Peaceful MSP Airport protester found not guilty

Mike Madden took this sign to MSP Airport one day in January 2017, with no way of imagining the 15-month legal fight to follow.

Mike Madden took this sign to MSP Airport one day in January 2017, with no way of imagining the 15-month legal fight to follow. Collin Michael Simmons

The U.S. Supreme Court will soon rule on Donald Trump's executive order "travel ban," more commonly known as a "Muslim ban"–though the president's plan cynically prohibited visitors only from the majority-Muslim countries he doesn't like or want money from.

As court-watchers, immigrants, activists, and racists await that result, one Minnesota man has, at last, received a taste of justice for his small act of big-hearted patriotism in response to the travel ban.

St. Paul resident Mike Madden was arrested at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport back in January 2017, after joining a protest crowd of roughly 1,000 people. Madden arrived just as airport police had decided to disperse the crowd, ordering people to leave the premises immediately.

Madden resisted cops' demand that he start his journey home by boarding an airport tram, and instead said he'd wait for his wife to come pick him up. This dispute, shockingly mundane in light of the big issues that had inspired Madden to go to the airport in the first place, eventually resulted in his being handcuffed, booked, and charged with a crime, as detailed in a City Pages cover story last August.

His sign reading "MUSLIMS WELCOME" was seized and held for weeks before Madden was allowed to return to the airport and retrieve it.

After Madden refused to take a plea deal to make the case go away, attorneys for the Metropolitan Airports Commission upped the charges to "trespass on critical public service facilities," punishble by up to a $3,000 fine and/or a year in prison.

Madden's resistance was unwaivering, as, for some reason, was the airport commission's stubborn insistence that a (very) peaceful protester waiting to get a ride from his wife was a criminal act. Madden's case went to trial last week.

On Friday afternoon, after five days in court, the case was given to the jury, the Pioneer Press reports. Jurors needed all of about a half-hour to find Madden not guilty. 

"They way First Amendment rights have been eroding," Madden told the Pioneer Press, "this jury at least believes that the government has been too restrictive with speech."

Madden's attorney Jordan Kushner, a noted civil rights advocate, told jurors that prosecutors showed "no common sense" in going after Madden, with his "good faith belief that he had a right to ... express his beliefs." After the vedict, Kushner said Madden's case was an important  one, hinging on people's right to protest in "public places such as airports."

As he passed through the terminal that day, Madden recalled later, a pair of East African employees read his sign and mouthed the words "Thank you." Today, that same sentiment should be on the minds of anyone who supports the First Amendment.

Madden wasn't available for an interview Monday morning, as he had another duty to carry out: He expected to be in Ramsey County Court "all day" in support of a Black Lives Matter protester facing trial.