tested positive or experienced symptoms.

    Have I been lucky, a lot of people say so but I don’t think anyone could be that lucky. Don’t get me wrong, I know that this virus is real, and for a very specific subset of the population it is very dangerous, but being vigilant with hand washing and distancing, it isn’t impossible to avoid. I’ve done it. While I could have limited some of my travel, I have to travel and if I don’t a lot of you would have noticed, even if you don’t know me.

    Why did I tell you all of that? I want you to think about how the events from this year have affected your freedom and your civil rights. Why did you accept this? Someone terrified you. You were a victim of international terrorists. Stop being a victim. Take back your rights and freedoms. Don’t be violent, don’t riot and don’t loot. Don’t occupy a city block, or a park and for Pete sake, don’t stand on a highway. These things only creates more problems. Peaceful demonstrations have their place but any time you get a huge group of people together there’s bound to be a few that take it too far. Don’t be one of them, but take back your rights and freedoms in every peaceful way you can think of and do it now before they’re all gone.

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