The Pat-Down Rebellion: Government Arrogance and Abuse of Power, Meet American Culture

We may be seeing a sterling example of the innate American resistance to intrusive and excessive authority, just when it looked as if many citizens were prepared to  accept reductions in their dignity, privacy and freedom that past generations would never have countenanced.

As usual, the fuse has been lit by a combination of incompetence, bad management, and arrogance. Since the tragedy of 9-11, airplane passengers have been remarkably passive and tolerant in accepting increasingly inconvenient and de-humanizing security procedures at airports. They have allowed political correctness to hold sway over fairness and logic, subjecting decrepit seniors,  ten-year-old girls and U.S. Senators to aggressive wanding rather than employing reasonable profiling techniques. They have allowed near-miss terrorist attacks caused by sloppy Homeland Security procedures and execution to be addressed by punishing the public with increasingly more intrusive search techniques. But when new procedures involving full-hand body searches were recently instituted without due warning, while the new full-body scanning devices were standing unused because of a shortage of trained personnel, anger, resistance and traditional American refusal to be pushed around finally made their appearance. Why, passengers are asking, must they be molested to compensate for intelligence failures? Where are reasonable alternatives? Why are we being treated this way?

Good questions all. As if to confirm the suspicions that our government does not sufficiently respect our rights, dignity and autonomy, the response of our elected and appointed sheep-herders has been 1) You don’t have to fly, you know! 2) We know best! 3) It’s not that bad, and 4) Do what you’re told, or else. Janet Napolitano—you, know: our inept Secretary of Homeland Security who told Americans that “the system worked”after a near-bombing (by a known threat who had slipped through porous U.S. intelligence) had to be stopped by plane passengers playing Harrison Ford?—has weighed in with an op-ed assuring the public that all is reasonable and necessary. The piece is full of spin, misrepresentation, and dishonesty. The new scanners are convenient, safe and preserve privacy, she says—except that the safety of the scanners’ radiation is in dispute, and they are only convenient if they can be used, and most of them can’t. The pat-downs are rare and discrete, she says. Rare? Not for me, or anyone else with an implant. I have to go through one every time I fly, which is a lot. No, the new scanners aren’t widely available yet, Madam Secretary: stop saying they are. And “discrete” patdowns? “Discrete” isn’t the problem; it isn’t that I mind a stranger fondling my testicles in public—which is what they now do, as my testicles can testify—it is that I mind a stranger fondling my testicles at all. Napolitano writes as if mandatory scrotum massaging is swell, as long as it can be done in private, and by a same-sex massager. Well, she’s never had her scrotum massaged.

Nevertheless, the Transportation Security Administration has foolishly decided that the best approach is to get tough and show Americans who the boss is. Never mind that it abandoned the “back of the hand” pat downs without notice; never mind that most airplane passengers have no idea what kind of manhandling (literally if you are male, virtually if you are female) they subject themselves to by buying an airplane ticket. Never mind that our willingness to endure universal screening to spare the tender sensitivities of the politically correct and race-baiters has a limit, and the limit may well be having to submit our bodies and those of our daughters and grandmothers to genital groping.

This brings us to John Tyner. Tyner’s cell phone recorded the half-hour long encounter he had at a security check point at the San Diego airport, and he later posted it to his personal blog along with an extensive account of the incident. Tyner had been  on his way to South Dakota  to go pheasant hunting when he was chosen for a full-body scan. He opted out because he thought it was invasive, and was then informed that he would be subjected to the new, feel-you-up-and-down body search. Tyner told the TSA agent, “”You touch my junk and I’m going to have you arrested.” He then left Lindbergh Field and missed his flight rather than submit to TSA authority. The blog went viral, attracting hundreds of thousands of readers and thousands of comments.

To punish the rebellious air passenger, Michael J. Aguilar, chief of the TSA office in San Diego, called a news conference at the airport  to announce an  investigation of Tyner, one that could lead to prosecution and civil penalties of up to $11,000. Obviously, he is being punished for taking his complaint public,  an example of entrenched power persecuting a dissident. If he and Homeland Security think this iron glove approach is going to work, they don’t know either the country or its history. When the public feels that the government’s use of power is unreasonable and excessive, more abuse of power will not solve the problem. Not in this country.

Tyner compares the current TSA security procedures to a “sexual assault.” He’s right, because that’s what they are. His blog has helped give momentum to a national Opt Out Day, which  calls on air travelers to choose not to undergo the full-body scans on Nov. 24, the day before Thanksgiving and one of the year’s top travel days. I suspect that will be just the beginning. Homeland Security went too far, without due notice, and without proper respect.

Now it is going to get a lesson in American culture, orneriness, and good, old-fashioned rebellion.


9 thoughts on “The Pat-Down Rebellion: Government Arrogance and Abuse of Power, Meet American Culture

  1. What strikes me is the futility of it all. It’s not like these threats got through security because they didn’t grope us HARD enough. This has the distinct air of the “Dig UP, stupid!” mentality.

    In what year do you think we’ll see the man with the Dark Knight-style bomb sewed inside him, triggered with a cell phone, and we all get X-rays before we go on planes?

    • Exactly, Jeff. This is all for show, taking measures that would supposedly have stopped the LAST threat, and has nothing to do with preventing the next one. But once the public turns, it’s going to turn hard.

  2. What happens the first time a sexual assault groping suspect claims that what they did is not worse than a TSA inspection that are performed at airports all across the country on thousands of people every day? How can you justify claiming that his crime causes enough emotional distress to deserve years in jail and a lifetime on a sex offenders list when TSA agents do this for a living? It will be an interesting day in court.

    I am not stupid enough to completely buy this argument. I realize that there is at least some consent, although coerced, in the TSA scanning. I do think that when this argument is made in court, and it will be, that the defendant will have at least half a point to make. It will resonate more with people on the jury who have had such a pat down and they probably will wonder why the defendant deserves a lifetime sentence while their TSA screener is still free.

    • There are unintended consequences of thoughtless over-reaching. and you just pointed out one. A agree—you’ll see this argument made. Maybe worse will be the other indignities and incursions that will be foisted on us using the “but it’s not as bad as what you’re already putting up with at the airport!” excuse.

  3. I’ve been waiting like, three days for this post! I’m so excited it’s finally here!

    So…what are the ethically acceptable forms of protest? I don’t want Jack Marshall to get all te good groping, would it be okay if I intentionally set off the metal detector to get my free massage? Also, is it okay to make groans of enjoyment and pleasure as they touch “your” special parts? Also, if you can opt for a grope instead of a scan, can you opt for a scan instead of a grope? Also, if I get a scan, can I get a copy of the image so I know what information was collected about me? I think I have a right to know what I look like so I can hit the gym to tackle those “trouble areas”.

  4. As a woman who would like to get pregnant again, there’s NO WAY I can subject myself to extra radiation. So my option is now don’t fly OR get felt up in public? Even behind those partial walls at the airport, it’s PUBLIC. And what about small children? We no longer give them DENTAL or other kinds of diagnostic radiation unless ABSOLUTELY necessary, because we know radiation IS BAD FOR GROWING CHILDREN! This is more than ridiculous, and I cannot believe everyone, including small children, are now subject to these two onerous options. GRRRRRRRRR. What else can we DO?!?!!?

    Something must be done to stop it. Most especially because IT WILL NOT STOP TERRORISTS. Just like in prison, there are places to hide things you don’t want them to find. And unless they’re searching those cavities on folks they suspect (which is NOT my 5-yo kid), the bomb/gun/whatever can STILL get on the plane.

    • I really do think that we will draw a line in the sand on this. It’s really simple: it is up to the government to keep us safe while we’re flying, and also necessary that it not subject us to dehumanizing conduct and excessive searches. They have to find another way, that’s all. Maybe it will require—THE HORROR!—some kind of profiling. Maybe it will require background checks for frequent fliers, This method is vetoed.

  5. Three quick items.

    1. If the full body scan is so necessary and not really intrusive, then let Janet Napolitano pledge to fly commercial airlines for a while. I would challenge her to do it.

    2, What about the extremely well-endowed and beautiful female friend of mine who has been literally manhandled by airport guards for years while she stood in line with her three blonde daughters? Certainly SHE fits the profile — of someone the guards would like to feel up!

    3. Anyone traveled by train lately? There is NO SECURITY. No metal detectors, no bag searches, nothing. If terrorists want to strike at the heart of America, they’ll go after Amtrak. Just because 9/11 happened on airplanes doesn’t mean air is our only form of transportation. Ask Janet Napolitano why trains seem to be immune from security checks. I won’t travel by train: it seems the next, scariest logical choice.

  6. Trans-Sexual Attacks.
    Homeland Security they should rename it Homeland Invasion.
    Welcome to Groper World Airlines…. We guarantee you a stimulating trip and that’s before you board the plane.
    YUP The terrorists have finally got us got us by the balls.

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