3 reasons you’ll shut up after you’ve been humiliated by the TSA

seatacscanLike most infrequent air travelers, Vicki Burton just wants to get through security without causing a scene. So on a recent flight from Chattanooga, Tenn., to Miami, she obediently stepped into the airport’s full-body scanner, held her arms up, and waited for the agent to wave her through.

He didn’t.

Instead, a female screener was summoned to give Burton an “enhanced” pat-down. “My breasts were patted down right there in front of God and everybody,” she says. “I wasn’t even afforded the privacy of a screen. I was so stunned, I was just mute. What do you say without being arrested? What should I have done?”

Good question. To paraphrase Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, she should have said something.

Why do people keep their mouths closed when they feel violated? A combination of powerful motivators keeps air travelers quiet. Only by understanding these influences can we end them.

Reason #1: you’re not crazy, are you?

Many passengers are afraid that if they speak up, they’ll end up as the hysterical passenger on YouTube — reacting irrationally to what many consider “rational” airport security.

I wrote about this incident after it happened. Although there were good reasons for her reaction, according to her son who taped the entire episode, she was nonetheless tarred as a loonie by TSA supporters (read the comments on her video if you doubt me).

Reason #2: everyone else is doing it

Another effective tool of persuasion: peer pressure. Everyone else is going through the scanner; everyone else is getting patted down. What’s your problem? Don’t you care if there’s a 9/11 sequel?

Besides, American airport security is the “gold standard,” isn’t it?

I encountered these faulty arguments the first and only time I was prodded into a full-body scanner. It was months before the opt-out protest, and the devices were still being tested in only a handful of airports. A friendly TSA agent told me I had nothing to worry about. “We’ve all been through them, everyone else is going through them, and you won’t feel a thing,” she assured me.

Well, if everyone is going through them, then what do I have to worry about?

Peer pressure — the fact that no one else seems to be complaining — keeps you quiet when your conscience tells you to speak up.

Reason #3: you’ll miss your plane

The final, and perhaps the most persuasive trick, is the implied threat that if you resist, you’ll miss your flight. Unfortunately, it’s not an empty threat, and the TSA agent screening you knows it. If a blueshirt believes your attitude is anything less than docile, you could be subjected to a retaliatory wait time.

It doesn’t help that airlines are unforgiving when their passengers miss a flight — a “no-show” in airline parlance. Often, air travelers either have to pay for a new ticket at an expensive “walk-up” fare or get sent to their destination by a less convenient route, missing appointments or a valuable vacation time. No one wants that.

Had Burton stopped, asked to speak with a supervisor, and filed a report, she would have been threatened with these three possibilities: becoming a poster girl for crazy, being made to feel like a problem passenger, or missing her flight.

It wasn’t an anomaly. On her return flight, TSA agents did exactly the same thing to her.

Time to say something

This has to end. There’s no evidence that patting down passengers like Burton has made air travel any safer. The only thing it’s accomplished is to erode a number of constitutional rights we once took for granted, say critics.

If invasive, prison-style pat-downs are accepted by air travelers, then who knows what other kinds of searches the TSA might someday try?

The agency has ruled out more invasive searches, at least for now. But in a recent poll, one-third of Americans said they would be in favor of cavity searches to board a plane. No, you didn’t read that wrong. Cavity searches.

The next time a TSA agent asks you to do something you’re uncomfortable with, say something. You won’t just be helping yourself, but all of the passengers who pass through the checkpoint after you. And if enough passengers speak up, the TSA might stop treating us like inmates when we exercise our constitutional right to travel.

It can’t happen soon enough.

  • As a travel nurse, I was a frequent flyer for many, many years. At the time of retirement is when TSA was established and pat-downs started. I have not been on a plane, will not get on a plane, until the practice is stopped. I thank God it started when it did, because otherwise I would be making license plates behind bars somewhere. Miss traveling, but that is my small part of joining the protest. The day the molestation stops, I’ll fly again!

    • Susan, thank you. Your part of the protest is crucial. If more people were willing to do what you and I have done — stop flying — we’d bring the airlines to their knees in a few months. Then things would change. But most people aren’t willing to do this.

      I’m not now nor have I ever suggested everyone stop flying for all eternity. I have only urged that people who aren’t forced to fly stop flying for a brief time. Brief. To effect change. Two or three months of not flying seems to me a small sacrifice. But people get angry I say that. Sorry, folks, but social change requires sacrifice. It requires action.

  • Kevin Cody

    why shouldn’t we be treated as slaves to corporate/national security and associated interests…are we not chattel or property….how can they not treat us as such when we continue to allow it?

    Should we not terminate our citizenship to leadership and governance even Joe Stalin would approve of? How can we not resist our forced imprisonment and detention in debt peonage? How can we continue to not QUIT INDIA as Gandhi did? How can we not disobey civilly, as Thoreau did?

    I no longer file taxes. I no longer work for anything but cash. You should too. I no longer bank with the aristocratic banksters

    When we have a leadership which consists of, by and for The People and a system of government which is consistent with the rule of law. Then I shall abide by such, until then whatever consequences are better than any alternative.

    Seems this will only end until we QUIT being corporate tools of passive aggressiveness and insist through strike and disobedience we are free and that their money is funny, property of a private corporation known as the Federal Reserve, and we are done laughing. Money is there chain which binds us to slaving for them, until the 1% becomes the 100% we shall not be free, nor shall they. There is more to fear than fear itself.

    Socialism, Syndical Anarchy are my suggestions.

    • nveric

      “When we have a leadership which consists of, by and for The People and a system of government which is consistent with the rule of law.”

      Public Law 62-5 ended any legitimacy the federal government had, for representational increases in the House ended in 1929. Here’s the stuff needed to frame a valid argument with. Congress deliberately ended the republican form of government.

      Dropping out is one way to cope, but there must be an active struggle too. However, few American citizens understand the power structure they can control to end the madness of W.DC.

      http://www.aeinstein.org/selfLiberation.html contains some materials which provide the tools of resistance and learning how to prevail over the violence of that government in Washington DC.

  • Susan Richart

    I think it goes further than fear of retaliation by the TSA, Chris. There’s some deeper reason why more people don’t speak out after being violated by the TSA – the same reasons that sexual assault victims don’t speak out, feelings of shame, fear that people (other than the TSA) will say unkind things to you, wanting to forget it ever happened.

    What’s the answer? The answer is that everyone who has felt violated by the TSAshould speak out; if they did, this could end. Perhaps it is safer to not speak out at the airport while one is in a state of shock over being assaulted, but certainly one should speak out afterwards.

    After all, speaking out was what ended the practice of groping all women’s breasts after the alleged bra bombings in 2004.

    • Daisiemae

      What was that all about? I never heard of it.

      • There was tremendous push-back in 2004 when a few TSA agents starting pawing women’s breasts. Maureen Dowd wrote a column about in the NYT. It wasn’t TSA policy for every “pat-down” to be a gropefest like it is today. That was years before John Pistole came on board and instituted the Reign of Molestation.

        Hiding Breast Bombs
        Published: November 25, 2004

        • Daisiemae

          It’s amazing to me that this was happening and I never knew about. The first I ever heard about any of this was Sept 2010 when they unleashed the strip search machines.

  • “This has to end.”

    Unfortunately, it won’t. We’ve crossed the Rubicon. The United Sheeple of America have shown they’ll put up with anything.

    • nveric

      No, they crossed the line of legitimacy long ago. These are just more of the same things building since at least the end of WW2 created the National Defense and National Security State.

      Main stream America must read and learn their history. TSA is just another step. It’s only one more thing on the list – a small step compared to what will follow in the decades to come.

      There are tools to overcome these developments, but citizen perspective, and citizen will is still lacking. Efforts too are too focused on the small parts, such as this with TSA. While I agree the air travel pre-flight requirements are more than excessive, and it garners many who object, however, of these who object, how many support the two-party dictatorship which rules the country? How many die-hard Democrats and die-hard Republicans come here to comment?

      Reasoning that ending political party allegiance is required before understanding the scope of what the problems are, is a first step. Second is taking on the other issues even if they don’t seem to to be related, or even if they don’t seem to concern you.

      • All the abuses of the National Security State are related. And some of us have been speaking out about them for years. Some of us have lost jobs because we’ve spoken out. And some of us dropped off the bogus two-party bandwagon long ago.

        • nveric

          Good, so have I. The next step is?

          Getting “mainstream” people up to speed ?

          Learning that since 1929 there’s no longer a republican form of government at the federal level ?

          Understanding the source of political power ?

          Focusing displeasure / anger / outrage into valid and coherent language, absent colloquialisms, but including forceful words long established, reaching a greater audience – the required mass for effective action ?

          There are many opinions on how people can address these issues, and likewise there are many ways to be effective depending on the circumstances, such as, the issue, the people willing to confront, etc.

          Currently there are many individual issues being confronted in an overall haphazard way. While insulating each group, this way reduces the potential of all groups for more focused and effective action. Eventually groups and other people will need to join together if a goal is seen as mutually needed.

          Being spread out across the USA, people desiring such an effort to rein in or replace the federal government have a large task. Our current political system is adequate for such a task, because it still places a veil of legitimacy on those elected, but it’s a problematic system at best. This “veil of legitimacy” is what matters most in any system, even in the degenerate one in the US..

          But I’m running on here with what is common knowledge.

          As an Independent, I’ve no agenda other than a mutually beneficial society internally and externally.

          Non-Violent Force can prevail if done right.