Is LAX shooting the result of anti-government hatred?
Here are some of the places we expect to be safe:
There is always a place outside it. There is almost always a way to get inside. A crazy guy with an assault rifle or a terrorist with a homemade bomb will find a way to wreak havoc before he is killed or kills himself.
It’s depressing, but there is probably no way to fully protect the public against people like 23-year-old Paul Anthony Ciancia, who, according to the FBI, was carrying a duffel bag with a handwritten note indicating “his anger and malice” toward TSA agents.
This is what we have to understand, and acknowledge: We live in a society where guns that are designed to kill as many human beings in as short a time as possible are not just widely available, but are equated with liberty itself.
Until our policymakers find the courage to defy the gun lobby, that’s just how it is.
In the meantime, as the investigation into last week’s carnage and disruption at LAX continues, and the family of Gerardo Hernandez, the first TSA agent to be killed in the line of duty, grapples with their loss, some have speculated that his death is a result of forces greater than a single individual with disordered thinking.
As my colleague Brian Bennett reported over the weekend, some experts think the rampage was a symptom of “growing antipathy toward government workers and TSA personnel in particular.”
“Specialists on hate crimes and union officials decried what they said was a general atmosphere of mockery and derision toward TSA agents that they said is amplified by late-night talk show hosts, politicians and news media,” Bennett wrote. “‘When people or institutions are vilified on national television and in the public square, you often see people latch on to them as enemies to be destroyed,’ Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in an interview.”
On Monday, I asked Potok to elaborate.
“I’m not trying to make the case that every time a public person says something ugly someone gets killed, but words have consequences,” Potok said.
He recalled a 2010 incident in which a heavily armed man was arrested in Oakland after a shootout with CHP officers who had tried to pull him over for driving erratically. According to authorities, the man was wearing body armor, was carrying at least three weapons and said he intended to kill “people of importance at the Tides Foundation and the ACLU.”
The Tides Foundation is an obscure but influential progressive nonprofit organization. According to its 2008 annual report, it focuses on “women’s rights and reproductive justice, health services and health reform, environmental issues, economic and racial justice, LGBT issues and global work on HIV/AIDS.” The liberal financier George Soros, a favorite right-wing target, has been a major donor.
“Hardly anyone knew what the Tides Foundation was,” said Potok. “Come to find out, it had been singled out by Glenn Beck on the air over and over again. That’s what we see all the time.”
Few people who fly regularly are not conflicted about the passenger screening procedures forced on us in the aftermath of 9/11. For many, passing through a TSA checkpoint has become an exercise in ritual, if minor, humiliation. It’s always a little bit awful to be forced to partially disrobe in front of strangers or made to feel vulnerable in the scanners. But we do it because we want to be safe.
TSA agents occasionally go overboard, and in the age of the instant meme, criticizing them has become something of a cottage industry. (“Don’t touch my junk,” anyone?) They are critiqued on anonymous, knowledgeable blogs.
They are also the victims of fake stories and now, tragically, real violence.
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