What the stampede at JFK airport tells us about fear

Travelers mishearing applause apparently triggered a full-scale "stampede" at JFK, complete with screaming crowds, people shouting about guns, and police running around aimlessly with weapons drawn. It was shut down for hours.

The fact that there was no attack at the center of it was both the weirdest and the scariest part — that an institution whose size and location and budget should make it a fortress, in a country that has spent 15 years focused compulsively on securing its airports, in a city with a terrifyingly competent anti-terror police unit, could be transformed into a scene of utter bedlam, stretching out from all eight terminals across the tarmac and onto the adjacent highways, by the whisper of a threat. ...

For several hours, we were in the flood of panic and chaos of an ongoing act of terror. There’s no other way to describe it. That it was an overreaction almost doesn’t matter; in fact, that is how terrorism works.

Hysterical fear was always the invisible counterweight to security theater. Each is as real as the other. Read the rest