History repeats itself with TSA’s strip-search tactics

by Lisa Simeone on December 5, 2011

“The more we do to you, the less you seem to believe we are doing it.”

That infamous statement, by an infamous monster, encapsulates perfectly the human capacity for denial. Indeed not just capacity, but eagerness.

People who don’t want to believe what’s right in front of their faces will pretend it doesn’t exist.

That’s what has been going on for the past two years with Americans and the TSA: denial.

Not everyone, of course, is in denial. Some of us have been ringing alarm bells about this agency for a long time. We’ve also been mocked and derided for doing so. But we continue, because we keep hoping that more people will wake up.

Genuine ignorance is one thing; willful ignorance another. At this point, after so much publicity about so many crimes and abuses, anyone who still claims that the agency is benign is being willfully ignorant.

Ruth Sherman is only the latest elderly woman – whom we know of – who has been abused by the TSA. Her assault occurred a day before that of another woman who’s in the news recently for having the courage to go public about her ordeal – Lenore Zimmerman.

Both women reported that they were strip-searched. Not “hindered,” not “inconvenienced,” not “bothered.” Strip-searched. Assaulted.

They aren’t alone – unless you’re one of those people still living in denial. Lena Reppert, the 95-year-old mother of Jean Weber Destin was also abused by the TSA, strip-searched in a back room.

So was Nina Gilkenson, a much younger woman – a very attractive much younger woman – as she posted publicly on her Facebook page on June 19, 2011.

So was ABC News producer Carolyn Durand. As she put it, “The woman who checked me reached her hands inside my underwear and felt her way around. It was basically worse than going to the gynecologist. It was embarrassing. It was demeaning. It was inappropriate.”

So were untold numbers of women at Reagan National Airport, by an organized ring of TSA assailants, as reported back in 2004.

Then again, sometimes the TSA punishes people just for the hell of it, as I discovered, as travel writer Charlie Leocha discovered, as Texas Public Utility Commission chairman Barry Smitherman discovered, as Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic discovered, as this couple discovered.

A rape survivor, Claire Hirschkind, didn’t want to go through the scanner because she has a pacemaker (though even people who go through the scanners are still often groped; the two aren’t mutually exclusive). She also didn’t want to be pawed. Instead, she was handcuffed, arrested, and dragged across the airport floor. “I told them, ‘No, I’m not going to have my breasts felt,’ and she said, ‘Yes, you are,’” Hirschkind said she was told. The TSA called the police to punish Hirschkind for not acquiescing to their demands.

Because that, in the end, is what this is all about – acquiescence. Obedience. Bowing to authority. That is the point of the TSA’s behavior, especially since John Pistole came on board and initiated the gropes. It’s the exercise of power for the sake of exercising power.

Groping someone against his or her will is sexual assault. You can try to pretty it up or deny it with euphemism – “enhanced pat-downs” – but what the TSA is doing isn’t patting down. Or frisking. I’ve been frisked by the police. The TSA is groping, not frisking.

People who blithely use the term “enhanced pat-downs” are the same people who call torture “enhanced interrogation.” There’s a reason Orwell coined the term “doublethink” in his novel 1984. It’s a pity so many Americans don’t understand it.

There are thousands more first-person and eyewitness accounts of TSA abuse – not only sexual assault but other kinds of abuse as well – in this document, which I’ve been compiling since 2010. Though if you’re in denial, better not read it. It’ll just cause more cognitive dissonance; and as research has shown, facts don’t matter. If you’re more comfortable living in denial, you’ll continue to do so, no matter how many facts get in the way.

Facts such as:

  • No bombs were brought onto planes on 9/11. The planes themselves were commandeered, something that won’t happen again because the cockpit doors have been secured, and because passengers will no longer silently submit (which is more than I can say for TSA apologists).
  • The last time a bomb smuggled aboard an airplane in the USA detonated was December 11, 1967. The plane landed safely; no fatalities, no injuries.
  • The last time a bomb was smuggled aboard an aircraft in the US from which there were fatalities was May 22, 1962.

Almost 50 years. And for all that time, until just recently, the TSA reign of molestation and rank stupidity didn’t exist. Gee, how is it possible we all haven’t been blown out of the sky by now? After all, The Terrorists Are Everywhere!

Here are some more facts:

You’re more likely to be killed in a car accident than to be killed in a terrorist attack. Almost 40,000 traffic fatalities a year in this country. Have you stopped driving? Oops – there goes the argument that you’re concerned about safety. Especially if you talk on your cellphone while driving, something that’ll get you killed a lot faster than a bogeyman terrorist will.

More inconvenient facts: you’re more likely to drown in your bathtub, to get struck by lightning, to have a fatal allergic reaction to peanuts, than to be killed in a terrorist attack in this country.

Yet millions of Americans think it’s just fine that the TSA harasses, bullies, and assaults people, every day, all across the country. It’s hard to come to any other conclusion but that they’re content to live in denial. After all, if the sexual and other assaults never happen to you, who cares if they happen to your fellow passengers?

Anyway, you’re in good company: the TSA denies everything. (That’s another feature Orwell warned us about.) You can read all you want about the TSA’s denial on the agency’s blog, a darkly hilarious repository of propaganda, where Blogger Bob routinely issues bland blanket statements such as “proper procedures were followed,” no matter how much evidence to the contrary. (I long ago stopped trying to comment at the TSA Blog, as my comments were always censored — except for one, wherein I said, “I wonder if this comment will be censored.” Perhaps you’ll have better luck.)

We can look forward to continuing instances of assault and abuse — when we find out about them, that is; most people don’t have the benefit of a reporter. As the famous experiments of Philip Zimbardo and Stanley Milgram demonstrated over 40 years ago, people put in positions of unlimited power will abuse that power. It’s not a question of “if,” it’s a question of “when.”

Oh, and the quotation that opened this post? By Josef Mengele, the Nazi concentration camp physician known as the Angel of Death.

It bears repeating: “The more we do to you, the less you seem to believe we are doing it.”

(Cross-posted at ABombazine.)

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