I recently took my children to Washington, D.C. to see some sights and visit old friends. Since I won't consent to a naked scan or physical body search, we took a cross-country train ride. Among our planned activities were tours of the White House and Capitol, arranged through my congressman's office. My daughter and I were especially looking forward to seeing "where the people argue" (her words; I told her it would be more like boring speeches and procedures than arguing).
As we stood in line for the White House security, I noticed an upcoming checkpoint area where I couldn't see what the procedure was. I had a moment of concern as the thought crossed my mind that there might be a body scanner. As I turned the corner, my concerns drained away: No scanner! Security was tight (and the line was long), but the Secret Service Agents were very friendly and the mood was relaxed. We enjoyed our self-guided tour, stopped off for some hot cocoa and hot coffee, and grabbed an Uber to the Capitol.
Once through the standard security at the Capitol (metal detectors and bag scanners), we met some staffers in Devin Nunes' office. An intern, named Chris, was our tour guide and took us on an in-depth and interesting tour. After visiting all the other areas of the Capitol, we handed over our phones (thanks to C-Span) and we proceeded to the House Gallery. Following Chris, we wound our way around. We turned a corner and Chris said, "It's time to take everything out of our pockets." I started to rummage, but noticed: a Millimeter Body Scanner.
I hesitated for a moment. I thought about the 4-day train ride we had just completed for the express purpose of protecting our dignity. And here I was, only a couple of yards away from the device I spend so much time, energy, and money avoiding. The moment passed, and the calm and clarity of what must happen next came over me. I bent over next to my daughter and said, "I'm really sorry, but we're not going to go see the people argue. This machine here is one of the ones that they have at the airport that I've told you about. Do you understand?"
To say the least, she was mad (at me) and very disappointed. I am thankful and proud that she behaved relatively well given that she's only eight and we had been talking about and planning for this visit to the gallery for weeks.
I, too, was very disappointed. I still am, and, upon further reflection, I am also very disheartened. (More on that later.)
Next, I turned to Chris and said, calmly, "Chris, we're not going to do this." I'm sure he was taken by complete surprise. He asked if I would prefer a pat-down, and I, of course, declined. He began to put his belt back on, etc ... when the security guard told him to step forward into the scanner. Chris said we had changed our mind. I let Chris do all the talking, and he seemed prepared to do so as our tour guide.
Can you guess what came next? The security guard said we could not leave the area without getting scanned. He wasn't wearing a blue shirt, but he sure acted like a caricature of a TSA worker. Chris responded with what seemed like disbelief to me. He said, "We're not going in. Can't we just turn around and go back the way we came?"
At this point, I was feeling quite anxious. What was happening was precisely the reason that I don't fly. Friends have told me that my chance of getting scanned or patted down is very slim and they can't understand why I won't even try. This was why. I was being told that I was not allowed to change my mind. The only choices now were to be virtually disrobed or to be physically felt-up. And this would happen to my children, too. The week before, our (female) pediatric nurse had been very deliberate in giving my daughter as much privacy as possible during her annual physical exam. We tell our children at these Dr. visits that not just anybody can look at, let alone touch, their private parts. I do not believe that the government employee with a power-trip qualifies.
My adrenaline was pumping as I prepared to stand my ground. Scenarios started to flash through my mind's eye. What was I prepared to do? I didn't really come to any conclusion, but I was readying myself for a difficult time.
I noticed that a police officer-looking individual appeared. Both he and the security guards were too far away for me to read their badges. I purposefully did not move an inch closer to the checkpoint, so I can only make a guess that the "officer" was from a different agency than the "guard." In any case, he clearly outranked the power-tripping guard. Chris repeated his request to go back without being scanned. The officer listened, then gave us instructions to turn around and go back the way we came. My heartrate immediately returned to normal.
I am now convinced that naked scanners are here to stay. If politicians are using them for their own security, they have no sympathy for the cause of freedom. This illustrates to me, more clearly than ever before, the disdain that elected officials have for the public. What do they care if our dignity is stripped in airports when they insist on stripping it in what is supposed to be their public meetings?
Going to the gallery while Congress was in session was going to be such a terrific hands-on civics lesson for my 2nd grader. Instead, we both got a completely different kind of civics lesson.
P. S. I would not be surprised if the officer's cool head prevailed in part due to my demographic (white mother with 2 small children). I would guess that - given the recent shootings and the fear of terrorism - a white or Middle-Eastern man travelling alone would have been treated with more suspicion.
P. P. S. On what I ought to have done if they did not let us turn back: I think I should have clearly stated that I did not consent to the search. For the sake of my kids still having a mom around for the rest of the day, I should have refused the scanner and proceeded with the pat-down under protest. I would have tried my utmost to keep the kids out of the screening, but allowed the scanner if pressed, as it would be less traumatic for them. Regardless, thinking through this all makes my stomach turn.