Editorial: Expect TSA Patdowns at Your Next Music Festival


News of possible TSA expansion to the realm of music festivals made the blog rounds this past week. The VIPR teams of the TSA (Visual Intermodal Prevention and Response) are, to paraphrase, super TSA agents with heightened search and security sweep abilities and permissions that work in all kinds of venues and stations outside of airports. And they have just “vastly expanded” their jurisdiction to “music festivals.” You might ask “But why would I be worried? I’m not a terrorist. I just do a little bit of molly from time to time,” or  think “I go completely 100% sober and for the music. Nothing to worry about.” But is that really the case?

What they can/will do:

  • Search: They can search you and perform an extensive patdown and potentially more at any time. They don’t need to really give you a reason, say whether any racial profiling is going on (often is), or what they suspect you of having. God forbid you’re a Sikh raver wearing a turban for religious reasons at a festival.
  • Intimidate: The “Visible” part of their named acronym is a nod at how “presence of armed officers” “bolsters the public confidence.” Somehow, I don’t think having officers in bulletproof vests possibly with lethal weapons and drug dogs roaming the crowds during a Dada Life set is going to inspire public festival-goer confidence (although it might drive them bananas in a bad way).
  • Arrest: The VIPR can and has made non-terrorism related arrests from their searches, most notably ones related to drugs or prostitution. Does anyone else see the absurd nature of having drug dogs at music festivals?
  • Misunderstand: At a busy transportation hub, what might you look for as a TSA VIPR team? Odd behavior or attire? Well at an EDM festival, odd, crazy, ridiculously friendly to the point of weird behavior is the norm and flashy, stunningly unique costumes and attire is everywhere. Good luck to the TSA agents trying to make sense of what to keep an eye out for in a crowd like that.
  • Take Pictures: No, they probably won’t be nearly as nice as security guards or event staff and agree to taking iPhone photos of your festival group for you.
  • Anything they want: We’ve all heard news stories of people being apprehended and held for various reasons related to suspicion of activity or criminal behavior. Have a lighter on you? You can probably be apprehended and various reasons will be cited for holding you. Managed to bring some Claritin in and just popped a pill to stifle that runny nose? God help you.

What the effects will be:

  • Atmosphere: The presence of VIPR teams or individuals in a festival crowd will no doubt invoke uneasiness, fear, possible hostility, etc. We appreciate and at the very least tolerate event security and staff because their purpose there is primarily to keep you safe and ensure that the post-festival news headlines don’t involve festival deaths. However, the VIPR has a stated purpose is counterterrorism (by loose extension ensuring your safety) but seems to have an ulterior agenda as portrayed by their drug and prostitution arrests off of commuter trains. If you’re going to state that the purpose of the VIPR teams is counterterrorism, stick to that and don’t overstep your own stated boundaries.
  • Escalation: There might be a time when music festivals will be 100% sober. However, that time is not coming anytime soon and where there’s a will to partake in illicit drug activities at music festivals, there’s a way. What does change is how safe those ways are. The more anti-drug procedures like VIPR presence put into place, the more radical festival goers get in sneaking in their drugs. How long before someone gets hospitalized for trying to hide drugs too deep in certain cavities or sets up a drug catapult to fling stuff into the venue?
  • Waste of Resources: Okay, maybe security checks at commuting transit centers might have a small sliver of validity to it. After all, many bombings and terrorist attacks in the last few years have been on trains, buses, planes, etc. But what precedent has there for terrorism at music festivals? Out of all the targets and opportunities for terrorist attacks out there, why would EDC, UMF, EZoo, etc. be a target worthy of using TSA resources to monitor?
  • Invasiveness: There were stories of certain search checkpoints at UMF being incredibly invasive, with general groping for the females and ball-cupping for the males being done by the security guards and/or police. Now imagine government TSA agents in bullet-proof vests with weaponry doing those kinds of searches and the feeling of being violated by your government starts to take root. And funnily enough, the VIPR patdowns and searches should be more invasive/thorough than festival security checks, lest the public perceives that festival security searches harder and more intensely for drugs, weapons, and gum than the government searches for terrorism-related objects?
  • Experience: I don’t know about you, but being suddenly accosted and subjected to a search in the middle of an Above and Beyond Group Therapy set while the crowd croons “you were the Sun and Moon to me” could very substantially ruin a festival experience for me.
  • Us vs. Them: You might think “Okay, if any of this happens to me, I’m going to complain like hell about the VIPR and write some letters.” Well, the TSA is government backed, and I don’t think they’ll take your complaint about getting your balls cupped and having your Camelbak searched in Miami very seriously. “Maybe I’ll go to the festival organizers.” Festival organizers at someone like Pasquale’s level are not stupid. Rather, they’re quite smart. They know exactly what having the VIPR at their events does to the atmosphere and crowds. If the VIPR is present at their event, it’s probably because they weren’t really given a choice, what with festivals often having to deal with copious amounts of public and local laws to throw their events. And good luck going to that civil liberties group on Capitol Hill and trying to get them to include EDM festivals in their Meeting agendas. Who do we have left to look to for support against the TSA’s invasiveness? Our fellow festival attendees. Us vs. Them.

Honestly, just don’t lie to us. Why is the TSA expanding to music festivals? If the TSA VIPR teams are essentially serving as super police forces or event security with government backing, state as such and let the protests and public outcry fall and clash where they may. However, if the VIPR’s purpose is stated as counter-terrorism but its only real purpose at music festivals would be to crack down harder on drugs and to impose control on festival attendees, that’s an issue. Aside from EDM, there’s only one other acronym that should be at electronic dance music festivals: PLUR, not TSA.

(Source: New York Times6 U.S.C. § 1112)