On March the 2nd, 2015, in a sparsely filled Collier County Florida Courtroom, Adrian Wyllie, the recent Libertarian candidate for Florida Governor, stood at the defense podium. He had no entourage or throng of supporters. This was his third appearance before judges on the matter of driving without a license. He refused to succumb to the invasive questioning required by the Real ID Act. He refused to have his personal information added to a national database without a warrant simply to get the privilege of a state issued driver’s license.
The details of Adrian’s civil disobedience did not impress the judge. He quickly cut short the defense presentation. The court would not listen to the violations of the U.S. and Florida Constitutions that inspired Adrian to stand alone, nor would it record the finely worded arguments of his lawyer. No one in the court would hear how the law robbed them of privacy or how the tentacles of surveillance were spreading throughout their lives. Adrian’s years of sweat, worry, and sacrifice would come down to a few perfunctory words from a county judge.
He found him guilty. The judge said he applauded the defendant for his principles, and levied a $150 fine. Whether the judge was genuinely trying to enforce the law, victimize him, condescend to him, or simply following the path of legal least resistance, is anyone’s guess. It could have been worse. As a three time loser Adrian could easily have gone to jail.
It was a small matter in a small court about small people. It never would have happened at all except for Adrian’s persistent love of liberty. He thinks liberty is what makes living in the USA worthwhile. He wants others to feel as he does.
Unlike most of us, the cost of that love has been very real for him. Not having a driver’s license has limited his life in ways most of us do not even think about. He has court costs that he must pay out of pocket. His business suffers. A simple trip to the bank becomes a convoluted task of proving one’s identity. Renting a vehicle becomes impossible. Every drive to the store could result in trading in a comfortable night at home for a cold cell in the county jail. Worry became a part of his, and his family’s, way of life. He was jabbed by society in general in a dozen unseen ways every day for not having his papers. Still, he stuck to it.
To some, that was a foolish thing to do. Why suffer over this? Is defying the Real ID Act worth it? Since Adrian was active politically wouldn’t he do better moving as a free man than hobbled by self-imposed restrictions? The comfortable would say there are better ways of getting the point across without sacrifice. For them, we can live our lives, and can go home feeling secure in the knowledge we are free and have value. However, the contrast between the national myth and reality is getting greater. What Adrian Wyllie showed us is that we have the protection of the Bill of Rights, it seems, until we actually want to use them.
He still faces an uncertain future with real consequences. The legal penalties for defying the law will only become greater from this point on. He has to decide what his next step will be. For every “Patrick Henry” that actually affects change there are dozens of unknown names that stood alone in courtrooms, like Collier County, and were consumed by the legal system. Do the comfortable really know, or care, what happens to these people? Probably not. It’s not right, but that is just the way it is.
Good on you, Adrian, for going through all of this for the sake of liberty.
As Churchill once said, success is never final, and failure never fatal, it is courage that counts.
Pete Blome is Chair of the Northwest Florida Libertarian Party and attended the Wyllie Trial in Naples 2 March 2015.