CBS says that he is remembered as a “hero.” NPR reported that flags were flown at half-staff for his death around Los Angeles. The Washington Post unequivocally described him as a humble family man, never noting flaws. Yes, Hernandez died in a terrible reminder of how horrible people can be, but that does not mean he was guiltless.
Ciancia didn’t have a problem with travelers. He didn’t have a problem with airline employees. The people he had a problem with was the TSA agents. The Los Angeles Times reports that Ciancia ignored travelers in the airports but instead scanned Terminal 3 for a TSA official. Only then did he begin firing. Hernandez now has the “honor” of being the first TSA officer “slain in the line of duty.”
Paul Ciancia was a sick and violent murderer, and Gerardo I. Hernandez, the slain TSA agent, was an actor on behalf of the American government that is denying rights to its people.
As a Jew, I am consistently reminded of the Nuremberg Trials. Those who slaughtered the Jews in the Holocaust were “just following orders,” but that did not mean that they were any less accountable. Just following orders, just doing the job that they signed up for, did not excuse their actions. Of course, the Nuremberg Trials specifically addressed war crimes, but I think that the idea of just following orders extends beyond that. Being an ethical person requires critical thinking about everyday actions, whether commanded or not.
Hernandez signed up to the TSA, an organization devoted to “protect” travelers from terrorists. He could have had very good reasons to do so: he could have believed in the mission and needed to support his family (and on not very much, I might add). He was not a decision maker—he was an everyday guy doing his job. Hernandez, when infringing on Fourth Amendment rights, was “only following orders.” He might have been a good guy at home, but he was not entirely innocent in this situation. Doing without introspection does not absolve evil deeds.
Now, I’m not saying what Ciancia did was heroic—not by any stretch. Violence against unarmed people is never the answer. It would not surprise me if Ciancia’s actions only lead to a heightened police state; by no means do I support what he did.
The TSA does represent, however, an erosion of liberties domestically. In foreign policy terms, Ciancia’s actions is what we would call “blowback.” And like the United States escalated conflicts in the Middle East after September 11th, we are going to see a similar escalation in the War on Liberties here at home. I do not believe this will be the last time that we see people making the same mistakes Ciancia did.
When serving domestically or abroad, there are consequences. Infringing on life and liberty can come at a high cost—and that includes death. Ciancia did not object to the TSA in the right way, but he did have every right to feel disdain for their agency. I can almost understand what Ciancia felt—powerless against a huge system where violence seems like the easiest way out. But that’s the way that terrorists think, and that’s not what the liberty movement is about. Actors like Ciancia only make the state bigger.
I hope never to see another crime like this again, but it would not surprise me that as the state grows, individuals will feel more frustrated and turn to more extreme measures to respond to trampled liberties. That could mean more dead police, TSA, and even military agents. It’s time for the government to reevaluate this country’s priorities before violence is escalated further. The answer is not stricter gun laws or mental health screenings, the answer is a smaller state.