Naked Airport Protester John Brennan: ‘I knew my action was legal’

John Brennan's impromptu TSA protest landed him in the media spotlight. Photo by Xilia Faye, PQ Monthly
By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly
We caught up with John Brennan — who was arrested and charged with indecent exposure after disrobing during a TSA screening at the Portland International Airport —  after his July 18 court victory to find out what the experience was like and what’s next for the local man folks are calling a Naked American Hero.
PQ Monthly: Going into court, were you at all nervous about the verdict, or were you confident the judge would rule in your favor?

John Brennan: I knew my legal rights going in to my protest. After I was arrested, I reviewed my actions with my lawyer, Micheal Rose of Creighton and Rose, which renewed my confidence that my protest was within my rights to free speech.

PQ: How many people showed up to support you? What did that mean to you?
Brennan: About 30 friends showed up for my indecent exposure trial. In situations like this, support makes all the difference. Some friends were there for the whole trial. Some friends could come only for the first part, others, later. With social media, I was able to communicate that the trail was going to have a lunch break.  Upon getting the news, some friends were happy to learn that they could attend after lunch.
I’m a big believer in hugs and [it] was a great day to linger in the arms of friends and supporters. In situations like this, I like to ask for what I call “grounding hugs,” hugs that keep me aware of my body, and connected the the people who support me. It’s like a little pause and relief from hectic chaos. When I was on the stand, I could look in to the eyes of friends, and that too was grounding. It made court a safer place, not that I felt that threatened.
PQ: What did you say when you took the stand?
Brennan: Hmmm. I told the truth. I was really focused, and it’s difficult for me to recall exactly. I think it’s all on video. There was difference in testimony between the prosecution’s witnesses (TSA Officer and Port of Portland officer) and mine. The most important differance is that I recall saying that it was a protest to the TSA officials, not just the Port of Portland officer. In the end, that detail did not seem to matter.
PQ: Did the prosecution make any good points?
Brennan: The prosecution’s strategy made for nail-biting courtroom drama. He seemed to repeat the same point and cover seemingly insignificant details. The suspense came from waiting to hear if he was going to drop a bomb. I kept looking for a strategy that would explain why the case was not dropped. His single point that I didn’t communicate that I was protesting at the time I removed my clothes was as stinging as it got. The nail biting was baseless.
PQ: What was your reaction when you heard the judge’s ruling?
Brennan: I had confidence when I made my protest in April that I was not guilty. When my attorney, Micheal, reviewed the law regarding my case and shared his interpretation, I knew my action was legal. I had such certainty going in to the trail, that when it was announced, it was not a surprise.

My biggest reaction is being happy that I can now get on to more important, and possibly more significant, legal actions. For starters, the TSA is still doing an investigation in to my protest.

PQ: Do you think your case will set a precedent?
Brennan: Precedent was already set. There was a previous case that established that I had the right to protest. I shouldn’t even have been arrested.
In my particular case, precedent can only be set when two courts have reviewed a case. Since I was pronounced not guilty, my case can not be appealed, and, therefore, not set a precedent.
What I do hope is that the City of Portland modifies the law. If the City changes its definition of indecent exposure so that it aligns with the court’s decisions, we can avoid future arrests and save the money and effort of prosecuting these types of cases. [Italic is proposed change.]
The most conservative modification of the law would read something like this:
“It is unlawful for any person to expose his or her genitalia while in a public place or place visible from a public place, if the public place is open or available to persons of the opposite sex, so long as the exposure is not intended as a protected symbolic or communicative act.”
To bring the law in to more alignment with the state law, this moderate modification could be considered:
“A person commits the crime of public indecency if while in, or in view of, a public place the person performs:
(a)An act of sexual intercourse;
(b)An act of deviate sexual intercourse; or
(c)An act of exposing the genitals of the person with the intent of arousing the sexual desire of the person or another person,

so long as the act is not intended as a protected symbolic or communicative act.”

There are even more radical changes that would be better. The current Portland law is sexist and presumes heterosexual sexual attraction. That’s another discussion.

The effect of this change would be beneficial to free speech in Portland and effective protest. Although the police are supposed to know the law, unless it’s written in the legal statutes, they can effectively stop a protest by arresting someone who is not guilty.

PQ: How did you/will you celebrate?
Brennan: I had a great meal at Blossoming Lotus on NE 15th and Broadway.
PQ: What’s next?
Brennan: The TSA is doing an investigation. If they determine that I interfered with the screening process, they could fine me up to $11,000. Given that they stopped my screening, I don’t see how they could conclude that I interfered with the screening process. My protest was legal.
PQ: Anything else you want to add?
Brennan: Public perception includes social media. If folks want to Like Naked American Hero on Facebook or follow my TSA, Free Speech & Me Tumblr, the TSA would see that I have broad public support.
My legal costs are really starting to add up. If folks want to contribute to my legal defense fund, they can go to: or contact me directly: