Most airport passengers walked by without stopping as they headed to the security checkpoints and their gates Thursday, some shaking their heads in amusement, at least one giving a thumbs-up sign of approval.
The Lyndon LaRouche table was back. Staffed by adherents of the conspiracy-theorizing, apocalypse-predicting LaRouche, the table in Concourse B was decorated with posters calling President Barack Obama "insane," holding him responsible for the current "depression," depicting him with a Hitler mustache and calling for his impeachment.
"It's a free country. He's entitled to his opinion, even if I don't agree with what he's saying," said Luis Braz-Ruivo, a veterinary cardiologist from Bowie, on his way to Kansas City, Mo. "But it's kind of surprising security hasn't led them out."
They can't: Airport authorities say the group — whose leader, a perennial candidate for president himself, has been convicted of mail fraud — has a permit to proselytize at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
"The airport can regulate the time and place and manner of the activity, but not the message," said BWI spokesman Jonathan Dean. "This particular organization has been a frequent presence in the airport for many years."
Dean, who noted that the group previously displayed messages opposing President George W. Bush, said groups can apply for proselytizing permits and, if approved, can offer information. They may not disrupt the terminal, yell or walk around carrying large signs that might impede the flow of traffic.
The Supreme Court has ruled in the past that airports cannot ban groups such as the Hare Krishna or Jews for Jesus from leafleting.
On Thursday afternoon, neither business travelers nor the stream of purple-clad Ravens fans en route to the team's game in Atlanta later that night paid much attention to the LaRouche supporters. The airport activists referred a reporter's questions to officials with their group.
Larry Freeman, who said he works with the LaRouche organization in Baltimore, said the group sets their table up at BWI occasionally.
"That's one of the ways we talk to people," Freeman said. "Our approach is to organize and talk to the population and recruit them."
The group has set up shop in other airports as well as outside post offices and other public locations. It drew notoriety for an incident in the Newark airport in 1981, when a LaRouche follower trailing a frequent target of the group, Henry Kissinger, shouted such nasty insults that Kissinger's wife, Nancy, grabbed the heckler by the throat and threatened to slug her. A judge ultimately acquitted her of misdemeanor assault.
The group often disrupts political gatherings, particularly when LaRouche or his followers are not allowed to debate other candidates for office. And they promote other decidedly bizarre causes: According to a Washington Post article in 2004, LaRouche groups have tried to get the music industry to lower the middle C note to ease vocal strain and have urged the establishment of a colony on Mars.
Most passengers interviewed Thursday at BWI said they thought the group had a right to promote its message at the airport. Some, though, thought the location was a poor one for the impression it could give to visitors.
"I think it's inappropriate," said Dan Folk, a quality engineer for a defense contractor who lives in York, Pa. "Fortunately, we have the right to protest, but the airport has a lot of international traffic. Their signs are pretty harsh. How would it be, on a busy flight day, with 40 groups protesting everything?"