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.