In recent days, the right has worked themselves into hysteria over the TSA’s new, more invasive screening protocols, with right-wing media magnate Matt Drudge breathlessly hyping the latest video of an intrusive pat down, and Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips demanding the impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. While the TSA has promised to revise the methods to make them less intrusive, many conservatives have turned to one of their favorite solutions to the national security threat de jour: ethnic profiling.
In separate interviews on the radio show of the far-right birther website World Net Daily, Reps. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) both called for profiling as a means to better address the threat to air travel. Chaffetz specifically advocated for ethnic and religious profiling, though he said those traits shouldn’t be “solely” considered:
HOST: Is [profiling] something that you would advocate?
CHAFFETZ: Absolutely. Well, now that it’s become an outrage and people say, well we still need to secure an airline, how do we do that? Two things need to happen. One is profiling. Not based solely on someone’s religion or based solely on someone’s race.
In an interview today, Hoekstra — who is the ranking Republican member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence — also gave an passionate endorsement of profiling:
HOEKSTRA: The words profiling are toxic from a political standpoint. But the bottom-line is there are certain parameters that you can use in profiling that would narrow the scope of who you really target. … But it only makes sense to do some type of profiling so that you can focus the resources where they need to be focused. So we should consider it. … Sure, profiling is okay. You know, you do it everywhere in life — it only makes sense. You just need to make sure you do it right.
Listen to a compilation of Chaffetz and Hoekstra:
While these GOP lawmakers provide legitimacy, as Media Matters notes, conservative media figures have led the effort to use “the public backlash against airport security screenings as an opportunity to renew their calls for racial profiling.” Conservative Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer lamented, “The only reason we continue to do [pat downs] is that people are too cowed to even question the absurd taboo against profiling.” On Fox and Freinds last week, in his typically simple fashion, host Steve Doocy commented, “I like the idea of the profiling.” Meanwhile, right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh said, “There’s a simple way to stop this stuff; it’s called profiling.” And in an editorial, the conservative Washington Times complained, the “TSA believes an 80-year-old grandmother deserves the same level of scrutiny at an airport terminal checkpoint as a 19-year-old male exchange student from Yemen.”
As is the case with Chaffetz and Hoekstra, the conservative argument is predicated on the notion that profiling is “enormously successful,” as Fox News host Sean Hannity put it. But in reality, this is not the case. Aside from the obvious civil rights concerns with ethnic or religious profiling, the practice is actually “probably worse than random screening in the real world” at defeating terrorists, a mathematical analysis published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science last year found.
Indeed, recent terror suspects undermine the notion that terrorists “all look alike.” Shoe bomber Richard Reid was a white, Jamaican-born British citizen; underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutalla was Nigerian; and “Jihad Jane” Colleen Renee LaRose, who was arrested in March on charges that she wanted to “wage violent jihad,” was a “petite” blond-haired, blue-eyed 46-year-old American woman.
Because of the problems in creating a mold, profiling “diverts precious law enforcement resources away from investigations of individuals…who have been linked to terrorist activity by specific and credible evidence…[and] ignores the possibility that someone who does not fit the profile may be engaged in terrorism.”
If conservatives don’t believe the data, they need only ask former Bush Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who has called profiling “misleading and, arguably, dangerous.”