Are Transportation Security Administration agents like Nazis? Blogger Rachel Burger seems to think so.
Here's what Burger wrote on a libertarian website in a piece about last week's shooting at Los Angeles International Airport that left TSA agent Gerardo I. Hernandez dead:
As a Jew, I am consistently reminded of the Nuremberg Trials when it comes to the TSA. Those who slaughtered the Jews in the Holocaust were “just following orders,” but that did not mean that they were any less accountable. Just following orders, just doing the job that they signed up for, did not excuse their actions. Of course, the Nuremberg Trials specifically addressed war crimes, but I think that the idea of just following orders extends beyond that. Being an ethical person requires critical thinking about everyday actions, whether commanded or not.
Hernandez signed up to the TSA, an organization devoted to “protect” travelers from terrorists. He could have had very good reasons to do so: he could have believed in the mission and needed to support his family (and on not very much, I might add). He was not a decision maker -- he was an everyday guy doing his job. Hernandez, when infringing on Fourth Amendment rights, was “only following orders.” He might have been a good guy at home, but he was not entirely innocent in this situation. Doing without introspection does not absolve evil deeds.
If unarmed airport agents don't immediately strike you as being a lot like Nazis, you may be surprised to learn that Burger is hardly alone in making this comparison. Ann Coulter called TSA airport screenings "Hitler's last revenge." "We Are All German Jews Now" is the title of a piece on the TSA by Murray Sabrin, a former New Jersey Libertarian Party candidate for governor and the child of Holocaust survivors.
There are so many instances of the TSA being compared to Nazis that in 2010 writer Christopher Elliott, who's long written about the TSA, took stock of them, noting that some seemed sort of facile, while others, like Sabrin's, were more thorough. (Coulter's contribution was dismissed as merely "awkward.")
Elliott also pointed out that conspiracy theorist Alex Jones thinks that the TSA goes further than the Nazis. Here's Jones, also writing in 2010:
It has taken the federal government and its Department of Homeland Security -– an agency on the drawing board well before September 11, 2001 -– to implement police state tactics in regard to travel that far surpass anything devised by the Nazis.
Even before the attacks of September 11, 2001, the government planned to create and impose a police state control grid on the American people. For instance, the Bill of Rights crushing Patriot Act was devised well before the attack and its predecessor, the 1996 Antiterrorism Act, was rushed into law following the first suspicious attack on the World Trade Center and the equally suspicious attack in Oklahoma City. Habeas corpus law was forever changed by the law touted by then president Bill Clinton.
Armed with its new and draconian palette of laws and mandates, the federal government, including the FBI, the CIA, and the Pentagon, have exploited the September 11 attacks to go after the real enemy –- the American people.
Elliott cites one Holocaust Museum employee who said in an online forum that she's "not sure what Hitler has to do with airport security. And, if you are trying to compare airport screening to the treatment of targeted groups during the rise of the Third Reich, then I suggest [you] read more than just the first section of the Holocaust Museum in D.C."
Indeed, there are plenty of critics, even within libertarian circles, which are sometimes criticized as too prone to invoking the Third Reich, inaptly.
Gina Luttrell, the editor of "Thoughts On Liberty," where Burger's piece was published, spoke up in the comments section of the piece:
In all our years of friendship and partnership I have never, ever disagreed more -- or more vehemently -- with what you've said here.
(a) How is a TSA officer anything remotely like a person who facilitated the holocaust? The difference is so vast that I think you do disservice to the holocaust itself by comparing the two.
(b) Though I think the blowback analogy is more apt, I still think that there is not a fair connection being drawn between foreign policy which deprives the lives and liberties of people across the globe, and the United States government asking you to be scanned before you take part in an otherwise entirely voluntary transaction. It's not as if the gov't puts so much pressure on the citizenry via TSA screenings that it "blows back." One can simply travel by other means if you are really that worried about it (which I did, as you know, for two years before they made the scanner optional.
(c) If you do so roundly condemn violence, as you claim, it seems like the best course of action here would be to actually condemn that violence and not say "Well, what do you expect?" When you say "well, it's just blowback," I think that gives an A-OK for other people to do the same thing.
(d) Compiling all of this into one entire "Rachel, you are so, so wrong" pie is that TSA agents are COMPLETELY UNARMED. They are defenseless against a firearm attack. I don't see how you can't just uniformly, unilaterally, condemn that kind of action. The dude can't have possibly thought that he would do some good or change things (much like what many terrorists profess to believe), nor will his actions.
(e) See: Victim Blaming - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victim_blaming
I'm sure there are others, but I'll leave it there for now.
Even Burger herself seems to be walking back her argument, sort of.
"No, I absolutely do not think that TSA employees are akin to Nazis," she wrote in an email to HuffPost, before regaining enthusiasm for her original point. "The idea that 'just following orders' does not absolve government agents (whether soldiers or TSA agents) from moral or legal responsibility for their actions is made most famous by the Nuremberg Trials. I believe that this principle applies to people who commit rights violations on behalf of the state."
Burger declined to specify which rights Hernandez was violating when he was killed, other than to say, "Hernandez, in his role as a TSA agent, was violating the Fourth Amendment rights of American citizens. It ethically compromises him because he is violating guaranteed liberties."
What we can say for sure: There's one law that even Burger likes to follow. That's Godwin's law, which says that every Internet debate will eventually devolve into someone calling someone else a Nazi.