"What Does a 99-cent Bic Lighter Tell Us About the Bush War on Terrorism?"
by Michael Moore
On September 22, 2001, just 11 days after the terrorist attacks in New York and
Arlington, I had to fly. I had been scheduled to give a talk in San Antonio, and
so off I went on an American flight out of Newark. At the airport there was a
newly, hastily put-together list of all the items that I could NOT bring aboard
the plane. The list was long and bizarre. The list of banned items included:
No guns. (Obviously)
No knives. (Ditto)
No boxcutters. (Certainly now justified)
No toenail clippers. (What?)
No knitting needles. (Huh?)
No crotchet hooks. (Now, wait a minute!)
No sewing needles.
No leaf blowers. (OK, now it's personal)
No letter openers.
No dry ice.
Frankly, I was a little freaked-out about flying so soon after 9-11 and I guess
there was just no way I was going to fly without a weapon for my protection. So
I took the New York Yankees-signed baseball that Mayor Giuliani had given me on
"TV Nation," put it in a sock, and ? presto! Whip that baby upside somebody's
head, and they're going to take a little nap. Note to budding terrorfuckers: If
you try something on a flight I'm on, I'll Clemens ya. That, or the smell from
my ratty sock, is going to do you in.
Though I now felt "safe" with my makeshift weapon, as I continued to fly through
the fall and winter, I did NOT feel safe being greeted at airport security by
weekend warriors from the National Guard holding empty M-16s and looking like
they shop in the same "special needs" department at K-Mart which I visit from
time to time.
More importantly, though, I kept noticing something strange. The guy in front of
me, while emptying his pockets into the little plastic tray to run through the
x-ray machine, would take out his butane lighter or matchbook, toss them into
the tray, then pick them up on the other side -- in full view of security. At
first I thought this was a mistake until I looked at the list of banned items
again -- and saww that butane lighters and matchbooks were NOT on the forbidden
Then came December 22, 2001. Richard Reid, on an American Airlines flight from
Paris to Miami, attempted to light his shoes on fire, using matches. His shoes,
the police said, contained a plastic explosive and, had some passengers and
flight attendants not taken quick action to restrain him, he would have been
able to blow the entire plane out of the sky. But his lighter would not light
the shoes fast enough, and everyone survived.
I was sure after this freakish incident that the lighters and matches would
surely be banned. But, as my book tour began in February, there they were, the
passengers with their Bic lighters and their books of matches. I asked one
security person after another why these people were allowed to bring devices
which could start a fire on board the plane, especially after the Reid incident.
No one, not a single person in authority or holding an unloaded automatic
weapon, could or would give me answer.
My simple question was this: If all smoking is prohibited on all flights, then
why does ANYONE need their lighters and matches at 30,000 feet -- while I am up
there with them?!
And why is the one device that has been used to try and blow up a plane since
9-11 NOT on the banned list? No one has used toenail clippers to kill anyone on
Jet Blue, and no one has been blowing away the leaves in the aisle of the Delta
Connection flight to Tupelo.
BUT SOME FRUITCAKE DID USE A BUTANE LIGHTER TO TRY AND KILL 200 PEOPLE ON
AMERICAN AIRLINES FLIGHT #63. And this did nothing to force the Bush
Administration to do something about it.
I began asking this question in front of audiences on my book tour. And it was
on a dark and rainy night in Arlington, Virginia, at the Ollsson's Bookstore a
couple miles from the Pentagon that I got my answer. After asking my Bic lighter
question in my talk to the audience, I sat down to sign the books for the people
in line. A young man walks up to the table, introduces himself, and lowering his
voice so no one can hear, tells me the following:
"I work on the Hill. The butane lighters were on the original list prepared by
the FAA and sent to the White House for approval. The tobacco industry lobbied
the Bush administration to have the lighters and matches removed from the banned
list. Their customers (addicts) naturally are desperate to light up as soon as
they land, and why should they be punished just so the skies can be safe?
The lighters and matches were removed from the forbidden list.
I was stunned. I knew there had to be some strange reason why this most obvious
of items had not been banned. Could the Bush mob be so blatant in their contempt
for the public's safety? How could they do this, and at the same time, issue
weekly warnings about the "next terrorist threat"? Would they really put Big
Tobacco's demands ahead of people's lives?
Yes, of course, the answer has always been YES but not now, not in a time of
national crisis, not NOW, so soon after the worst domestic mass murder in U.S.
Unless there was no real threat at all.
The hard and difficult questions must be asked: Is the "War on Terrorism" a
ruse, a concoction to divert the citizens' attention?
Accept, if you will for just a moment, that George W. Bush would not be so evil
as to help out his buddies in tobacco land that that would be worth suffering
through another 9-11. Once you give the man that ? and for once I am asking you
to do just that ? once you admit that not even he would allow the murder of
hundreds or thousands more just so Marlboro addicts can light up outside the
terminal, then a whole other door opens ? and that door, my friends, leads to
the Pandora's Box of 9-11, a rotten can of worms that many in the media are
afraid to open for fear of where it might lead, of just how deep the stench
What if there is no "terrorist threat?" What if Bush and Co. need, desperately
need, that "terrorist threat" more than anything in order to conduct the
systematic destruction they have launched against the U.S. constitution and the
good people of this country who believe in the freedoms and liberties it
Do you want to go there?
I do. I have filed a Freedom of Information Act demand to the FAA, asking that
they give to me all documents pertaining to the decisions that were made to
allow deadly butane lighters and books of matches on board passenger planes. I
am not optimistic about what the results of this will be.
And let's face it ? it's just one small piece of the puzzle. It is, after all,
just a 99-cent Bic lighter. But, friends, I have to tell you, over the years I
have found that it is PRECISELY the "little stories" and the "minor details"
that contain within them the LARGER truths. Perhaps my quest to find out why the
freedom to be able to start a fire on board a plane-full of citizens is more
important than yours or my life will be in vain. Or maybe, just maybe, it will
be the beginning of the end of this corrupt, banal administration of con artists
who shamelessly use the dead of that day in September as the cover to get away
I think it's time we all stood up and started asking some questions of these
individuals. The bottom line: Anyone who would brazenly steal an election and
insert themselves into OUR White House with zero mandate from The People is,
frankly ? sadly ? capable of anything...