A Georgetown University professor was arrested for calling a German Federal Police Officer “Nazi” (among other choice words) at Frankfurt International Airport. Word of warning: that’s a bad idea anywhere, but especially in Germany.
I lived in Germany for two years, I visit several times per year, and my wife is German…if there is one thing I have learned about German culture it is that the issue of World War II remains extremely delicate. There is still shame over Germany’s role in the war and freedom of speech guarantees in the German constitution do no protect Nazi and Neo-Nazi propaganda. It is not explicitly against the law to call someone a Nazi, but it is a thorny legal and cultural issue in Germany.
However, many people outside Germany use the word “Nazi” flippantly, employing it as a basic pejorative to anyone who they deem to strict.
At Frankfurt Airport, a woman’s hand luggage was flagged for secondary screening. Baggage screeners thought it might contain explosive material and immediately alternated the German Federal Police.
Upon investigation, the Federal Police determined the bag contained no explosive material, but that the passenger had too many liquids and they were not inside a clear plastic bag, as required.
Officers suggested she either place a stick of roll-on deodorant in her checked baggage or discard it. That’s when she flipped.
How the German Police Handled the Situation
In a press release entitled, U.S. Passenger insults Federal Police Officers at Frankfurt Airport, the Federal Police recount what happened next:
The U.S. passenger reacted angrily towards these suggestions and became increasingly uncooperative. She began to insult the Federal Police officers, by calling them, among other names, “fucking bastards” and “fucking German Nazi police”, as witnesses can confirm.
She was taken to a local police office and held for defamation (damaging the good reputation of someone). Authorities asked her to pay 260USD in anticipation of the legal costs in a proceeding against her. She reluctantly paid, was released, and traveled on a later flight to Istanbul.
The press release continues–
Subsequently, the U.S. traveler claims on her Twitter channel and via an Internet blog to have been robbed by the police in Frankfurt. She also continues to insult the Federal Police officers and the security staff as “bully” and “thugs in uniform”, among other things. These insults have also become evidence in the preliminary investigations.
C. Christine Fair, the passenger in question, is an Associate Professor at Georgetown University. She addressed the issue in a column in the Huffington Post.
She uses big words like incommodious, harridan and quotidian, which impresses no one.
Claiming her innocent and polite questions were construed as a defiance of authority, she explains how she was humiliated by authorities unpacking her bag in the view of the others (then lamenting that she did not bring her dildo along…).
She derides officers for enforcing the rules, namely arguing whether her deodorant stick was liquid or not. Then she admits to becoming “irked” at how terribly ill-behaved “these people” were. She starts berating a supervisor.
His English is obviously better than my German: but my chemistry is much better than his.
(she’s still arguing over whether deodorant is a liquid or not)
Was this petty? Sure. Would I have been better to let the thugs have their way? No doubt about it. But the capricious and arbitrariness of the entire proceeding really pissed me off.
But don’t worry, she’s a stable genius.
I also kept thinking, if these rubes behave this way with me how would they behave with a more vulnerable passenger?
The American Witnesses
Another twist. Professor Fair mentions three American travelers appeared behind her. One “was actually sporting a Hitler’s youth haircut” (whatever that means).
But she is unrelenting:
But Inspector Clouseau and his daft sidekick was too busy impounding my solid deodorant and offering various preposterous explanations for why it was a liquid when it was clearly a god-damned solid to notice the fellow conspicuously sporting the preferred coiffure of the Hitler’s Youth.
Wait a moment. We’ll come back to that.
I explained that, in my country, our law enforcement personnel wear name tags and that citizens have a right to register complaints when they believe they have been maltreated. (PS: I am totally aware that this is a privilege generally reserved for white people. This is truly a white privilege.) But, I continued politely but firmly, he had no name tag. He bellowed that he would arrest me if I insisted upon filing complaint.
I’m an American! I’m an American!
She claims the officers threatened her with arrest for complaining and refused to back down unless she dropped her demand to file a complaint against him. She refused. As she was packing her bags, preparing to travel to the police station, she claims to have muttered to herself, “The crack German police have seized my deodorant…but they don’t seem to care about that Nazi-looking dude over there!”
That’s odd, because she admits the “Nazi-looking dude” had already departed.
The security screener standing next to her heard her say “fucking German Nazi police” and alerted the Federal Police once again. She was taken to prison, booked for defamation ,and released after paying $260 (she claims against her will). She is now taken to Huffington Post and Twitter, promising to take this all the way to the U.S. Ambassador to Germany.
You can read all the lurid details here.
Lesson: Stay Calm
I don’t know the nuances of German defamation law, but in many U.S. jurisdictions a key element of successfully proving slander is harm. I’m not sure what harm comes to the police officer in question or the German Federal Police based upon her mutterings only overhead by one the security screeners involved in the incident.
Professor Fair reminds me of some of the worst professors I ever had. But I’m not ready to say she also doesn’t have a point…at least a small one. I’ve seen some fairly deplorable antics by German Federal Police officers that I won’t even get into here.
This part of her story gets me–
In retrospect, what I experienced was little more than jack booted thuggery. I also suspect that this was deeply gendered. These two men were annoyed that a woman (whom they repeatedly called “Miss” despite the fact that I am a 49-year old woman) dared to seek accountability for their unprofessional behavior.
Could it really be this simple? That Ms. Fair was a jerk, a total jerk perfectly befitting of the “Ugly American” moniker. And yet, she just asked for their names…
I’m trying hard not to take sides here. Some of the statements in Professor Fair’s story suggest to me that she is at fault. I don’t really buy the whole Hitler youth story. At the same time, I’ve also had arguments with German airport authorities over deodorant (and actually prevailed, though I was polite and jovial). And I’ve also seen German Federal Police officers treat people very poorly.
So for now let’s see how this plays out. I’ll post an update once we learn Fair’s fate.
What are your thoughts?