“Spread-Eagle Search”

Rep Steve King, the Todd Akin of Iowa, said something stupid again—no, I’m not talking about his support for animal fighting, but something else—and there is video. King said:

As America, we’ve decided that we’re going to process everybody the same. So that means the 75-year-old grandmother gets the spread-eagle search and while that happens, maybe the 20-year-old Middle Eastern male waltzes through with a smirk on his face. I’m not making that up. I’ve seen that. That image will not ever leave my mind.

I’m not quite sure why King is so fascinated by the image of a 75-year-old grandma getting the old “spread-eagle search,” but I’m sure I don’t really want to know the content of his erotic fantasies.

What I want to call your attention to in the video below is the little boy, who after King makes his dumb comment, says something to a woman, presumably his mother—why else would a kid sit in the presence of a fanatical politician unless his mom made him?—and I now have used my special Ersthwhile Conservative disgronificator to discern what it was the little boy was asking his mom:

BOY: Were you and daddy doing a spread-eagle search the other night? ‘Cause that image will never leave my mind neither.

MOM: No, we were just rehearsing for out next airplane trip out to see grandma. Now shut up and listen to the nice congressman.



  1. writer89

     /  August 24, 2012

    Great straw man (or straw grandma), Steve! How about a 75-year-old Middle Eastern grandma? Or a 75-year-old Middle Eastern grandpa? Or a 55-year-old Middle Eastern male? Are we getting warmer? At what point does someone become a legitimate threat? When they begin practicing Islam? When their skin is brown? When they’re wearing a turban? When they hit retirement age? What about 20-year-old Middle Eastern females? Would you like to see them spread-eagle searched? I bet you would.


  2. Personally, I think the Israeli profiling method makes sense but I also recognize here the problem of perceived fairness it creates in the public. I don’t like Rep. King’s attitude about dog fighting but I think his pandering to attitudes about TSA searches simply reflects the limits of American public understanding about the process. If policy were to reflect the statistical probabilities that only Arab-looking types were singled out for searching, can we doubt that our enemies would try to exploit that? The problem is that the democratic process of our government discourages any risk-taking on the part of elected officials and hence we are stuck with an inefficient and cumbersome process.


    • Jim,

      This point you made needs to be emphasized:

      If policy were to reflect the statistical probabilities that only Arab-looking types were singled out for searching, can we doubt that our enemies would try to exploit that?

      There is simply no doubt about that, as not all terrorists right now look like a “20-year-old Middle Eastern male.

      As far as trying to reason with folks on the matter, given the GOP will demagogue anyone who attempts to do so, we all remember what happened to John Kerry when he attempted to say something sensible about the so-called war on terror:

      We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they’re a nuisance.

      As a former law enforcement person, I know we’re never going to end prostitution. We’re never going to end illegal gambling. But we’re going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn’t on the rise. It isn’t threatening people’s lives every day, and fundamentally, it’s something that you continue to fight, but it’s not threatening the fabric of your life.’

      For his trouble, Kerry had his ass handed to him by the Bush campaign propaganda machine which pushed the notion that war-hero Kerry had a “mindset  that will not make our country safer,” a theme they hammered incessantly.



      • Thanks for the Kerry article, Duane. The whole 9/11 thing was prime soil for rampant demagoguery and it sure took root. I marvel looking back now at how superficially i viewed politics in those days. I frankly admit that I was a reactionary voter with only a superficial view of issues, probably because I felt too busy with other matters in my life. Maybe that’s the problem with the system. Blogging might not cure it, but I feel we’ve got to try and I’m sure you feel the same.


  3. writer89

     /  August 25, 2012

    Jim, I agree that we need predictive profiling rather than random patdowns of everybody and their grandmother, but it doesn’t have to be racial. There’s a good Wikipedia article on it that I’ll link to in a moment. While it may turn out that non-racial predictive profiling may end up singling out more young men and more Middle Eastern men than Caucasian grandmothers, it is still a far cry from what Rep. King is talking about.


    • That’s a fine Wiki article on profiling, writer. I had not read it before, and I do agree with it. That said, were I a profiler or a profiler’s instructor I would find it impossible to ignore the fact that the vast majority of terrorists identified so far fit an ethnic profile. The section on “suspicion indicators” is instructive as it uses examples of behavior of the 9/11 terrorists. It also highlights another important aspect of the likely efficacy of profiling when it recalls the resentment displayed by them to even innocent questions. It seems clear to me that potential suicide terrorists are likely to be emotionally charged and would have a lot of trouble concealing their feelings.


      • Glad you enjoyed the article. I thought it was very interesting and detailed. I just wanted to point out that you may need to expand your definition of “terrorist.” I know that the people pushing for war with Iran have tried to narrowly define it as “people who hate the U.S. because of its support of Israel,” but terror is a tactic that can be employed by anybody. How many of the following fit the usual ethnic profile: Jeffrey Johnson, Wade Michael Page, James Holmes,Thomas Caffell, and Ian Stawicki (just covering the past few months)? None of them hijacked an aircraft, but they could have. They all just shot people. Perhaps a Israeli-trained profiler who had been on the scene could have identified them as potential domestic terrorists, despite their ethnic backgrounds.


        • I think, writer, that I’ll keep my definition of terrorist for the time being. James Homes, Wade Page, and the guy who shot up his former boss near the Empire State building are a category different from killers inspired and motivated by ideology. As long as there’s mental illness or even just mental neurosis there will be people like that, and as long as we permit widespread access to guns, people like them will make the most of it.


          • I’m glad we agree about the need to prohibit widespread access to guns, but these are two different issues. My point is that while we have to find a better way to increase airline safety than patting down children and the elderly, profiling people based on ethnic background isn’t the American way. Whether somebody wants to shoot a bunch of innocent people or blow up a planeload of them, for whatever twisted reason, they are nuts and will give themselves away to trained profilers. Great talking with you.


          • Jim, Brad,

            I offer both of you my take on it via the “Muslim Internment” piece I wrote a month ago.



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