Whereas the United States government consistently refuses to take the measures needed to curtail terrorism (i.e. halting U.S.-led occupations and interventions abroad), Homeland Security (and the TSA in specific) has taken extreme measures in the name of Security. Although these curtailments on civil liberties do virtually nothing to stop terrorism, they are very successful in ratcheting up the fear level in an already spooked citizenry. This may well be an unintended yet helpful consequence, but it may certainly also be a deliberate attempt to create an aura of imminent danger.
It truly speaks to our state of mind that we forever live in a world characterized by the government as “threat level: orange” or “threat level: red.” Before the threat of Terrorism our collective conscious was paralyzed over the thought of nuclear annihilation from the Soviet Union. It seems there is always one great existential threat that must exist in order for the U.S. government to keep its citizenry in a state of eternal trepidation. Fear-stricken Americans are then forced to turn to the government for Security, ceding their freedoms in the process.
One American patriot, John Tyner, decided he had just about enough. Tyner refused to be go through the XXX-ray scanner. He also refused to be sexually molested by those acting in the name of Security. Tyner’s refusal may well turn out to be historic. It is certainly reminiscent of Rosa Parks and her refusal to go to the back of the bus. Glenn Greenwald writes:
Last week, John Tyner, a resident of Southern California, was subjected to a long series of harassing and vindictive actions by Homeland-Security/TSA functionaries after he refused to submit to the new body scanning and groping searches at the San Diego International Airport. He was randomly selected for the new procedures, and after he refused on privacy grounds, he repeatedly offered instead to go through the metal detectors which were being used on the vast majority of passengers. When told that he would not be permitted to fly unless he submitted to the new procedures, he agreed to leave the airport, but was then prevented from doing so and threatened with large fines and other punishments if he tried. The same day, he chronicled this abuse in a long blog post — with detailed narratives and videotapes — which quickly went viral and was widely-circulated. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend reading it. As Digby wrote about it:
Just read this story of Orwellian airport hell and then think about how many of our basic notions of freedom we’ve given up in the name of “Homeland Security” in the past few years. Then think about the fact that we are spending billions of dollars in this so-called era of austerity on bullshit like this, with layer upon layer of supervisors and officers and supervisory officers basically performing security theater for no good reason.
These routine insults, humiliations and suspensions of human dignity are training us to submit to the police state. I noticed this morning that in all the blathering about tax cuts and deficits, not one person brought up Homeland Security. That bloated budget is going to get bigger and bigger and bigger and if you build it they will use it. And the results of that are obvious.
Making this story so much worse: as John Cole notes today, the TSA called a news conference to announce that it was formally investigating Tyner to determine whether to impose $11,000 in fines on him. As Cole observes: ”Don’t submit to the police state, and we’ll come after you. This isn’t a punishment for Tyner, it is a message to everyone else.”
This is the sort of outrage that really merits a national uprising in defense of this citizen. I hope to have some details on that in a bit (I turned in a major chunk of my book today and am thus slightly liberated until tomorrow). I wrote on Twitter two days ago in response to this story: “What has most degraded the American citizenry is convincing them that no value competes with or should be weighed against *Security*.” And, of course, these measures rarely provide real security: only security theater.
Many Americans, to their shame, are typically apathetic to such concerns because privacy and civil liberties infringements are — at least it’s perceived — being directed only at foreigners and Muslims, not “real Americans.”
I have bolded the last two paragraphs because they are especially poignant. The last sentence speaks to the general theme of our website: Islamophobia (which, in all honesty, is simply one of the flavors of Other-ophobia) has far reaching consequences. Not only does it enable and encourage morally defunct and horribly unjust wars, but Islamophobia’s power stretches to affect the lives of everyday Americans. It is true, however, that many Americans won’t care until it affects the “real Americans”, by which of course we mean God-fearing Judeo-Christian white people.
Anyways, here is the whole post by John Tyner (well worth the read):
…This morning, I tried to fly out of San Diego International Airport but was refused by the TSA. I had been somewhat prepared for this eventuality. I have been reading about the millimeter wave and backscatter x-ray machines and the possible harm to health as well as the vivid pictures they create of people’s naked bodies. Not wanting to go through them, I had done my research on the TSA’s website prior to traveling to see if SAN had them. From all indications, they did not. When I arrived at the security line, I found that the TSA’s website was out of date. SAN does in fact utilize backscatter x-ray machines.
I made my way through the line toward the first line of “defense”: the TSA ID checker. This agent looked over my boarding pass, looked over my ID, looked at me and then back at my ID. After that, he waved me through. SAN is still operating metal detectors, so I walked over to one of the lines for them. After removing my shoes and making my way toward the metal detector, the person in front of me in line was pulled out to go through the backscatter machine. After asking what it was and being told, he opted out. This left the machine free, and before I could go through the metal detector, I was pulled out of line to go through the backscatter machine. When asked, I half-chuckled and said, “I don’t think so.” At this point, I was informed that I would be subject to a pat down, and I waited for another agent.
A male agent (it was a female who had directed me to the backscatter machine in the first place), came and waited for me to get my bags and then directed me over to the far corner of the area for screening. After setting my things on a table, he turned to me and began to explain that he was going to do a “standard” pat down. (I thought to myself, “great, not one of those gropings like I’ve been reading about”.) After he described, the pat down, I realized that he intended to touch my groin. After he finished his description but before he started the pat down, I looked him straight in the eye and said, “if you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested.” He, a bit taken aback, informed me that he would have to involve his supervisor because of my comment.
We both stood there for no more than probably two minutes before a female TSA agent (apparently, the supervisor) arrived. She described to me that because I had opted out of the backscatter screening, I would now be patted down, and that involved running hands up the inside of my legs until they felt my groin. I stated that I would not allow myself to be subject to a molestation as a condition of getting on my flight. The supervisor informed me that it was a standard administrative security check and that they were authorized to do it. I repeated that I felt what they were doing was a sexual assault, and that if they were anyone but the government, the act would be illegal. I believe that I was then informed that if I did not submit to the inspection, I would not be getting on my flight. I again stated that I thought the search was illegal. I told her that I would be willing to submit to a walk through the metal detector as over 80% of the rest of the people were doing, but I would not be groped. The supervisor, then offered to go get her supervisor.
I took a seat in a tiny metal chair next to the table with my belongings and waited. While waiting, I asked the original agent (who was supposed to do the pat down) if he had many people opt out to which he replied, none (or almost none, I don’t remember exactly). He said that I gave up a lot of rights when I bought my ticket. I replied that the government took them away after September 11th. There was silence until the next supervisor arrived. A few minutes later, the female agent/supervisor arrived with a man in a suit (not a uniform). He gave me a business card identifying him as David Silva, Transportation Security Manager, San Diego International Airport. At this point, more TSA agents as well as what I assume was a local police officer arrived on the scene and surrounded the area where I was being detained. The female supervisor explained the situation to Mr. Silva. After some quick back and forth (that I didn’t understand/hear), I could overhear Mr. Silva say something to the effect of, “then escort him from the airport.” I again offered to submit to the metal detector, and my father-in-law, who was near by also tried to plead for some reasonableness on the TSA’s part.
The female supervisor took my ID at this point and began taking some kind of report with which I cooperated. Once she had finished, I asked if I could put my shoes back on. I was allowed to put my shoes back on and gather my belongs. I asked, “are we done here” (it was clear at this point that I was going to be escorted out), and the local police officer said, “follow me”. I followed him around the side of the screening area and back out to the ticketing area. I said apologized to him for the hassle, to which he replied that it was not a problem.
I made my way over to the American Airlines counter, explained the situation, and asked if my ticket could be refunded. The woman behind the counter furiously typed away for about 30 seconds before letting me know that she would need a supervisor. She went to the other end of the counter. When she returned, she informed me that the ticket was non-refundable, but that she was still trying to find a supervisor. After a few more minutes, she was able to refund my ticket. I told her that I had previously had a bad experience with American Airlines and had sworn never to fly with them again (I rationalized this trip since my father-in-law had paid for the ticket), but that after her helpfulness, I would once again be willing to use their carrier again.
At this point, I thought it was all over. I began to make my way to the stairs to exit the airport, when I was approached by another man in slacks and a sport coat. He was accompanied by the officer that had escorted me to the ticketing area and Mr. Silva. He informed me that I could not leave the airport. He said that once I start the screening in the secure area, I could not leave until it was completed. Having left the area, he stated, I would be subject to a civil suit and a $10,000 fine. I asked him if he was also going to fine the 6 TSA agents and the local police officer who escorted me from the secure area. After all, I did exactly what I was told. He said that they didn’t know the rules, and that he would deal with them later. They would not be subject to civil penalties. I then pointed to Mr. Silva and asked if he would be subject to any penalties. He is the agents’ supervisor, and he directed them to escort me out. The man informed me that Mr. Silva was new and he would not be subject to penalties, either. He again asserted the necessity that I return to the screening area. When I asked why, he explained that I may have an incendiary device and whether or not that was true needed to be determined. I told him that I would submit to a walk through the metal detector, but that was it; I would not be groped. He told me that their procedures are on their website, and therefore, I was fully informed before I entered the airport; I had implicitly agreed to whatever screening they deemed appropriate. I told him that San Diego was not listed on the TSA’s website as an airport using Advanced Imaging Technology, and I believed that I would only be subject to the metal detector. He replied that he was not a webmaster, and I asked then why he was referring me to the TSA’s website if he didn’t know anything about it. I again refused to re-enter the screening area.
The man asked me to stay put while he walked off to confer with the officer and Mr. Silva. They went about 20 feet away and began talking amongst themselves while I waited. I couldn’t over hear anything, but I got the impression that the police officer was recounting his version of the events that had transpired in the screening area (my initial refusal to be patted down). After a few minutes, I asked loudly across the distance if I was free to leave. The man dismissively held up a finger and said, “hold on”. I waited. After another minute or so, he returned and asked for my name. I asked why he needed it, and reminded him that the female supervisor/agent had already taken a report. He said that he was trying to be friendly and help me out. I asked to what end. He reminded me that I could be sued civilly and face a $10,000 fine and that my cooperation could help mitigate the penalties I was facing. I replied that he already had my information in the report that was taken and I asked if I was free to leave. I reminded him that he was now illegally detaining me and that I would not be subject to screening as a condition of leaving the airport. He told me that he was only trying to help (I should note that his demeanor never suggested that he was trying to help. I was clearly being interrogated.), and that no one was forcing me to stay. I asked if tried to leave if he would have the officer arrest me. He again said that no one was forcing me to stay. I looked him in the eye, and said, “then I’m leaving”. He replied, “then we’ll bring a civil suit against you”, to which I said, “you bring that suit” and walked out of the airport.
You can see the video of Tyner’s encounter on his blog.
We at LoonWatch salute this man’s bravery and his courageous support of civil liberties. Unless more Americans stand up to such curtailments of citizen rights, then it’s only a slight exaggeration to say that one day TSA will give us pre-flight colonoscopies, and we’ll be forced to walk onto planes naked.
A reader by the name of Mindy posted the following comment:
How come on Puerto Rico they had a base, they did not attack us, and we left it a couple of years ago(please correct me if I am wrong)
In fact, Prof. Brent Smith writes in his book Terrorism in America (p.22):
Puerto Rican Terrorism Puerto Rican nationalists were the most active terrorists in the United States and its territories during the 1980s. From 1980-1982 Puerto Rican terrorists accounted for fifty-three of the 122 terrorism incidents (43 percent) that took place in that period. As many as ten different Puerto Rican groups claimed responsibility for bombings and assassinations during the early 1980s.
In 1990 alone, Puerto Rican terrorists carried out five bombings in the United States. Can one imagine the reaction of the media and “average Americans” if Muslims carried out five coordinated terrorist attacks in one year?
Puerto Rican terrorism has subsequently declined. Why? Prof. Smith writes (p.23):
…Recent efforts in the U.S. Congress to allow Puerto Ricans to vote on the future political status of the island may have had an adverse effect on violent nationalists’ recruitment efforts.
How much clearer would you like it to be? Was it Jihad, Islam, and the Quran which compelled Puerto Ricans to terrorism? Or was it U.S. interventionist policies?
Mindy says further:
If people want sympathy from the average American, don’t blow things up, average people like me won’t like you.
This is exactly what average Muslims in the Islamic world think about us. The United States drops more bombs on Muslim heads in the Islamic world in one single day (and continue to do so on a regular basis) than all the Islamic extremists combined have ever detonated throughout history. The U.S. kills more Muslims in the Islamic world than Islamic extremists have ever killed Americans, on the order of magnitude of greater than 100. And these killings, unlike the non-state actors like Al-Qaeda, are orchestrated by the democratically elected U.S. government herself, with the blessing of its citizenry. So yes: if the United States wants sympathy from the average Muslim in the Islamic world, don’t blow things up, because average people won’t like you then. Americans should not vote for such warmongers if they wish not to be seen as warmongers by the populations living in areas being warred upon by the U.S.
And of course Glenn Greenwald’s excellent commentary:
Weren’t terrorists trying to kill us before Afghanistan and Iraq?
U.S. interventionism in the region far preceded the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. It may be worthwhile to read this document from the CATO Institute, which calls the U.S. “the heir to British imperialism in the region” and concludes that “U.S. conduct in the Middle East since the end of World War II” is “trag[ic]“. The right-liberterian group argues that “it should not be surprising that the West is viewed with suspicion and hostility by the populations…of the Middle East.”
There is indeed a direct correlation between U.S. interventionism and terrorism against the U.S. The more people we bomb, the more they want to be bomb us. The more people we kill, the more they want to kill us. Having said that, it’s probably a good idea to eschew the usage of unhelpful terms like “us” and “they”, as neither “us” or “they” are two monoliths.
And just for the record:
The FALN (Armed Forces of National Liberation) is a clandestine organization committed to the political independence of Puerto Rico from the United States. Between 1974 and 1983, the FALN claimed responsibility for more than 120 bombings of military and government buildings, financial institutions, and corporate headquarters in Chicago, New York, and Washington DC, which killed six people and injured dozens more. The purpose of these bombings was to protest U.S. military presence in Puerto Rico, draw attention to Puerto Rico’s political relationship with the United States, and object to increased influence of U.S.-based corporate and financial institutions on the island.
Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, a Puerto Rican nationalist, was classified as a terrorist by the United States, and was in fact one of the FBI’s most wanted. He had great support in Peuerto Rico.
Los Macheteros is a Puerto Rican group categorized by the FBI as a terrorist group. It operated (and continues to operate) cells in the United States, with an active membership in 2006 of approximately 1,100 to 5,700 members and an unknown number of supporters and sympathizers. The group campaigns for Puerto Rican independence from what they see as “U.S. colonial rule.”
Members of the Puerto Rico Nationalist Party infiltrated the gallery of the U.S. House of Representatives and shot 5 Congressman. We must ask, as we always do: what if they were Muslims?