Groping Toward Tyranny

NOV. 22, 2010

The Transportation Security Administration knows with 100 percent certainty that John Tyner, the 31-year-old Oceanside man who refused to submit to one of those embarrassing body scans or be searched by TSA groin-grabbers during his recent attempt to fly from San Diego to South Dakota, poses no security threat to the United States or anywhere else. He is not a terrorist, just a citizen frustrated by the growing intrusiveness of TSA screening procedures.

Nevertheless, after Tyner refused to complete his screening process, a TSA official told him that the agency is likely to sue him. If it did, Tyner could face $11,000 in fines and a possible ban from air travel – not because he did anything wrong, but because he refused to submit to the authorities, which used to be a proud tradition in our society.

Tyner posted his cell-phone video recording of the confrontation on YouTube, which has turned his case into a national media event. This might spark a much-needed national discussion about security vs. freedom – although the TSA intends to make an example of Tyner, lest anyone else think of not acting like a sheep.

Do we really want to continue down this path, where, in the name of security, the government can frighten us into following grotesque procedures that are not even plausibly increasing our security? The worst part of life in the old Soviet Bloc, I’ve been told by refugees, was the endless indignities of waiting in line and being forced to submit to the inconsistent whims of various government agents. Increasingly, Americans must put up with whatever nonsensical and degrading policies are imposed on us, and if we complain, we are accused of aiding and abetting the nation’s enemies. We should mock such accusations.

There are legitimate concerns about the health risks of these X-ray scanners for frequent travelers, which is why the airline pilots’ union is protesting their use. We know, despite the insistence by TSA that the virtually naked images of passengers will be discarded, that they will indeed make their way into circulation. It’s already been reported that U.S. marshals in Florida improperly saved 35,000 scanned images. It shouldn’t be a crime to balk at bureaucrats looking at our private parts or having them perform pat downs that have been compared with sexual molestation by some people who have experienced them.

In the past, I would have been astounded that Americans would be willing to trade away so much freedom for such illusory gains in their security, but many of our fellow Americans – conditioned by an endlessly growing government and beaten into a frenzy over terrorism fears following the 9/11 attacks – not only tolerate this nonsense, but celebrate it.

While flying back from New York a few months ago, I was delayed at the airport X-ray machine. A condescending TSA guard was, in her thick New York accent, loudly lecturing a woman and her two young children, who were not following the guard’s instructions on properly placing their stuff on the conveyor belt. The guard instructed the kids to listen to her, not their mom, and harshly scolded the woman.

The problem was obvious to me. We were in the international terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport. The family was from overseas and spoke no English. They had no idea what orders the rude TSA guard was barking at them. It was insulting and embarrassing, but as I passed through the security area, the man in front of me leaned over to the TSA guard and congratulated her. “You are doing a wonderful job,” he said.

I responded, in a loud-enough voice that he could hear me, “A wonderful job, my eye.” We glared at each other and moved on.

There are people who love this police-state nonsense and many others who earn a living searching, prodding and instructing the citizenry. The rest of us need to raise our voices in resistance. The bigger and more intrusive government becomes, the less common sense is employed. The officials are just following orders. This explains why a TSA official recently patted down a 3-year-old girl rather invasively, as a San Francisco newspaper reported. Expect more such insanity, as we all try to behave ourselves lest our sideways glance or snide complaint attracts the glare of the official, who can then make our lives miserable.

A friend of mine went through airport security and was asked to present an official government ID. As a government employee, he trotted out an official government card that was not a driver’s license. The guard insisted that he present a driver’s license, so my friend slowly and carefully (and a bit snidely, I’m sure) explained that his card was, indeed, an official government ID. Lo and behold, he was “randomly” selected for a full search, which is how it works when you get uppity.

Here in Sacramento, one needs to go through an airport-like screening process merely to go into the main post office, and red-light cameras and other video surveillance gear is becoming more ubiquitous across the state. It’s not just the airport any more.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has insisted that this is all necessary for our security. “It’s all about everybody recognizing their role,” she said.

She’s probably right. We all have to recognize our new role in the new America, which is to submit to whatever procedures demanded of us. I’ve often cited Thomas Jefferson: “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.” You know the sobering truth – that we, the citizens, must fear our government far more than it fears us.

If the X-rated scanners don’t cause the public to start pushing the pendulum back in a more sensible direction, then I’m not sure there’s anything that will save what freedoms are left in this nation.

–Steven Greenhut

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