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The subject was a flaming code red. Totally suspicious.

Possible weapons were stashed everywhere.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

Four separate government agencies were involved — from the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to the local police force.

The plot? A block party.

The suspect? A Capitol Hill mother of three who waited until 17 days before the shindig to alert the authorities.

She showed up at the security posts pushing a stroller laden with suspicious objects.

“What is this?” a DHS officer asked dubiously, pulling a Lincoln Log from one stroller pocket.

“Why do you have this?” asked yet another at the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue, after finding a rock.

“I have a 3-year-old boy. I have rocks!” explained an exasperated Angela Henson, after visiting the third government agency of the day in her quest to get a permit for her neighborhood’s block party on F Street NE this weekend.

“I just don’t get it. Why does the Department of Homeland Security give a rat’s fat patootie about this block party?” the Georgia native demanded.

Welcome to the Security Theater Stage, Angela. No food, no drinks and please turn off your cellphone during the performance.

What’s that you say?

Oh yeah. The terrorists are everywhere. Just this week, a 26-year-old man from Massachusetts was arrested by the FBI and charged with plotting to fly explosives-laden model airplanes into the Pentagon and Capitol.

Sorry — drones, I mean.

Of course the dude, who lived in his parents’ basement and fantasized about killing his fellow Americans, wasn’t making much progress until an undercover federal agent posing as an al-Qaeda operative gave him the cash to build a GPS-enabled, model airplane the size of a patio table and supplied him with what appeared to be loads of C4 explosive.

But that’s the way things go these days. We hear that the feds catch some loser whose cocktail-napkin plot was egged on by our officers, and suddenly we are gripped by our worst fears. Danger is in a suitcase on the Metro, in a shoe, someone’s underpants, a toy airplane or even at a block party.

All we have to do is revisit one second of all those 9/11 memorial services this month to remember that it could happen. And then we all agree to take our shoes off and show our IDs over and over again.

Our fear makes it reasonable to involve the DHS when we want to share potato salad with our neighbors.

When Angela Henson was dragging her kids through a fifth security screening to get that block party permit this month, her 9-year-old daughter wanted to know why the agents were considering confiscating the baby sunscreen Henson carries in the stroller. Henson only had to open her mouth to start explaining before her daughter interrupted: “I know, Mom,” she said with an eye roll. “9/11.”

The other day my 4-year-old plopped himself on the ground outside of the public library and began taking his shoes off.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“We’re going through security,” he said, pointing at the library’s magnetic detectors.

Of course, he is a master thespian on the Security Theater Stage. Before he could walk, he deftly learned to slip off his leather booties when we went to an airport. Thank you, Richard Reid.

Because, of course, you can pack a whole lot of C4 into a bootie the size of dried apricot.

Remember how outraged the country was last year when the Transportation Security Administration announced enhanced pat-downs and body scanners that would turn us into ghostly nudie models swapped like trading cards on the Internet?

Parents nearly called the blue-gloved agents molesters, commuters were outraged and one woman in L.A. famously traveled in a string bikini to avoid being electronically ogled.

But get this. While we’re box-checking our way through procedures mandated by agencies, loads of people are getting through various security checkpoints with knives, explosives and weapons.

The truth is, we’ll never really know how many terrorists we have thwarted thanks to those billions of dollars spent on personnel, bollards, magnetometers and body scanners.

The scariest attempts — the aspiring underwear and shoe bombers — were thwarted by fellow passengers, not agents.

For a while last year, the Boy Scouts’ annual model rocket launch at the Greenbelt NASA facility was axed because of airspace security concerns.

Now we’ll begin to monitor model airplane clubs and stake out Hobby Lobbies. Every remote-control toy will have to be registered with the DHS. We’ll grumble for a while, then we’ll just do it.

Just remember, when you go to their office, be careful to leave the Lincoln Logs at home.

E-mail your most ridiculous Security Theater story to


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