Why Don’t You Put Them All In Camps. Will That Make You Feel Safer?

In mid-July, an article popped up everywhere on the blogosphere and cause the kind of ruckus that ends up making major news outlets take note. The article in question was written by Annie Jacobsen for Women’s Wall Street.com. In it, she detailed how terrified she was while on Northwest flight 327 from Detroit to Los Angeles, because fourteen Middle-Eastern men were acting ‘supicious.’ Jacobsen claimed that the men had displayed bizarre behavior: they all seemed to go to the lavatory very often; one of them carried a large McDonald’s bag into the bathroom and came out with it empty; another gave her a “cold, defiant look”. She and her husband alerted the flight attendants. She said that the flight attendants asked her to write down descriptions of the Arab men and she also alleged that after the plane had started its descent toward Los Angeles and the captain had turned on the seatbelt sign, the men got up in unison and started using the bathroom, and that no one stopped them.
After the plane landed, some FBI, LAPD, FAM, and TSA officers checked the men against all their databases and found nothing suspicious. But Jacobsen was so convinced there was something suspicious about the men that she gave detailed testimony to law enforcement on the ground, followed up with letters, then phone calls, and then wrote this article, as a last resort.
Despite being told that the men were part of a musical group on their way to a performance at a casino in Southern California, that they were not on any watchlist, that they were very thoroughly checked by the four agencies listed above, she refused to give up. She wrote a second, self-congratulatory editorial, in which she said she wanted to know what the name of the men’s band was, what kind of music they played, and that she wanted proof that they actually performed.
Needless to say, Jacobsen’s story was picked up by right-wing bloggers (who lauded her for her patriotism) and an edited version ran in the Dallas Morning News. The bloggers created enough buzz that the NY Times‘s Joe Sharkey did a piece essentially repeating the facts and then saying he “couldn’t locate [the band] by the way”. But Clinton Taylor says he had “[his] research assistant, Mr. Google,” take a look at some Southern California casinos and found the Sycuan Casino & Resort near San Diego, where, what do you know, a Syrian band had performed on July 1st. The band turned out to be part of the orchestra for crooner Nour Mehanna (the ‘Syrian Wayne Newton’).
I have to say here that I was suspicious of Jacobsen’s report all along because she seemed so convinced that the men were up to no good that no amount of evidence from law enforcement seemed to change her mind. In addition, no other passengers on that flight came forward to support her claims. In fact, a KFI report said that Jacobsen was seen as a potential problem herself because there was a risk she could get other passengers to panic.
Now Time magazine did an interview with the sky marshall who was on that plane, which contradicts Jacobsen’s claims of suspicious activity. In another NY Times article, the sky marshall categorically denied Jacobsen’s claim that the men got up in unison after the plane began its descent. (Jacobsen has now earned a spot in the Urban Legends page.)
But the kicker has to be today’s article by Steven Landsburg in Slate, in which he suggests that one way to deal with the threat of terror at airports is to systematically search every Arab and then compensate him/her $100 for “oh, 15 minutes or so of answering questions.” Sorry to disappoint Mr. Landsburg, but my civil rights aren’t for sale for $100. And, Mr. Landsburg, does the name Richard Reid ring a bell?

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