Don’t touch my junk! Irresistible headline, predictable results

So how is it that after nearly a decade of ridiculous security theater at the airport — from taking off our shoes and belts to the body scanners introduced years ago, but only taken notice of this week, the U.S. suddenly erupted into a frenzy of TSA hatred that captured both the left and the right? Well…

It started with a Libertarian activist — Libertarians being all the rage since Ron Paul and the tea parties came along — who decided to go through airport security, and low and behold, to videotape his experience. Now how did it just so happen that this kid was rolling when his proverbial junk was getting touched? If you were wondering that this week, I guess I’m you. From Moe Tkacik at the Washington City Paper, a bit of background about the anti-junk touching activist in question:

What has gone under-appreciated in the media frenzy over John Charles “Don’t Touch My Junk” Tyner III is that he was preceded in his online activism by one Meg “Smeg” McLain, who first raised a shitstorm over her personal traumatic experience of being physically violated whole days before Tyner embarked upon his hunting trip. On a libertarian radio show to which she regularly contributes, McLain shared her Orwellian tale of being “singled out” for a body scan and when she refused, placed in solitary confinement and submitted to a 30-minute lecture about terrorism at the hands of a nasty TSA apparatchik who mocked her for having “opinions” and ripped her plane ticket in half before summoning 12 fellow agents and cops to handcuff her and drag her out of the airport. The only reason this wasn’t a wayyyyy sexier story than Don’t Touch My Junk guy was that it seemed—after all, as one of the libertarian hosts pointed out, McLain is “smokin’ hot” albeit in a “Nickelback on iPod” sort of way—was because the TSA quickly released surveillance video suggesting that maybe McLain had, in her post-traumatic state, stretched the truth juuuust a bit.

But Das Krapital would much like to see McLain re-instated as the lead star of the #tsa meme—not least because she belongs to Free Keene, an intriguing community of liberty activists in Keene, N.H., probably best-known for its organization, in warmer months, of a ritual called Topless Tuesdays, in which young libertarian ladies, led by the lovely (and libertar-ially tattooed) Cassidy Nicosia, parade through the streets exposing their nipples like the socialists used to, sometimes while carrying guns.

I can’t find McLain in the movement’s relatively chaste footage of these inspiring acts of civil disobedience, but Keene is a very small town—so small the Free Keene movement’s goal of getting 20,000 “liberty minded” people to move there would nearly double the population. So it’s no surprise that McLain and Nicosia are friends on Facebook and, most likely, judging from their mutual attendance at this 420-themed thing and probably a bunch of other events extensively documented on the Internet that I don’t have time to find right now, in real life also. But since McLain seems like the Free Keene movement’s designated airport anarchist—according to this interview she often attempts to fly without showing ID—it was probably a good idea to “opt out” of getting herself arrested for flashing her tits to the general public before she got the opportunity to be arrested for refusing to show them to the TSA.

So who exactly are these Free Keene people? Do go on…

The Free Keene movement was founded by a political science professor at SUNY Buffalo named Jason Sorens, an affiliated scholar of the ardently free-market Mercatus Center at George Mason University, which was in turn funded, and is bankrolled in large part, by famous billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. The project dates back to 2001, when Sorens, then a Yale PhD., published an essay in the Libertarian Enterprise calling for a “secessionist” project by which all the nation’s foes of big government would migrate to various clusters of freedom scattered across the union with the goal of eventually annexing territories and liberating them from laws, or something like that. The essay made the rounds, and the next year Sorens got a fellowship from the Institute for Humane Studies, which is also located at George Mason and funded by Charles and David Koch. There, Sorens had rebranded his “secession” movement into something called the Free States Project, which proceeded to host a 10-state convention tour of sorts to determine the ideal location to host a kind of Zionist movement for disenfranchised lovers of liberty.

… Sorens, who also got help from another Koch scholar named Peter Eyre, eventually fixed on New Hampshire, where according to this story the nebulous movement proceeded buying up properties under the names of various limited liability corporations. At some point the movement migrated south from Grafton, N.H., to Keene, and Sorens delegated responsibility to Ian “Freeman” Bernard, the host of a syndicated radio show called Free Talk Live and an apparently brilliant guerilla marketing mind. Since he joined the movement, the Keeniacs have garnered national attention for stunts like Topless Tuesdays and calling for intellectual comrades to drink alcohol on public property in protest of the tyranny that is the local open container statute. On the subtler side, Bernard seems to have wooed the hearts and minds of liberty minded individuals turned off by the Tea Party Movement …

So what does that have to do with airport security? Well, it seems that John Charles Tyner decided to take his iPhone to the airport and record an incident, which he then uploaded to Youtube. He picks up a link from Matt Drudge, and Presto! He’s “the business traveler’s Rosa Parks.” (Jesus…)

Still, as the folks at Gawker point out, this, like the tea party movement, is something of a velvet revolution, since whether it’s the so-called “porno scanners” or the infamous pat down (I’ve had one, it’s really not that spectacular…) Americans are on the TSA’s side:

More Americans think 9/11 was an inside job than oppose naked X-ray screenings at airports. But the ones who oppose the X-rays happen to have access to your televisions and computers, so America is freaking out about the TSA.

The poll data is about as stark as it gets: 81% of respondents to a CBS News poll say they support full-body X-rays at airports, while 15% were opposed. (The number who think planted explosives brought down the Twin Towers: 16%). There aren’t many U.S. policies that receive such widespread support, and that poll was taken just a week and a half ago. Back in January, a Gallup poll found that 78% of frequent travelers support scans that display “a graphic image of a person’s body underneath his or her clothes.

n other words, America is overwhelmingly, categorically, and incontrovertibly unconcerned about naked x-rays. So why are we all freaking out about naked x-rays? Politico’s Ben Smith sums it up:

There’s no doubt about who won on this issue: Matt Drudge chose it and drove it, illustrating both his continued power and his great sense of the public mood, and it now seems a matter of time until he gets results.

Smith is right that the TSA freakout is a classic example of the Drudge-driven bullshit story. But it goes beyond that. Drudge’s obsession with the scanners—and the junk-touching that, it needs to be repeated, only comes into play for folks who refuse to go through the scanners—fits in with his general paranoid worldview. But it also fits in with the fact that he flies all the time. He told the London Times that he spends 30% of his time traveling, and does things like fly to London on a whim for dinner. Most of the producers, reporters, writers, and other assorted hacks who followed Drudge’s instructions to concoct a populist revolt against the scanners also fly all the time. They’re among the 16% who oppose them because they don’t want, personally, to have to go through them.

Even after the media freak out, 64 percent of Americans continue to approve of the TSA procedures, with those who fly more frequently objecting slightly more than those who don’t. That proves two things: the media badgering worked to sour public opinion, but public opinion never did reinforce the breadth and clamour of the media coverage.

Worse, it turns out that while there are genuine stories of TSA horror, and many people who’ve traveled by plane, myself included, have been annoyed at the TSA’s procedures and hold-ups, many of the most egregious tales are in fact false. That little boy wasn’t made to take his shirt off – his dad took it off. There are no exceptions for Muslim women in hijabs. And the “don’t touch my junk” guy didn’t react to a spontaneous act of groin touching by an overzealous agent. He set the whole thing up to gain attention for his Libertarian cause.  And of course, the story place neatly into the wingersphere’s paranoid fantasies about Barack Obama rounding them up and putting them in dog pens, or whatever dastardly deed Beck and those fatheads at Big Government are dreaming up this week.

So why is this story getting so much airtime?

1. Because media people travel a lot, so this story interests them.
2. Because the story is a great holiday mover during what’s normally a slow media season
3. Because it’s a great opportunity to restate a catchy phrase over and over again, plus a way to milk that damned SNL clip for all it’s bloody worth.

And once again, the left has proved a useful partner to the far right on this one, since the sturm and drang over the pat downs received by like 2 percent of passengers has now opened the door to the people, like Florida’s John Mica, who have wanted all along to prevent the TSA from replacing the former private system with one of professional federal employees who god forbid might be unionized. Instead, the Micas of the world are now pushing to re-privatize airport security, which will benefit airport security corporations like the one former Homeland Security director Michael Chertoff lobbies for, even more than the public system has — and the public system has been very, very good to Michael Chertoff (and to Tom Daschle’s wife, who also lobbies for a security concern. Did I mention Daschle was also a cosponosr of the the legislation that created the TSA in 2001? So was John McCain, and a then-Rep. Jim DeMint…) Oh, and Mica takes lots of money from those companies who would benefit from privatization… and of course, Ron Paul has introduced a bill to abolish the TSA altogether (and let the private airlines profile people however they want.)

In the end, it’s all just media roulette, with the only sure winner being the corporate interests who profit while the rest of us squabble over whether to put our shoes in a separate container or the same one as our handbags.

As for the machines — maybe they’ll eventually be replaced by something equally profitable for someone, we’ll have to take off some other article of clothing in response to the next creative would-be bomber, and the vicious cycle will continue. Or maybe the suddenly national security unconscious GOP will succeed in removing all impediments to flying that might inconvenience their friends (better to just profile the “Muslim looking people) and the better to blame Barack Obama the next time an airliner gets blown up.

Meanwhile, allow me to associate myself completely with this.

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6 Responses to Don’t touch my junk! Irresistible headline, predictable results

  1. Flo says:

    A friend of mine has a flight to catch on Wednesday, and is now petrified; these horror stories are on the verge of ruining her Thanksgiving holiday (serves her right, she’s a Brit.) Everyone, turn in your traumatic story so the media can perpetuate this a bit longer; while we’re sick of turning on the news and hearing “don’t touch my junk” for the millionth time, it is better than seeing Bristol Palin dancing, or hearing a reading from Sarah’s book.

  2. Rupert says:

    So we have conservatives (“libertarians”???) who for years were willing to give up any rights and liberties (excecpt 2nd amendment) if Cheney/Bush said it was necessary for security (“9-11, 9-11″), NOW worrying about their right to have their junk left alone; anything to do with there being a Democrat in the WH?

  3. G says:


    As a person who is on the left, I still am not in favor of the TSA. I don’t think it makes us whiners, either. I just believe the following…
    1. if the bomb makes it to the airport, you’ve already lost (imagine it exploding on increasingly long screening lines!?!)
    2. The security regimen is more theater than protection.

    Furthermore, Nate Silver, a while back, noted the statistically tiny chance of another airplane attack. The point is, this stupidly large investment, with shades of cronyism, isn’t a good thing because the right hates it. And if you think that Israeli airport security is some panacea (like Sauders seems to), then I encourage you to read what Matt Yglesias has said about it.


    • jreid says:

      I’ve never said Israeli security is a panacea. Last time I checked that country had more terrorism than just about any this side of Iraq.

  4. jean says:

    I don’t disagree that American’s are whiners in general, but I do absolutely disagree with your assertion that these new enhanced pat-downs are just no big deal. I have received pat downs in other countries, and in the U.S. and while not my favorite thing, it wasn’t objectionable. These new pat-downs are objectionable. Have you been through a pat-down since November 1rst when the new guidelines were implemented ? I already avoid flying as much as possible, but now I really don’t ever want to fly again.

    Furthermore, everything the TSA does is a knee-jerk reaction to the most recent incident. It adds layers of complications to the security check points at airports while only marginally making the flying public safer. It does make people in the security business very wealthy. Random selections of passengers is so easy a method to go around if you are a serious threat that it is truly scary to think about. All you need to do is send multiple people on the same plane and you would be assured that not all of them would be scanned.

    If the TSA can’t figure out who is a potential threat by the time a passenger gets to the gate, then they are inept and incompetent. Israelis go through four layers of behavioral profiling and other security methods BEFORE they get to the gate. There are so many ways around this, including flying to a larger airport from a smaller airport, that it boggles my mind that anyone can actually accept that the visible security measures at the airports mean jack squat to really protecting the public. They mostly catch people with drugs and illegal items and weapons who are criminals, not terrorists. Remember the 9/11 hijackers went through airport security and got through with the box cutters.

    For the present TSA security methods to work, everyone needs to go through a body scanner or an enhanced pat-down. I believe behavioral profiling and cooperative international intelligence is really the best way to approach security. That does not mean that everyone with a middle eastern name or swarthy skin coloring should be stopped. That isn’t what behavioral profiling is about. It is a person’s behavioral patterns and associations that would raise questions. Unfortunately, the U.S. has wasted billions of dollars on security theater instead of real security measures that would really keep us safe. That became very clear with the lack of international measures and timely computer database methods to stop the underwear bomber from getting on a plane to the U.S.

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