In April, 2015, I landed an ultralight 1-man gyrocopter on the lawn of the US Capitol Building. I was carrying 535 letters, one for every member of Congress, demanding an end to the legal, institutional corruption of our government. In April, 2016 I was sentenced to 120 days in federal prison for that act of Civil Disobedience in which no one was injured and there was not a dime of property damage.
My actual felony conviction was for “Flying without an Airman’s Certificate”, a statute that has NEVER previously been applied to the violation I was guilty of. A little background — you don’t need a license to fly an ultralight aircraft. There are restrictions on flying in the ultralight category, which I flagrantly disregarded in my demonstration. No argument. But the safety of bystanders was carefully considered in planning.
I expected the authorities to respond in a manner consistent with precedent well set. Again, nobody else has EVER been charged with a felony for exceeding the limitations on flying in the ultralight category. The Justice Department, with a wealth of precedent to guide it, must have noted that flying an ultralight over Omaha is a civil offense that gets you a $1000 fine. The same flight over Washington DC, they decided is a felony. Which begs the question — are residents of Nebraska less valuable than residents of the District of Columbia?
The next groundless argument for a felony charge is that I could have flown into a government building and I could have been carrying a bomb. This is akin to charging a shoplifter with armed robbery because he could have come with a gun.
I was singled out for prosecution either because I embarrassed bureaucrats (none of who lost their job for incompetence) or because I embarrassed Congress by throwing down the gauntlet on corruption publicly. Or both.
There are solid grounds for requesting a pardon which would restore my voting rights. Friends have encouraged me to pursue a pardon. I’ve decided against it.
When I was sent to a high-security prison (not a camp), I was quite literally afraid of the misfits of society I was going to be visiting for 4 months. (And 4 months is just a visit compared to ten years for hard-core marijuana use.) It was a bit disconcerting to have someone with tattoos from his forehead and wrists that ended God-knows-where sit down across the table. It was astounding to have that person ask why I made the flight and engage in a sharp discussion of the issues.
Over 4 months I discovered that felons are not automatically inclined to violence. They are more political than average, compared to citizens on the outside. And they are very human, with human faults and quite capable of unexpected generosity. The felon who asked me to help him write a letter to his x-wife to request visitation rights with their daughter taught me just how human most prisoners are. Why should these people be stripped of their voting rights, in some states for life?
I’m a resident of Florida. I’m serving a year of probation. Five years after probation ends, I can apply to have my voting rights restored - in 2022. Florida must like felons — there are so many of us. Ten percent of the voting-age population is prohibited from voting. Almost twenty-five percent of the black population is barred from voting. Of those felons who have applied for voting rights, only 10% have been approved. Nothing requires Florida respond to an application in a timely manner.
Republicans in swing states are taking note that disenfranchisement is passing Constitutional muster. Warehousing large numbers of citizens may be deemed politically expedient in a ‘law and order’ country bent on controlling a class of citizens who will be denied access to the wealth of the country.
I’m a felon who did no harm. This gives me a unique opportunity to be a spokesman for the rights of felons. My primary quest is getting the money out of politics with the direct consequence of restoring government of by and for the people. Felons are people.
We all need to be concerned with justice — it’s the second thing the founders mentioned in the preamble to the Constitution — “establish justice”. We all need to stand up for justice — twisting the law to create second-class citizens is not justice. When the status of our citizenship is just, I will have no need to ask for a pardon. Until the status of my fellow felons is just, I will not ask for a pardon.