Serfdom under the TSA

by | Mar 27, 2024

By now, I’m sure that most Americans have their own personal stories about TSA abuse. The U.S. government’s takeover of airport security after the 9/11 attacks has made flying an unpleasant experience.

This past weekend, I was flying back to Virginia. A TSA agent took my carry-on suitcase aside and opened it up. She then pulled out a container of talcum powder. She spent around 5 minutes intensely examining it and then testing it. Up to that point, it was simply a matter relating to the talcum powder. No agent was hassling me ,and I was just waiting for the testing of the talcum powder to be completed.

I nonchalantly and innocently said to her, “So, I’m curious as to whether it’s bad to bring talcum powder with me.” Well, that was obviously a wrong thing to say. I think you’re expected to keep your mouth shut and not question anything they do.

In what appeared to me to be an effort to teach me a lesson, another TSA agent approached me and informed me that I was now going to be subjected to a complete pat-down search. Even worse, he advised me that it was going to be conducted by a trainee, who was about 70 years old. The trainee was obviously nervous, given that his boss was right there watching him. The trainee patted down almost every square inch of my body. For example, I was wearing a button-down dress shirt. He had me turn around and he curled my shirt collar backwards, presumably to see if I had a gun hidden there. (I didn’t.)

In the meantime, the talcum-powder lady decided that she needed to needed to go through my entire suitcase. She even removed my wallet and my cellphone and set them down on the counter in front of me. When I asked if I could retrieve them, a third agent declared, “Not yet! Leave them there!”

I got the distinct impression that they might be hoping that I would express some sort of objection or protest. I’m not stupid. I didn’t say anything else. That’s because the TSA has a catchall offense that is comparable to “disorderly conduct.” It enables the TSA to levy a fine of up to $14,000 for anyone who “interferes” with inspectors. Like with “disorderly conduct,” it’s an entirely subjective offense, meaning that they can pretty much fine anyone who objects or protests with “interference.”

You have the right to contest a fine that they impose. But if the offense has been committed in a city where you don’t live, you have to return to that city to fight it. And the hearing is conducted before what is called an “administrative law judge,” which means that he’s usually just a bureaucratic hack for the TSA and is going to rule in its favor. Sometimes, the TSA will offer you a reduced fine if you’ll agree not to contest the original fine. That gives them the incentive to impose a super-high fine in the first place.

Given that the federal government is voraciously looking for money, Americans had better get used to the fact that federal officials everywhere, including the TSA, are being tasked with plundering and looting people as much as possible. That’s what civil-asset forfeiture is all about. After all, a 34 trillion dollar federal debt (and climbing) is nothing to scoff at. The feds need money bad and they are going to be increasingly looking for unsavory ways to get it. Indeed, during the Covid crisis, the TSA was fining people $1,000 who refused to wear masks on the plane, with fines up to $3,000 for repeat offenders. The TSA collects tens of millions of dollars in fines, and the money is deposited in the federal government’s general revenues.

The biggest thing about the TSA experience, however, is not the abuse, harassment, intrusions,  and fines. The biggest thing is that it reminds us of our lives as serfs. Federal officials are the masters, and we are their servants. We exist to serve them, not the other way around. When they issue orders to us, we are expect to immediately and quietly obey, just like people in the military.

We should never forget how it is that we were made to forfeit our right of privacy in domestic travel. I realize that there are lots of credible people who have made the case that the 9/11 attacks were an inside job of the U.S. deep state, either independently or in complicity with the Saudi deep state. But let’s give the government the benefit of the doubt and assume that the attacks were, in fact, motivated by retaliatory anger arising from the U.S. government’s killing machine in the Middle East. Given that assumption, we were forced to forfeit our rights so that the Pentagon and the CIA could continue their foreign policy of interventionism. In other words, we lost our rights here at home so that they could continue killing people over there.

The important thing to note is that none of this is necessary. There is a way out, one that entails restoring the American people to their rightful role as masters and restoring federal officials to their rightful role as servants. That would entail a dismantling of the national-security state, an end to foreign interventionism, bringing all U.S. troops home and discharging them, abandoning all foreign military bases, all of which would mean the disintegration of the threat of anti-American terrorism. It would also entail dismantling the TSA, firing all its employees and returning them to the private sector, privatizing airports, and placing airport security in the hands of airports and airliners.

In 1944 Friedrich Hayek published his famous book The Road to Serfdom. The TSA experience reminds us that that the end of that road was reached a long time ago.

Reprinted with permission from Future of Freedom Foundation.


  • Jacob G. Hornberger

    Jacob George Hornberger is an American attorney, author, and politician who was a Libertarian candidate for president in 2000 and 2020. He is the founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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