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Brownhats—the Nazi park ranger horror show

October 12, 2013

[J.P.'s Moment of Common Sense on Broad View, KRNG 101.3 FM Reno. Listen live Saturdays at 11:00 AM Pacific Time.]

Ever heard of Godwin's law? Mike Godwin is an American lawyer and author who made an assertion in 1990 that eventually became an Internet adage. To paraphrase Godwin's law: the longer an Internet discussion goes, the more likely it becomes that someone will make a comparison to Nazis or Hitler.

And a corollary of the adage says that whoever made the comparison, that ends the debate and they lose.

Well, I'm willing to risk Godwin's law by comparing the way National Park Service rangers are acting during the current government shutdown to Nazis and I defy anyone to dispute my reasoning. First, a little history: in the 1920s and 1930s, the Nazi Party in Germany had a paramilitary group called the Sturmabteilung which aided Adolf Hitler's rise to power by protecting Nazi rallies, attacking opposing parties' rallies, fighting other paramilitary groups, and, in their spare time, intimidating Jewish citizens.

(And by "intimidating" I mean they destroyed their shops and synagogues, attacked them in the streets—sometimes beating them to death—and other lovely stuff. You think it can never get to that point here? Read on.)

They picked up the nickname "Brownshirts" because of the color of their uniforms—leftover World War I brown shirts they bought on sale because nobody else wanted them. From the Sturmabteilung evolved the infamous SS which was responsible for the worst Nazi war crimes during World War II—a war which eventually cost 60 million lives, more than 2.5% of the world's population.

The point of this history lesson is that Germany's Brownshirts, in their silly military-surplus shirts, with their juvenile-delinquent West Side Story-like gang wars against political opponents to promote that silly little man with the funny mustache, probably didn't seem like a serious threat to civilization when they started... but look what happened.

Now, here in the U.S., we have an armed group of taxpayer-financed thugs in funny-looking wide-brimmed brown hats using physical intimidation to aid the political ambitions of the Democrat Party, just like those silly guys in brown shirts aided the Nazi Party. The National Park Service has been commandeered to be President Obama's enforcers during the government shutdown, and the fact that they are cooperating and acquiescing in that function is why the comparison to Nazis is apt.

The enduring lesson that came out of the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals was that members of a bureaucracy, whether civilian or military, develop an almost limitless ability to justify following orders even when those orders, looked at objectively later, are blatantly illegal and seem too horrible to be rational. The tendency for human beings to follow orders has since been tested experimentally and the findings are not reassuring. The Stanford Prison Experiment of 1971 and the Milgram Study at Yale in 1974 proved that ordinary American students would treat each other with great cruelty in order to follow instructions from even a temporary imaginary authority.

This past week we were treated to the sight of a Park Ranger who was blocking access to the World War II Memorial in Washington, saying, "I'm not ashamed," immediately after admitting it's "difficult" having to turn people away. The question is, why is she not ashamed? Presumably, because she is following orders.

That excuse didn't work at Nuremberg and it doesn't work now for Park Rangers. Right is right and wrong is wrong no matter what your orders are.

Park rangers have engaged in activities over the last two weeks that will be remembered for years. Besides unnecessarily closing the war memorials (a demonstration of physical intimidation, pure and simple, because they cost less to keep open than to close), they've evicted senior citizens from their homes at Lake Mead and prevented people from going back to their house boats. They've closed down private businesses in San Francisco, the Smoky Mountains, Florida Bay, and the Grand Canyon. These are private companies, mind you, with legally enforceable leases on National Park property so the Park Service's actions are blatantly illegal. (As soon as the resulting lawsuits work their way through the courts we, the taxpayers, will have to pay the damages.)

They've tried to close privately-owned facilities like Mount Vernon which happen to sit adjacent to national park land, and they've blockaded privately funded facilities that sit on national park land but require no federal money. They even used traffic cones to block public highway turnoffs to prevent American citizens from merely looking at Mount Rushmore.

Think that's bad? In Wisconsin they tried to close state parks, too, but Governor Walker wasn't having it.

Along the Chesapeake and Ohio canal where bikers and joggers exercise, Park Rangers (no doubt just following orders) removed handles from water spigots so people couldn't get a drink. At the Grand Canyon, Park Rangers (just following orders) issued citations to people who dared hike into the park for a gander at the view and Park Rangers (just following orders) closed a state highway through the Grand Canyon area so nobody could drive through.

How they can legally close a state highway is a question begging for an answer. Whoever the governor of that state is, they obviously don't have Governor Walker's spine.

In Yellowstone National Park, armed thugs masquerading as Park Rangers (just following orders of course) treated tourists—some of them foreigners—so badly, with armed guards confining them to their hotel rooms and bussing them out of the area on five hour bus rides that weren't allowed to stop for bathroom breaks, many of these poor frightened people thought they had been arrested for something. They were scared to death.

Here's the kicker: a Yellowstone tour guide called the Park Rangers' actions "Gestapo tactics." There you have it—he said it first. Godwin's law applies to him, not me.

That's... today’s dose of common sense.

"I was raised in Chicago and I guess that was one of the special breeding grounds for gangsters of all colors. That was the Detroit of the gangster world. The car industry for us was being thugs." — Quincy Jones

"There is no week nor day nor hour when tyranny may not enter upon this country, if the people lose their roughness and spirit of defiance." — Walt Whitman

From Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA       

October 17, 2013 - Remember George H.W. Bush resigning from the NRA because they called ICE agents "jack booted thugs" over the Elian Gonzalez raid? No one making a scene now that federal agents are once again following orders to make life miserable for as many as possible, this time for a democratic president? What,you say the media are complicit in this debacle? That only proves that 'pubs and dems have a lot in common. They've both used law enforcement action for political gain. It's time to rid the gop of the Rockefeller republicans and insist on constitutional republicanism. – Don S., Missouri
J.P. replies: I agree with you about the Republicans being little different from Democrats—they're all leftwing statists in various stages of denial—but your history is slightly off. Ex-president Bush resigned from the NRA in 1995 (after the Oklahoma City bombing) when Wayne LaPierre refused to recant a 1993 NRA fund-raising letter that followed the Waco tragedy. The Elian Gonzalez incident happened in 2000. Why are the dates important? Well, because all four incidents—Waco, Oklahoma City, Elian Gonzalez, and now the Nazi park rangers—happened with Democrat presidents in office.

October 14, 2013 - I think Walt Whitman was trying to tell us that we have to be willing to go to jail for what is right by standing up against what is wrong. Are any of us there yet? I am getting very close! Great article! – Mary D., Michigan

October 12, 2013 - To paraphrase Freud, Sometimes a Nazi is just a Nazi. – Proof, California

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