Why did the FBI detain and question a 62-year-old British environmentalist upon his arrival at New York City's John F. Kennedy Airport? The bureau won't say, and the activist, who was subsequently shipped back to London, never got a clear explanation.
Last Thursday, prominent British enviro John Stewart traveled to the United States to take part in a monthlong speaking tour organized by Aviation Justice Express, a US-based coalition of environmental and community-based groups. The tour was scheduled to stop in six cities across the US, where Stewart was slated to discuss his work in the United Kingdom on aviation pollution.
Stewart, who was voted the "most effective green activist" in the UK in 2008, is best known for coordinating the campaign that successfully stopped an expansion at London's Heathrow Airport. As coordinator of the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise (HACAN), he worked with a wide coalition of community members, environmentalists, and politicians to block the addition of a third runway at the airport. The coalition succeeded in winning the support of the UK's conservative Prime Minister David Cameron during his election bid in 2008; in May 2010, the coalition government officially scrapped the plan. Stewart had previously led a national coalition seeking to stop highway expansion in the 1990s. In both efforts, Stewart says, his role was working to bring together diverse stakeholders. While the groups he has collaborated with have included activists who engaged in acts of civil disobedience, they also worked with mainstream politicians and people who lived in affected neighborhoods. It was that coalition-building that made the campaigns successful.
That success led organizers to invite Stewart and another activist, Dan Glass, to speak in the US. But when Stewart landed at JFK last week, he says he was escorted off the plane by police and interviewed at length by FBI, Secret Service, and US Customs and Border Protection officials. "Six police came through the door," Stewart says. At first, he says, "I thought nothing of it. Then I discovered it was me they had come for."