America’s Greatest Threat: Flashcards

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Yesterday, Pomona College senior Nicholas George, backed by the ACLU, filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that TSA and FBI agents stomped all over his First and Fourth Amendment rights by detaining him for five hours after they discovered a set of Arabic flashcards and political science books in his backpack. The complaint is worth reading in full (here‘s the pdf version), but this section in particular is worth highlighting:

TSA Supervisor: You know who did 9/11?
George: Osama bin Laden.
TSA Supervisor: Do you know what language he spoke?
George: Arabic.

Then, according to the complaint, the TSA supervisor held up George’s flashcards and asked, “Do you see why these cards are suspicious?”

Uh, no. Another choice nugget: “During their questioning, for example, the FBI agents repeatedly asked Mr. George why he had chosen to study physics at a liberal arts college such as Pomona.” (I wonder if his answer was anything like this?).

I took a year of Arabic in college and was always secretly hoping something like this would happen to me. But I also resigned myself to the fact that this would never happen, because, almost by definition, anyone who needs a set of elementary flashcards to speak Arabic probably hasn’t made much progress in his path to Islamic extremism.

 

I’m also not sure why, what with the Internet and all, it would take five hours of interrogation to confirm the simple details that this college student is, in fact, a college student and does, in fact, study Arabic. And I think that—along with the perpetual cloud of suspicion surrounding eight-year-old cub scout Mikey Hicks of Clifton, NJ— gets at the broader point here. Goofballs like Mitch McConnell might grouse about just how lax our interrogations are. But the problem isn’t that the FBI isn’t very good at interrogating people (the evidence suggests otherwise); it’s that they have an alarming tendency to waste their time interrogating the wrong people. A little common sense goes a long way.

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Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

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Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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