by James Babb
The unconscionable behavior of the TSA is well known: the gropings, the humiliation, the naked scans, the rampant theft, etc. But could the TSA also be helping the cause of liberty?
As libertarians, we are often called upon to explain how government agencies are harmful to our society. We've all heard it before. "Without the Food and Drug Administration, we'd all be drinking lead based smoothies and eating rotten rat meat." "Without the Federal Communications Commission, we would have no iPhones." "Without the Federal Department of Transportation, we wouldn't have paved roads." "Without Social Security, old people would be starving in the streets." It often takes a fair amount of explaining to reveal how these bureaucracies have the opposite effect of their advertised purpose. Our best arguments are often dismissed without even the courtesy of a counter argument, because the pro-government view is considered self-evident.
Our society is largely conditioned to accept any government program at face value, even if people see that it isn't run well. One reason for this phenomena is that most agencies are out of the public view. The old media regularly regurgitates the official press releases, and with the exception of the post office and the IRS, most Americans have little direct interaction with the alphabet soup of regulatory monsters.
There is one program that is noticeably different. The Transportation Security Administration just can't hide from their own criminal behavior. Their evil deeds spread like wildfire on YouTube, and no amount of official orwellian newspeak can negate what Americans are seeing (and feeling) first hand. The victims of the TSA aren't criminal suspects, or "greedy" corporations, or even "dangerous" raw milk providers. The millions of victims from this agency are from all walks of life, and they are victimized in plain sight. This makes the TSA a unique window for many into the inner workings of government.
We Won't Fly (www.WeWontFly.com) was started by two regular dads who are opposed to the full-body airport 'porno' scanners on grounds of privacy, ineffectiveness and health. When the new scanners were headed to Philadelphia in the fall of 2010, I realized that my ability to travel by air with my young daughters was in serious jeopardy, so I began researching and organizing local opposition.
My friend and fellow freedom activist, George Donnelly immediately offered to build a website to support the effort. The website that George created, exploded across the internet within days, resulting in millions of web hits, tens of thousands of Facebook fans and twitter followers. Overnight, we found ourselves in the heart of the TSA resistance movement. The old media scrambled to catch up with the public's concern and the obvious moral issues raised by the new invasive procedures.
Our success is largely do to blog posts containing first hand accounts from travelers about the TSA's new invasive procedures. These stories and videos of average Americans being molested by government agents spread like wildfire. We have had the opportunity to educate tens of millions of people across the world about government abuse and the need to abolish the TSA. What started as a typical libertarian outreach project, became an international news story. In the weeks leading up to the infamous "National Opt-out Day" George and I did more interviews than we could count, around the clock. In addition to the cable and network news channels, media from the UK, Australia, Canada, Mexico, France, New Zealand, China, Iran, Poland, Brazil and many other countries wanted to talk to us.
The stories that really take off are those of average people like Meg McClain (http://wewontfly.com/question-tsa-risk) and John Tyner (http://wewontfly.com/traveler-to-tsa-agent). People are shocked to see what's happening to mothers, grandmothers, cancer survivors, children with special needs, and those with implants and prosthetics. Videos of children being groped by blue-shirted goons is particularly disturbing (http://wewontfly.com/why-the-no-patdowns-for-kids-campaign-could-end-the-tsa). The most vulnerable in our society were the first to take the brunt of TSA abuse. Now, no one is safe, not former Miss America, Susie Castillo (http://www.susiecastillo.net/blog/2011/4/25/my-tsa-pat-down-experience.html), not even US Congressmen (http://nation.foxnews.com/politics/2010/11/23/ron-paul-crotch-groped-tsa-calls-boycott-airlines) or hollywood celebrities (http://wilwheaton.typepad.com/wwdnbackup/2011/04/i-dont-feel-safe-i-feel-violated-humiliated-and-angry.html).
One of our best tools are the videos of TSA's perverted deeds. The TSA is itself a giant billboard, promoting their own banishment from civilized society. Every time they pat down a child, peak in to a diaper, or grope a grandma, statism is exposed. Every time another TSA groper is caught stealing, America's patience weakens. Every time a TSA bureaucrat opens her tax-fattened maw, the bald faced tyrannical agenda is revealed. Libertarians have never had an easier job exposing the true nature of government. The TSA has unwittingly handed us a wonderful teaching opportunity. If the best way to make a vegetarian is a tour of the slaughter house, videos of the TSA are a great way to make libertarians.
Anyone with a shred of decency knows that what the TSA is doing is immoral and totally unacceptable. This is well beyond conservative, liberal or libertarian, beyond race, age or economics. This is a matter of basic human dignity. This problem is beyond the point of reform. There is no "better way" to strip search a child or a more "professional way" to feel up our grandmothers. This is not an issue of TSA training. Its not even an issue of security. This is about the fundamental coercive nature of government. As libertarians, we can help people make the connection between the abuse they see with everything else the government does, including the endless wars of aggression and foreign meddling.
Our job is to reveal the TSA as the latex gloved, tip of the iceberg. The public is outraged because they see a TSA hand reaching into our waistband. We can show that everything the government does is a hand in our pants.The public is outraged about nude scans of our families. We can show how the IRS forces us to reveal far more than any x-ray scanner.
Politicians wage endless wars of aggression abroad, participates in regime change, meddle in foreign elections, impose sanctions and blockades and then claim that we must let them grope our children and irradiate us because crazy foreigners "hate us for our freedom." The police state at home and the empire abroad are flip sides of the same coin. We can help outraged Americans make that connection.
Eyebrows have been raised by the windfall profits of former Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff who now works for Rapiscan Systems selling scanners to the TSA. While on the public dole, he lobbied hard for the purchase of Rapiscan branded porno-scanners. Libertarians weren't surprised to see another tax-feeder step through the revolving door. We can show that this is the rule, not the exception. It is no different than Monsanto's chief lobbyist Michael Taylor becoming Obama's "food-czar," or former Goldman Sachs CEO becoming the United States Treasury Secretary.
In addition to providing us with these wonderful teaching opportunities, the TSA has done us another huge favor. The TSA has become a rallying point for the new progressive/libertarian alliance. People are united against a common foe. Left, right, progressive, libertarian, religious, atheist People from all philosophical, political and economic backgrounds now stand shoulder to shoulder against tyranny. For example, during an interview with progressive San Francisco radio host Peter B. Collins, he mentioned to me that as a liberal, there usually isn't a government program he doesn't like, but the TSA makes him feel like a "nutty libertarian."
At a recent TSA opposition conference (http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/SecurityProced) the Electronic Privacy Information Center assembled a wide range of speakers including hardcore anarchists, politicians, libertarian-conservatives and liberals. LP executive director Wes Benedict noted "When Libertarians and Ralph Nader agree a program is bad...it's time for our government to listen."
The TSA has handed us a wonderful teaching opportunity. They are doing all the work, we just need to help people fit the visible abuses into the bigger picture.
Could TSA opposition become a catalyst for a wider rebellion? I think it can. Millions have been exposed to the true nature of government. The false left/right paradigm has been weakened and many Americans have reached the limit of sufferable abuse. As we bring down the TSA, we are tugging on the stings of the empire. Eventually, the entire tapestry may unravel. So, while we curse the outrageous crimes of the TSA, let's hope history will show this to be a key historical tipping point toward freedom.
James Babb is a small business owner, musician, father and libertarian activist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is a co-founder of We Won't Fly (www.WeWontFly.com).
Inspired by James Babb and George Donnelly, Phoenix got busy...