By Ken White
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Sep 6, 2011
On March 31st of this year, Amy Alkon — a writer who blogs at the Advice Goddess Blog — was sexually assaulted in front of dozens of witnesses.
The person who sexually assaulted her was not punished and will not be punished. Why? Because our government sees fit, as part of its policy of security theater and perpetual wartime mentality, to confer a privilege to sexually assault strangers in public upon certain people: employees of the TSA.
Amy — who refused to be scanned — was instead forcibly groped by a TSA employee. Unlike most Americans, she didn't take it quietly. She expressed her feelings of violation and humiliation, in person at the time and in writing later:
Basically, I felt it important to make a spectacle of what they are doing to us, to make it uncomfortable for them to violate us and our rights, so I let the tears come. In fact, I sobbed my guts out. Loudly. Very loudly. The entire time the woman was searching me.
Nearing the end of this violation, I sobbed even louder as the woman, FOUR TIMES, stuck the side of her gloved hand INTO my vagina, through my pants. Between my labia. She really got up there. Four times. Back right and left, and front right and left. In my vagina. Between my labia. I was shocked — utterly unprepared for how she got the side of her hand up there. It was government-sanctioned sexual assault.
Amy's public assault is not unusual. Stories of gratuitous and inappropriate touching by TSA employees are legion. The stories range from inhuman indifference to deliberate humiliation. Many of those stories emphasize that showing any resistance — whether by opting out of scanners, or voicing objections to groping — will result in immediate retaliation, and possible official investigation, by TSA employees. The TSA has reached the point that its sense of entitlement is nearly impervious to satire. Yet our government assures us that our concerns are meritless.
Despite the wide audience she enjoys, Amy's story could easily have been lost in the din of routine TSA excess. But because Amy didn't take it quietly — because she called the TSA employee out for her assault, and because she wrote about it — now she's facing a legal threat.
The TSA agent — one Thedala Magee — has demanded that Amy pay her $500,000 for Magdee's distress at being called out.
In your blog of April 26, 2011, you admit to having yelled at my client, "You raped me" on March 31, 2011 for all within earshot and you have continued to compound your torts against my client by repeating this along with a detailed description of what you claim my client did to you, including the statement that my client inserted her fingers into your vagina.
These outbursts in public and writings on the internet have subject my client to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy, and have injured her in her reputation and her occupation. Furthermore, as a result of your actions, my client has suffered and continues to suffer damages including but not limited to severe emotional distress, fear, difficulties performing her duties, and other problems as a proximate result of your tortuous actions.
Your statements were outrageous and malicious and made with the intention to cause or made with the reckless disregard of the probability of causing severe emotional distress and suffering, and they were the actual and proximate causation thereof.
See, in our national scheme of security theater, it's Thedala Magee's role to touch the genitals of strangers, and it's Amy Alkon's role — and yours, and mine — to stand there and take it, or the terrorists win. Amy upset that natural order — so it must be a payday for Magee.
You might think that it's ludicrous, freakish, unbelievable that anyone would think it appropriate to threaten suit when someone objects to being touched by a stranger in public. But in America, there is no banner so loathsome that some bottom-feeding thug from my profession won't take it up. Today's bottom-feeder is Vicki Roberts. What kind of lawyer is Vicki Roberts? Well, before you even consider the legal threat she issued in this case, I invite you to consider the following factors:
1. Her web site is called http://www.restmycase.com.
2. It includes a memorial to her dog. [My position is that dogs are nice and it is sad when they die.]
3. She is very proud of her repeated appearances on the television show "Celebrity Justice."
4. She is very proud of her IMDB entry. Proud enough to tout that she got "Additional Thanks" for a movie, and that she played herself in Weiner Strudel. [My position is that strudel is good.]
5. She is extremely proud of having been a judge pro tem for the Los Angeles County Superior Court. To give you a hint of how rigorously selective that process is, they once tried to make me a judge pro tem of the mental health division.
That's the sort of lawyer who sends a bullying demand letter to a writer who talked about her experience with a rough TSA patdown. Go figure.
Perhaps Ms. Magee — and Ms. Roberts — thought that Amy Alkon could be bullied. If so, they haven't read much of what she's written. Lawyers like Roberts — and litigants like Magee — depend on terrifying people with their frivolous claims. Amy's not terrified. Amy already has a lawyer in her corner who, legally speaking, is going to kick the living shit out of Roberts and Magdee if they are foolish enough to pull the trigger on this vexatious lawsuit. Yes — as narrative and dramatic convention requires — it's First Amendment lawyer Marc Randazza. He's written back to Roberts already. It's everything you'd expert, legally and rhetorically:
First of all, Ms. Magee did rape my client. Your client aggressively pushed her fingers into my client’s vulva. I am certain that she did not expect to find a bomb there. She did this to humiliate my client, to punish her for exercising her rights, and to send a message to others who might do the same. It was absolutely a sexual assault, perpetrated in order to exercise power over the victim. We agree with Ms. Alkon’s characterization of this crime as “rape,” and so would any reasonable juror.
Roberts, as the sort of lawyer who is proud of appearing on "Celebrity Justice," may be stupid enough to sue anyway. If so, she's going to learn a swift and vivid lesson about California's anti-SLAPP statute. Her client may well wind up paying Amy Alkon's attorney fees. She's also going to learn about the Streisand Effect — her client, once obscure, will become intensely internet-famous as a government employee who tried to shake a writer down for half a million bucks for complaining about having her vagina touched. I wonder — did Vicki Roberts warn her client about the Streisand Effect before sending this threat letter? In short: this will not be pretty for Ms. Roberts or Ms. Magdee. As a result of Roberts' reckless and bumptious threat, many experienced litigators and First Amendment practitioners will offer Amy their aid. I'm one of them. Amy and Marc: if I can do anything, pro bono, to help you with this, including pursuing Magdee after you win your SLAPP motion to enforce an attorney fee judgment against her, or a malicious prosecution suit against Roberts and Magdee, let me know — I'm in. Other lawbloggers, I challenge you to step up.
Nor should this be pretty for Roberts or Magee. This is a loathsome, thuggish demand, uttered in service of a contemptible privilege to assault strangers, all as a result of our lamentable tolerance of degradation of our rights as Americans. Many people criticized Amy's story about this incident on the grounds that Thedala Magdee was "just doing her job" — that she's a low-paid TSA employee doing as she has been instructed, and that it's somehow objectionable to call her out. I submit that this mentality is part of what lets the Thedala Magees of the world grope us with impunity.
The TSA's approach to security theater is unjust. It's ineffective. Groping people without reasonable suspicion, let alone probable cause, ought not be tolerated. We only tolerate it because we have collectively allowed the government to frighten us out of our wits — for the most part, we have yielded to the TSA's demand for unquestioning compliance. We have created a safe space — not for rights, not for travel, but for people to get paid an hourly wage to poke strangers in the genitals, and to poke harder if they object. We shouldn't. We should make a scene, like Amy did. We should call out people who choose to make money following unjust orders to grope strangers. The Thedala Magees of the nation should be subject to "hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy," should have their reputations damaged, and deserve to experience emotional distress. They are doing vile things to their fellow citizens for money. No convention of decency or courtesy requires us to pretend that is acceptable, even if the government tells them that it is.
It's ten years out from 9/11 next week, and our government's grasping quest for more power over our daily lives is not slowing. We're not going to get satisfaction through elections; most politicians either support the security state or are too spineless to challenge it. The only way we're going to get change is through action — through calling out wrong when we see it. Amy was wronged. She called it out. We should support her.
And if Thedala Magee and other TSA employees don't like it, I suggest they go pursue a job that doesn't involve sexual assault.