Fake Bomb or Free Speech? The Difference Is Up To 2.5 Years and $5,000

By: Gerri L. Elder

Star Simpson is a 19-year-old student at MIT who made headlines last year when she walked into Logan International Airport on September 21 wearing a blinking circuit board attached to a 9-volt battery on the front of her shirt. She caused a bomb scare at the airport and was arrested at gunpoint and charged with possessing a hoax device.

The Boston Globe reported that authorities thought that Simpson had a bomb strapped to her chest after she had approached an airport employee to ask a question about a flight schedule and was seen holding something that looked like putty in her hand. When the airport employee asked Simpson about the device attached to her chest, there was no response and Simpson simply turned and walked away.

Simpson and her criminal defense attorney have asked that the charges against her be dropped because they say that she had the right, under the First Amendment, to express herself by attaching the blinking device to her chest and enter the airport.

Clearly, Simpson’s fate on that day could have resulted in consequences far more serious than an arrest. She could have died while trying to prove a point about constitutional rights and personal expression. When she walked out of the airport police armed with machine guns surrounded her. One false move and they could have used deadly force against her.

According to the Boston Globe report, Simpson was at the airport to pick up her boyfriend. She claimed that the device on her shirt was art and that she had worn it because she wanted to stand out on career day. She had play dough in her hand for some reason, but said it was not related to her shirt.

The Assistant District Attorney wants Star Simpson to stand trial for her stunt at the airport and believes that a jury should decide if Simpson intended to freak people out at the airport or if she was just unaware that wearing something that looks like a bomb is a bad idea at the airport.

The judge in the case is expected to issue his decision about whether or not the case against Simpson will be dismissed on March 21. If convicted, Simpson could face 2 1/2 years in prison and be fined up to $5,000.

On Simpson’s personal website at MIT she wrote that she loves crazy ideas. Most people, after hearing about the creative bomb shirt that she wore to the airport, would probably find that statement very credible. As to her intentions on that day, her explanation may be a little less believable.

While the First Amendment broadly allows freedom of speech without government interference, that freedom is not, nor can it be, entirely limitless. Just as Americans are prohibited from yelling “fire” in a theater, there must also be restrictions on insinuating a terror threat at an airport.

The judge will decide if Simpson should stand trial for her unfortunate choice of attire and self expression and it may all come down to exactly what her intentions were that day.