I don't know what really happened on AirTran Flight 297 from Atlanta to Houston on November 17 -- a flight that's the subject of right-wing rumors that are going viral right now. I know initial reports claimed that the flight was delayed two and a half hours when a passenger refused to end a cellphone call; a later report was more detailed, though still a bit confusing:
... An AirTran spokesman said a man traveling with a group Tuesday afternoon refused to turn his cell phone off before takeoff. But the woman sitting behind the man said it wasn't a phone at all, and feels the entire incident was the result of poor communication.
"He was not talking on a cell phone, it was a camera," said Nancy Deveikis of Marietta. "He was looking at pictures."
A flight attendant asked the man twice to turn off the device, Deveikis said. But it was clear the man did not speak English, she said. Although the man was traveling with others, the rest of the group was seated throughout the plane.
When the man did not respond to the flight attendant, she took the camera from him, Deveikis said....
The members of the group were asked to leave the plane, then all but two, the man with the device and an English speaker who said he could interpret, were reseated. The flight eventually took off and landed safely.
But now I'm hearing from Right Blogistan that THIS WAS A TERRORIST DRY RUN ARGH ARGH WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!!1!!!1!!!:
Remember the flight from Atlanta to Houston that got turned around because of the guy who wouldn't get off the phone? That's not what happened. From the website Nobody Asked Me via Pierre LeGrand:
I was in 1st class coming home. 11 Muslim men got on the plane in full attire. 2 sat in 1st class and the rest peppered themselves throughout the plane all the way to the back. As the plane taxied to the runway the stewardesses gave the safety spiel we are all so familiar with. At that time, one of the men got on his cell and called one of his companions in the back and proceeded to talk on the phone in Arabic very loudly and very aggressively. This took the 1st stewardess out of the picture for she repeatedly told the man that cell phones were not permitted at the time. He ignored her as if she was not there.
Let me just interrupt right here and say that if you think it's odd that a bunch of evil murderous jihadists would draw attention to themselves by "talk[ing] on the phone in Arabic very loudly and very aggressively" before takeoff, when they can much more easily be subdued or removed -- especially at a moment when cellphones are supposed to be turned off -- well, you haven't gotten to the really implausible part yet:
The 2nd man who answered the phone did the same and this took out the 2nd stewardess. In the back of the plane at this time, 2 younger Muslims, one in the back, isle, and one in front of him, window, began to show footage of a porno they had taped the night before, and were very loud about it. Now….they are only permitted to do this prior to Jihad. If a Muslim man goes into a strip club, he has to view the woman via mirror with his back to her. (don't ask me….I don't make the rules, but I’ve studied).
(I love that preposterous and utterly implausible bit of folklore, don't you? I have no idea where this guy got it.)
The 3rd stewardess informed them that they were not to have electronic devices on at this time. To which one of the men said "shut up infidel dog!"
OK, that's it. You lost me there. You were straining credulity up to that point, but now you've gone totally over the line. But there's more:
She went to take the camcorder and he began to scream in her face in Arabic. At that exact moment, all 11 of them got up and started to walk the cabin. This is where I had had enough! I got up and started to the back where I heard a voice behind me from another Texan twice my size say "I got your back." I grabbed the man who had been on the phone by the arm and said "you WILL go sit down or you Will be thrown from this plane!" As I "led" him around me to take his seat, the fellow Texan grabbed him by the back of his neck and his waist and headed out with him. I then grabbed the 2nd man and said, "You WILL do the same!" He protested but adrenaline was flowing now and he was going to go....
Yeah, I really believe this. I really believe you were John Freakin' Wayne, sport. (Our Hero was then interrupted by cops and TSA officials; this is when the Scary Muslims were escorted off the plane, then -- dammit! -- allowed back on.)
There's another account of this incident, from Keith A. Robinson, "Corps Commander for the Houston Regional Community Chaplain's Corps" (PDF), that kinda-sorta confirms this one -- except that Robinson apparently missed some of the action and was told of a different set of bizarrely implausible suspicious acts:
One gentleman confronted the gate agent demanding his luggage be removed from the flight. As I spoke to him he related that when Flight 297 left the concourse the first time it began taxiing to take off when approximately 12 men of Middle Eastern appearance stood up and began dancing and singing in an Arabic dialect. They refused to be seated when directed to do so by the flight attendants. Then, the singing stopped and some of the men took out their cell phones and began taking pictures of the other individual passengers. Again, the men were ordered to be seated by the flight crew and refused while continuing to take their pictures. Next, the de-boarded passenger related that a few of the men gestured with imaginary guns as their fingers, indicating with their triggering action that they would shoot the people on the plane.
Because, really, isn't dancing and singing and making fake shooty gestures what you'd do if you wanted to lull people into a false sense of security before killing them midflight?
As I say, I don't know what happened here. I don't know what happened in a similar incident in 2004 reported by Annie Jacobsen (and endlessly blogged about on the right), but I do know that government officials -- remember, Bush was president at the time -- rejected the most overheated theories about what happened.
I'm not ruling out the possibility that this is a test by our own government -- a clumsy test scripted like a B-movie. Alternately, it may be that guys in groups sometimes act like assholes even if they're not of European descent. Or maybe this really is a new form of terrorism, in which murder and mayhem are replaced with a sinister, diabolical campaign of ... screwing with our heads. The fiends!
UPDATE, SATURDAY: Oops -- it looks as if John Wayne wasn't actually on the flight at all. Oh dear.