Gropers To Gropees: Shut Up And Take It, Or Hit The Road

Politics & Current Events

I believe in American exceptionalism. That means I believe that our history and values and sacrifices and our learned-from wrongs combine to make something unique and wonderful and worth protecting and celebrating. That exceptionalism is not a function of geography or an accident of birth. It's a result of fidelity — of adherence to shared values that make us mighty. I may disagree with others about what it means when it comes to policy and practice, but I believe firmly that it is true.

Americans can be murdered by terrorists, but shared values cannot be destroyed by guns and bombs and planes. Yet our adversaries in the "War on Terror" can most certainly win. They can win by frightening us into infidelity to our values, into betraying our best selves. Some would argue that they are already winning by that measure.

I can see what they mean. When we allow ourselves to be irrationally frightened into letting upjumped smirking thugs grope us, gape at our nads, and tell us we have to take it, we're losing. We're being unfaithful to what makes us great.

I'm talking, of course, about the Transportation Security Agency.

We've blogged a fair amount about the TSA here, and not in a flattering way. We've talked about how the TSA can't distinguish between a thing and a picture of a thing, thinks that it has authority to investigate illicit cash (and believes that telling them it's none of their business represents suspicious behavior), relies on junk science to "detect" danger, feels entitled to your unquestioning obedience (and tries to earn it not with competence but with, in effect, a also-ran muppet), and is vigilant against pressing dangers like Decepticons. Of course, if you recruit on pizza boxes, you're not going to wind up with Elliot Ness. You're going to get people who use the body scanners to make fun of people's genitals, pretend to find cocaine in passengers' luggage as a prank, steal from carry-ons, and generally act like badged choads. Oh, and sex offenders. Don't forget the sex offenders. A security checkpoint is Walt Disney World for them.

As with so many other Security State measures added since 9/11, in the face of intrusive Security Theater the public has mostly confined its dissent to grumbling about inconvenience and delay. We don't focus enough on those measures being revoltingly intrusive. That's because we're easy to scare and fundamentally innumerate. As Wil Wilkerson points out, we're only cowed into being abused because we were told there would be no math:

I think this is one of those subjects that demands we step back, take a deep breath, and consider with a clear mind just how phenomenally idiotic the government's policy of increasingly invasive degradation really is. Law-abiding travelers, who pose approximately zero risk of terrorism, and offer no ground for reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing, must run this gauntlet of abasement because airplanes were once made the instrument of mass death. The odds of being a victim of terrorism on a flight are approximately 1 in 10,408,947—rather less than the 1 in 500,000 odds of getting killed by lightning.

Would we submit to standing in line and having government workers rifle through our pockets and ask us annoying questions before being allowed to go outside on a stormy day, to reduce the chance of being hit by lightening? No. But we've submitted to far worse from the TSA because we've allowed the government to scare the bejeesus out of us about bin Laden being in every overhead bin, and convinced ourselves that it actually makes good sense to spend an hour of our trip standing in line and being probed by a guy in a polyester shirt, but no sense to spend five more minutes on our trip by driving the speed limit on the way to the airport, even though driving is many orders of magnitude more likely to kill us. We've allowed ourselves to be scared moronic and compliant. Like cows.

Now, however, the TSA might possibly have found a way to startle the herd into genuine anger and defiance. The TSA has rolled out its program requiring you to submit to either a body-revealing scan or a gropefest patdown. Between revealing full-body scanners and the alternative "enhanced pat-downs," Americans are as close as they have been since 9/11 to calling bullshit on the ever-increasing Security Theater. Is the TSA managing that anger well? Of course not. Some of them smirk that we like it. Still others are clearly furious that the cows are no longer, well, cowed. There are increasing reports that the enhanced pat downs are being threatened, and used, in an angry and retaliatory fashion by government employees who are upset that we don't want our practically naked bodies displayed on scanners. Consider this story from a groped rape survivor:

I said I didn’t want them to see me naked and the agent started yelling Opt out- we have an opt here. Another agent took me aside and said they would have to pat me down. He told me he was going to touch my genitals and asked if I wouldn’t rather just go through the scanner, that it would be less humiliating for me. I was in shock. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I kept saying I don’t want any of this to happen. I was whispering please don’t do this, please, please.”

Since Celeste didn’t agree to go through the scanner, the enhanced pat down began. “He started at one leg and then ran his hand up to my crotch. He cupped and patted my crotch with his palm. Other flyers were watching this happen to me. At that point I closed my eyes and started praying to the Goddess for strength. He also cupped and then squeezed my breasts. That wasn’t the worst part. He touched my face, he touched my hair, stroking me. That’s when I started crying. It was so intimate, so horrible. I feel like I was being raped. There’s no way I can fly again. I can’t do it.”

Think she's alone at being treated like that? Think she's being over-sensitive? Think again. Oh, think again.

Of course TSA agents are angry when you don't herd obligingly through the scanner. They feel entitled to it, as a matter of right, based on what the modern Security State envisions that Americans should be. When the TSA expressed angst that "unquestioning compliance has diminished", it was tipping its hand. The purpose of Security Theater is not only to prevent actual security threats. The purpose of Security Theater is to convince us that the government can do something and is doing something, and most importantly to make us accept "unquestioning compliance" with government as an American value. The purpose of Security Theater is to normalize submission. But "unquestioning compliance" is not an American value. Quite the contrary. In a nation in which we owe fidelity to shared values, accepting unquestioning compliance with government is like sneaking out on the wife and kids and nailing the smeared-lipstick cosmo-addled skank at the sleazy bar in the next town. And don't come crying back to your wife Liberty and your kids Personal Responsibility and deal little Individuality when you pick up a nasty case of authoritarianism oozing from your — ok, I'm going to have to pull this literary device over and walk.

The proponents of the Security State — and the people who make their living from it — think just shut up and obey. Take the blogger Mom vs. the World, a former TSA agent. Even though she questions the value of the scanners, and even though she thinks the enhanced pat-downs are bullshit, she remains captured by the TSA mindset. Her view of the proper relationship between the state and the citizen is typified by her post Shut Up And Get In The Scanner. Aside from asserting, basically, that what should really embarrass us is not being scanned or groped, but the fact that we're a pack of quarreling, vibrator-carrying, trash-dressing, child-abusing trailer trash, she offers this:

Flying is a privilege not a right. As such, it can be and is regulated. Requirements can and are set up to ensure that everyone who flies is safe. If you don’t like it, then don’t fly. You may not be as concerned as the next guy about the safety or you may be more concerned. Point is the job of TSA is to ensure the entire traveling public is safe not just you. TSA officers don’t care what you as an individual want, they can’t, it just isn’t possible. You may be ok with lax security but what about the next passenger who wants thorough security?

Your right to privacy isn’t being violated at all. You always have the option to drive a car, take a train, grab the bus or start rowing a boat. You do not have to fly, you just want to fly. The minute you decide you want to fly then you have to accept that security is involved and you are going to have consent and submit to it period the end.

. . . .

Now if you want to fly, suck it up and accept that you have to submit to the security procedures. Yes you think they are stupid or unnecessary but TSA officers and TSA don’t care what you think. They try to make it all warm and fuzzy but they can’t because it is security not a trip to Disney World. Shut up and get in the scanner or don’t fly.

Well, "Mom", if flying is a "privilege, not a right," it's because over the last century we have gradually accepted the proposition that anything the government tells us it can regulate, it can regulate. Unlike "Mom", Justice Stewart knows a right when he sees it: "The constitutional right to travel from one State to another . . . occupies a position fundamental to the concept of our Federal Union. It is a right that has been firmly established and repeatedly recognized." Of course, rights are subject to limitations. Should the right to travel be limited by forced subservience to groping for purposes of Security Theater?

Now, I'm not saying that Mom is herself a perverted thug, like the people she's saying we should just obey. I'm saying that she's a sneering, entitled apologist for perverted thugs — and for the canine, un-American value of slobbery submission to the state. Even though she concedes that the groping is retaliatory bullshit, and even though she has no basis to assert that Security Theater actually increases real security, she's deeply resentful that people are not putting up with it. Her righteous anger — like the anger of of the TSA thugs groping just a little bit harder to punish you for saying no to the body scanner — is the result we should expect from the small-time thugs whose identity is tied up in their petty authority.

Throughout my career — both as a prosecutor and as a defense attorney — I've observed a consistent inverse relationship: the more petty a government officer's authority, the more that officer will feel a need to swagger and demand that you RESPECT HIS AUTHORITAH. Your average FBI agent might search your house based on a crappy perjured warrant, invade your attorney-client emails, and flush your life down the toilet by lying on the stand at your mail fraud trial. But he doesn't feel a need to vogue and posture to prove anything in the process. He's the FBI. But God above help you when you run into the guy with a badge from some obscure and puny government agency with a narrow fiefdom. He and his Napoleon syndrome have got something to prove. And he's terrified that you'll not take him very, very seriously. When I call FBI agents on behalf of my clients, they're cool but professional and nonchalant. When I call a small agency — say, state Fish & Game, or one of the minor agency Inspector Generals — they're hostile, belligerent, and so comically suspicious that you'd think I was asking for their permission to let my client smuggle heroin into the country in the anuses of handicapped Christian missionary orphans. They are infuriated, OUTRAGED, when a client asserts rights, when a client fails to genuflect and display unquestioning obedience. They are, in short, the TSA.

The media is trying out the story-of-the-week that the populace is revolting against the TSA, and against Security Theater. It might even be a little bit true.

It's about godammed time.

Hat Tip: Reason.

Edited to add: a guy refuses to stand for it, and encounters various forms of TSA ignorance and aggression.

Another addition: "Heads up, got a cutie for you."

Another: Parody. But only barely.

“We need to do a better job of setting the mood,” Napolitano continued. ”At airport security areas we are going to start dimming the lights a bit. We will also be playing Kenny G music softly. While escorting passengers to the renamed “Happy Area”, TSA security will be required to talk a little bit about themselves. I think it will really be an enjoyable experience.”

And Another: Hate kids? Love kids more than currently legal? Either way, a career at TSA has you covered!

And still more: Really, who am I to criticize the brave men and women of the TSA, who are all that stands between us and the menacing terrorist snowglobes?

More: The hashtag #TSASlogans on Twitter is made of awesome.

More, again: A dissenting view.

More, the revenge: and this is why we seek bromance with Iowahawk.

More: Sure sounds like sexual assault to me.

Last 5 posts by Ken White



  1. Mike  •  Nov 12, 2010 @6:47 pm


    I saw the Mom v. The World linked from another site. Might even have been approvingly linked. Can't tell.

    I became enraged when I read that line about flying being a privilege. Really? I need to ask some petty TSA agent permission to get on a plane?

    Can't effing believe we've come to this state of affairs.

  2. Charles  •  Nov 12, 2010 @7:13 pm

    New Business Idea: Selling "I'm a Grower not a Shower" shirts near the TSA screening checkpoints at airports.

  3. Joe  •  Nov 12, 2010 @7:41 pm

    Wow. I could not believe some of the things I read when I clicked on the links in your article. Crazy.

  4. Scott Jacobs  •  Nov 12, 2010 @8:10 pm

    I liked the XKCD idea of passing out viagra… If they want a show, I say we give them one.

    I, on the other hand, plan on opting out, and then moaning during the pat-down. Maybe grind a little bit…

  5. Base of the Pillar  •  Nov 12, 2010 @8:20 pm

    Shouldn't a woman be able to request a woman for a pat down?

  6. Robert  •  Nov 12, 2010 @9:43 pm

    TSA agents and baggage handlers who steal should be charged with terrorism and prosecuted as terrorists.

  7. Charles  •  Nov 12, 2010 @9:49 pm

    Base of the Pillar: I thought the rule was that men pat down men and women pat down women. That was always the case in pre-dickscan days, when people were randomly selected for extra attention.

  8. Kathy  •  Nov 12, 2010 @9:59 pm

    Excellent post. I'm wondering the same as Base of the Pillar – shouldn't a woman be able to request a woman for a pat-down? How horrible for anyone, but especially for a rape survivor. It's too bad that in this case, objecting at the gate will only arouse suspicion. (and hopefully nothing else)

  9. Chris  •  Nov 13, 2010 @9:48 am

    Too many Americans don't call out other americans for doing this bullshit. Public shunning should be the norm. Get a job working for the TSA and your barber refuses to cut your hair, your bartender doesn't pour you a drink. You tell someone what you do and they react with an "F you, you F'n F."

    It needs to be a stigma.

  10. Contracts  •  Nov 13, 2010 @12:43 pm

    Really, though, what did you expect from Mom?

  11. Shylock Holmes  •  Nov 14, 2010 @7:23 pm

    The other alternative is to try to make it as awkward as possible for the agents by giving an exaggerated show of enjoying it. There's no reason why touching a guy's balls can't be made incredibly uncomfortable for the person forced to do it, via some of the following lines:

    "I think I'm getting an erection"

    "So your job involves touch other guys' balls for $8 an hour, huh? I guess they didn't have any openings at Burger King"

    "If I throw in a crisp George Washington, could you pat down my penis as well?"

    Some others I came up with are here.

  12. Vice Magnet  •  Nov 14, 2010 @9:30 pm

    So by extension should the TSA not be patting me down in my garage? Driving is a privilege, just follow the red light camera pushers, before that the seat belt regulators, who are related to the motorcycle helmet wearers.

  13. Patrick  •  Nov 15, 2010 @5:12 am

    The courts tell us that interstate travel is a right guaranteed under the United States Constitution. The disconnect is that all of the means of travel, except for walking or riding horseback, are a privilege. That goes for boating, driving, and flying.

    If you can't walk to another state and you don't know how to ride a horse, you have only one option if you want to avoid being subject to petty tyrants.

  14. CTrees  •  Nov 15, 2010 @8:03 am
  15. John  •  Nov 15, 2010 @8:30 am

    Having had friends blown up on airplanes–not to mention buildings in several countries–I come at this from a slightly different perspective.

    I don't want to get blown up. That's entirely outside my life plan. I will happily comply with security regulations that have a chance, even if imperfect, of reducing the likelihood of my dying in an exploding airplane. As common courtesy, I hope my fellow passengers share my willingness to be scanned and/or frisked.

    Perhaps, too, because I've lived and traveled through countries with far more onerous security regimes, I don't find this current scheme particularly offensive.

    The fact is, there are people out there trying to blow up airplanes. If they were to stop that, then at least half of this security crap would go away.

    Are the scans and pat-downs likely to catch a bomber? Likely not. Are they likely to deter a bomber? Maybe. Do they shut off one mode of terrorism, or at least make it more difficult? Probably.

    I'd rather be scanned than 'groped', but I'll do either if it enhances my survivability. Do that make me sheeple? If you like.

  16. Dan Weber  •  Nov 15, 2010 @9:05 am

    Flying is already vastly safer than driving. The more of a hassle that flying becomes, the more people drive, and the more people that die from driving.

    How many planes are taken down by objects on a passenger's person? (9/11 pointed out an error in our risk analysis, but since cockpit doors have been secured, that cannot happen again.) I'm willing to let an individual airline due enhanced screening, if people who don't want to fly on that airline aren't subject to it. Let Qantas set up a second security perimeter around their gates if they want.

    Maybe if our TSA employees were really professionals, like El Al's security personnel are, we might feel different about this.

  17. Ken  •  Nov 15, 2010 @9:27 am

    John, I don't think you're a sheep. But I do wonder: where's the line, for you? Can you imagine security measures where you'd say "bullshit, you're making that up" or "I won't stand for that?"

  18. mojo  •  Nov 15, 2010 @9:53 am

    Wear a kilt. And grin a lot.

  19. CTrees  •  Nov 15, 2010 @10:03 am


    Huh. I've heard the "wear a speedo" comment thrown around, but neither I nor anyone I've discussed this with has brought up "wear a kilt." Which then begs the question… If one is wearing a kilt, is there any legal obligation to wear underwear? As I understand it, it's not traditional, and you *are* fully covered under any circumstances but being fondled by government agents, so kilt+commando would not *normally* be considered inappropriate.


  20. Ken  •  Nov 15, 2010 @10:06 am

    For all that TSA is now staffed by people empowered to grope your junk at Burger King wages, I guaran-freaking-tee you that if you indulge in any creative civil disobedience or theater like showing up in a kilt or commando, the TSA will try to have you arrested for public indecency. Because only they are empowered by the law to perv out at the airport.

  21. Marco73  •  Nov 15, 2010 @10:44 am

    Too bad the MSM is looking at only the barking dogs, and not at the dog that isn't barking. It would just take a couple intrepid reporters to dig up the financial connections between the scanner manufacturers and TSA administration. It sounds almost too simple, but I cannot believe that these scanners would be installed everywhere, with all the collateral hassles, and no one is making any money on it. Maybe I'm too naive, but there just cannot be that many perverts out there to fully staff all the groping stations for the TSA.

  22. Patrick  •  Nov 15, 2010 @10:56 am

    These aren't ordinary metal detectors Marco. They're only installed in the busiest airports, places like Los Angeles and New York, where the pervert supply is nearly limitless.

  23. Reginod  •  Nov 15, 2010 @11:44 am

    Marco73 — Not quite MSM, but the folks at the Washington Examiner have done the investigation — it turns out it is Congress and not the TSA that is corrupt in this case.

  24. W. Ian Blanton  •  Nov 15, 2010 @11:50 am

    I find the comment from John the most intriguing.
    "Probably not", "maybe", "probably".

    Like Ken, I kind of wonder what it WOULD take before someone with this perspective would call "enough".

    Here's my issue in a nutshell (pun unintended) – Efforts spent on "Probably not" take away money probably better spent on better trained TSA screeners, for example.

    I'll admit, I'lm willing to trade off some liberty for security. But I won't do it for BS, and that's really all we're seeing right now, John. And Security Theater actually makes us LESS safe, because we're watching the show, instead of watching our asses. (which is now the TSA's job, just not in a good way, apparently)

  25. W. Ian Blanton  •  Nov 15, 2010 @11:58 am

    Actually Marco, the Washington Examiner has an article on this, There's definitely money being made here, including George Soros (Links at bottom of article)

  26. Bob  •  Nov 15, 2010 @12:07 pm

    Has there been any movement on the objection that these things create child-pornography?

  27. Marco73  •  Nov 15, 2010 @12:34 pm

    Thanks for the reply on the scanner manufacturers/lobbyist connection. Well at least the financial incentives are bipartisan. I had almost lost my faith in government corruption.

  28. Dan Weber  •  Nov 15, 2010 @7:52 pm

    Your "dissent" makes a good point. TSA sucks partly because we, as a country, suck.

    Can the citizens credibly signal to the government that "if a plane comes down, we won't blame you; we realize that these things happen"?

  29. Scott Jacobs  •  Nov 16, 2010 @12:51 am

    You know the dude in San Diego who used his cell phone to record some of his interaction with the Grope Police?

    The TSA has decided to double-down on the "stupid".

  30. CTrees  •  Nov 16, 2010 @5:49 am

    I asked my attorney. Advice I got was that they'd almost certainly arrest me, that they'd almost certainly not be able to make any charges stick, and that it'd be hilarious.

    So yeah.

  31. John  •  Nov 16, 2010 @8:12 am

    Where will I draw the line? I guess it depends. If I want to go to Israel, Israeli security (as well as El Al airline) has the right to perform body cavity searches, if they see the need. If I want to go to Israel, I either accept that or don't go. If my job requires me to go to Israel, then I've got a different choice, one that involves losing my job. (I've had young, blonde, female, Caucasian friends internally probed on arrival in Israel because of curious visa patterns, so this is not utterly a rhetorical argument, btw.)

    I'm flying this week. On one or more legs of my travel, I may be offered the opportunity to select between a scan and a grope. As I was at my Urologist only last week, I'm not going to wilt at the prospect of the grope. If TSA decides to go for my prostate, then I might squawk. As I frequent clothing-optional beaches, I'm not going to faint or infarct if some guy in a closet gets a grainy, anonymous look at my junk.

    Clearly, my line is in a different place than the majority of the commenters here.

  32. John  •  Nov 16, 2010 @9:22 am

    I can't believe what I'm reading here and at some of the links! As an American I am apalled and disgusted that these things are happening here, in my country to my fellow Americans and sanctioned by our government! This is horrible! I decided several years back that I would not be flying anymore as I did not feel it was worth the hassles. Now its become a public safety issue as I would hurt someone were I, one of mine, or even an innocent stranger treated in the fashions I'm reading about in front of me! This in not security, this is compiance training. This is seeing "what we can get away with" while conditioning Americans to meekly take more and more. What has happened to my country?

  33. Scott Jacobs  •  Nov 16, 2010 @9:47 am

    The difference, John, is that El Al's methods work, and the only make such demands of passengers if there's a good reason.

    The TSA only does it because it makes them feel important.

  34. John  •  Nov 16, 2010 @11:36 am

    No, Scott, they do it because Congress tells them to do it and doesn't bother checking to see if it makes sense. TSA did not suddenly awake one morning and say to itself, "Let's go for the feel-up!" If you're going to shoot, at least aim at the right target.

  35. Hans Schantz  •  Nov 16, 2010 @11:45 am

    Thanks for compiling such a detailed piece. I cited it in my post: How Full-Body Scanners Work – and Fail (

  36. Scott Jacobs  •  Nov 16, 2010 @11:59 am

    John, please show me where Congress said "full grope if they refuse the scanner". It was a decisions by the agency, NOT Congress.

  37. RobertB  •  Nov 18, 2010 @12:24 pm

    Pretty sure your link is to Will Wilkinson, not Wil Wilkerson.

  38. bob  •  Nov 19, 2010 @10:07 am

    COWARDS like JOHN, willing to sacrifice freedom for safety, frighten me far more than the TSA.

  39. me  •  Nov 20, 2010 @1:28 am

    Well, flying is a privilege, not a right. Driving a car is a privilege, not a right. Living where you choose to is a privilege, not a right. Saying what you feel like saying… associating with whom you choose to associate… breathing… living.

    I find that formula is always short for power grab.

  40. Bill L  •  Nov 20, 2010 @10:25 am

    I would like to know if everyone (except pilots) have to go through the screening process each time they leave and enter the “secure” area. That includes TSA agents, vendors, mechanics, baggage handlers and others that work in the “secure” area.

    It would also be interesting to know how many congress people and other high ranking government officials have gotten patted down.

  41. hillbilly  •  Nov 21, 2010 @6:49 pm

    I've seen Israel and El Al mentioned a few times.

    We could learn a lot from El Al.

    Israel has this really crazy, whacko, screwed-up idea that the way to stop terrorists is to look for terrorists, not harass everyone on the plane.

    El Al will search your body's cavities, if they think you are a terrorist.

    Of course, in the USA, where we have a terminal case of political correctness, we have to suspect EVERYBODY of being a terrorist.

    Because looking for potential terrorists means you look at male Muslims from certain countries most of the time.

    You know, PROFILING.

    Gasp, wheeze, gag….we can't do that! NO! We've got to strip-search six-year-olds and take nudie pics of granny, instead.

    We are so stupid as a nation and a culture that we almost deserve this crap.

  42. BEG65  •  Sep 9, 2011 @1:52 pm

    My favorite present comment going around (though I don't know that it has been verified) is that statistically you are more likely to be executed by Rick Perry than you are to die in a plane crash. So maybe TSA should be redeployed to Texan borders to really increase on saving lives…

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