It all started with a man who said no one was going to touch his "junk".
John Tyner turned down an invitation to step into one of the new body scanners springing up in American airports which offer security guards an all but naked view of passengers. When Tyner refused, the guard at San Diego said he would have to submit to a body pat-down and then went on to describe what that meant.
Tyner said he was fine with that up to the point where a hand would explore his groin.
"If you touch my junk, I'm gonna have you arrested," he said.
Needless to say, Tyner didn't fly. Instead he was threatened with a civil suit and a fine of $10,000 (£6,200).
A week later, the incident has reverberated across the country to the halls of Congress and prompted a campaign for travellers to boycott body scanners next Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving and one of the busiest for American airports.
Tyner recorded the encounter with airport security using his camera phone. The video went viral and days later the head of the Transport Security Administration (TSA), John Pistole, found himself before Congress defending the full body scanners introduced after a Nigerian terrorist attempted to blow up a plane over Detroit last Christmas Day with explosives hidden in his underwear. Pistole was also forced to defend the introduction at the beginning of this month of more probing body searches for those who do not wish to go through the scanners. The search includes a firm pressing of a security guard's hand on genitalia and breasts.
"The outcry is huge," Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson from Texas told Pistole. "I know that you're aware of it. But we've got to see some action."
Senator George LeMieux said: "I wouldn't want my wife to be touched in the way that these folks are being touched. I wouldn't want to be touched that way."
Pistole was having none of it.
"I'm not going to change those policies," he said. The TSA chief said that most air passengers, given a choice between a plane full of people who have been screened and one where they have not, would choose the former: "I think everybody will want to opt for the screening with the assurance that that flight is safe and secure."
On Thursday, Congressman Ron Paul introduced legislation to counter what he called the "calamity" of airport security. It proposes barring the government from doing what ordinary citizens would not be allowed to do to strangers – photographing them naked or touching their private parts.
"If we can't take nude photos of people why do we allow the government to do it? We would go to jail," he said. "Something has to be done. Everybody's fed up. The people are fed up. The pilots are fed up. I'm fed up. What we're putting up with at the airport is so symbolic of us just not standing up and saying enough is enough. I know the American people are starting to wake up but our government, those in charge, Congress, are doing nothing."
Paul highlighted an issue that critics latched on to: that pilots also have to be body scanned or intimately searched.
"Can you think how silly the whole thing is? The pilot has a gun in the cockpit and he's managing this aircraft which is a missile, and we make him go through this groping, x-ray exercise, having people feel in their underwear. It's absurd," he said.
For all the noise, a CBS poll this week found that four out of five Americans see body scanners as a necessary security measure. It has not gone unnoticed that some of those most critical of the government over the issue – including conservative members of Congress, Fox News and websites such as the Drudge Report – vigorously accused the Obama administration of security lapses because the "underwear bomber" was able to get explosives on to a plane.
Pistole has strongly criticised the call to boycott screenings.
"On the eve of a major national holiday and less than one year after al-Qaida's failed attack last Christmas Day, it is irresponsible for a group to suggest travellers opt out of the very screening that may prevent an attack using non-metallic explosives," he said.