Cindy McCain, the widow of former Sen. John McCain, has dedicated much of her professional life to stopping human trafficking. However, when Cindy McCain claimed that she stopped a human trafficking incident at the Phoenix airport, the police quickly disputed her story. Since she claimed to have spotted a trafficking victim because a woman looked different from her child, the critical reactions on Twitter were swift. Bustle has reached out to McCain for comment.
“I came in from a trip I’d been on and I spotted—it looked odd—it was a woman of a different ethnicity than the child, this little toddler she had, and something didn’t click with me,” McCain said on KTAR's Mac & Gaydos radio show on Monday. “I went over to the police and told them what I saw, and they went over and questioned her, and, by God, she was trafficking that kid.”
That claim was proven to be false when the Phoenix police told Arizona's Family and other news organizations that they did investigate the situation based on McCain's call, but “there was no evidence of criminal conduct or child endangerment."
She later commented on the situation on Twitter. "At Phoenix Sky Harbor, I reported an incident that I thought was trafficking. I commend the police officers for their diligence," McCain tweeted on Wednesday. "I apologize if anything else I have said on this matter distracts from 'if you see something, say something.'"
McCain's claim and its subsequent debunking quickly drew a range of angry reactions on Twitter.
"What a cool lie to encourage people to harass interracial families," tweeted feminist blogger Melissa McEwan, posting a link to the story.
"The police have already refuted this statement by Cindy McCain and given that she has an adoptive daughter from Bangladesh, I'm actually shocked by her behavior and tweet bragging about her racial profiling," wrote lawyer Amee Vanderpool.
Several other commentators also noted the fact that McCain herself has a child of a different ethnicity and then made the assumption that the woman in question was a person of color, although no news source has actually confirmed this.
Some also connected the incident to the rhetoric that President Donald Trump has used in his recent talks on immigration.
"No surprise that conservatives like Cindy McCain are reporting innocent families for human trafficking after Donald Trump keeps making fantastical claims about a fake mass human trafficking crisis," tweeted liberal podcaster Adam Best. "The only time the GOP gets trickle-down to actually work is with racist rhetoric."
Other Twitter users related the incident back to their own lives.
"Which airports do you prefer?" the blog Popehat's account tweeted. "You know, just so my multi-ethnic family knows which ones to avoid."
McCain is Chair of the Board of Trustees at the McCain Institute, where she also heads up the institute’s Human Trafficking Advisory Council, according to her bio on the institute's website. Fighting human trafficking has been a major focus in her career, and part of that has been an attempt to educate the public about how to stop it themselves.
“You can make a difference. Everyone can make a difference on this. It’s going on not just in big venues, but it’s in your own neighborhood,” she said in the Monday KTAR interview.
As this whole incident has shown, however, racially profiling biracial families at airports is not the best way to go about this.