Taylor Berman at Gawker has a round-up of quotes from various right wing sources targeting TSA agents for hyperbolic language, calling them “jack-booted thugs”, perverts, and even, as Glenn Beck did, suggesting they’re part of Obama’s mythical secret plan to create a private army. He’s doing so because the LAX shooter, Paul Ciancia, looks like he was a right wing terrorist who was targeting TSA agents because of a paranoid belief that they have “traitorous minds”. It’s one of the peculiarities of right wing extremism that tends to get heightened when Democrats are in power: Conservatives are highly authoritarian people, but they project their own desires for control and power onto everyone else and thus live in paranoia that they’re supposedly losing freedom. Once you get to the right wing fringes, that projection gets completely out of control, with fears of Democrats bursting in your front door any day now to do….well, we never quite know. Take your guns away so they can do something else. Something. Ban you from being an authoritarian Christian who supports theocracy because of “freedom”, I guess. The haziness of it just makes it scarier.
Anyway, Berman is correct to be pissed at all these right wing politicians and media sources for focusing on the TSA agents personally, making something like this likely to happen. It’s obvious why these men do it: Going through airport security, being X-rayed, being patted down feels demeaning. Don’t the TSA agents know they’re white guys? They have important business to get to, like voting some more for stop-and-frisk and mandatory ultrasounds. Thus the anger gets personalized, as if the TSA agents are deliberately out to get them for personal reasons. Demonizing and personalizing, in turn, makes it easier for a terrorist like Ciancia to justify murdering them. If you imagine they are evil people out to get you instead of ordinary workers who are just doing a job, shooting them becomes easier.
I’m all for criticizing the TSA’s policies, which were started under the Bush administration, no matter how much the paranoids want to make this about their bizarre fantasies that the black President is out to steal their penises. And while you do occasionally run across a TSA agent who is definitely getting off on how much power they have to humiliate passengers, in my experience—and I fly a fair bit for conferences and talks and whatnot, though not as much as a congressman, for sure—the people they are least likely to harass are white guys, for the obvious reasons. But overall, most TSA agents I’ve come across are actually pretty nice people who are often clearly stressed out by having to deal with people who are annoyed with them all day long. It’s the policies, which they didn’t choose, that are the problem. I’m guessing most of them would love it if throwing out people’s bottles of shampoo (or honey, as it were) and patting down people near their groddy genital areas was not part of their job. So the knee-jerk desire to generalize and claim that they’re all personally out to get you is inexcusable.
However, I have to quarrel with Berman including this:
Or Wisconsin Rep. Tom Petri, who thinks TSA agents treats Americans “like prisoners,”or Texas State Senator Dan Patrick, who once compared the fight against TSA pat-downs to a 19th century battle between Texas and Mexico in which Texans fought to protect a beloved cannon.
Or maybe from Florida Rep. John Mica, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee, who is one of Congress’ most vocal critics of the agency and regularly implies that its agents’ jobs are pointless. “I think we’re safer today,” Mica said in 2011, because “the American flying public will not let a terrorist take over an aircraft.” Mica has also calledTSA pat-downs an “insult to the freedom of the American people.”
Or if not Ron Paul, his son Rand? The plagiarism-prone senator from Kentucky said in May 2012 that “it’s time to END the TSA and get the government’s hands back to only stealing our wallets instead of groping toddlers and grandmothers.”
The hyperbole is a bit much, but it’s worth pointing out that unlike Glenn Beck, Geraldo Rivera, Alex Jones, Ron Paul, Todd Starnes, or Judge Napolitano, none of these men quoted appear to be focused on the agents, but on the policies. I mean, they’re all bananas—even if we revise, and we should revise TSA policies—there’s always going to be security at airports. We need sober-minded people to have a grown-up discussion about how to roll back security to respect people’s time and privacy without giving it up completely. Yes, Americans would probably crash a plane rather than let terrorists take it over again—as they did with Flight 93—but I think it’s important to prevent that from happening if we can. Returning to simple bag X-rays and metal detectors would probably go a long way. At least let us wear our shoes.
But yes, we need to make a strong distinction between criticizing an agency’s policies and insinuating that the workers are personally out to get you. Not making that distinction almost surely led to this horrible crime.