By Jean Paul Zodeaux
The blame for the petty, mean spirited closure of national public parks lies squarely on the Obama Administration. National Parks did not need to be closed and simple signs in areas such as Yellowstone Park declaring that due to the government shutdown Park Rangers will not be available to offer services and that people enter the park at their own risks would have been more than enough, but in this age of insanity where so called “intellectual” presidents think they can, much like a spoiled child, illustrate a point through petulance and abdicate all responsibility, I suppose it makes a pretzel logic sort of sense that lower level rank and file government employees would do the same.
The president of the Ranger Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police George Durkee, has posted an open and petulant letter to the public that begins:
“In recent days, media coverage regarding the actions of NPS rangers has been less than flattering. The image of a United States Congressman yelling at a Park Ranger — doing her job as she was directed — was shameful.
Park Rangers are being assigned tasks that, at minimum, are an inconvenience to the public and that often deprive the public of their access to Federal lands and facilities.”
Durkee is, of course, referencing Rep. Randy Neugebauer’s outrage at the attempts at keeping World War II vets from standing at an open air memorial adjacent to a sidewalk. Let me repeat that. The World War II Memorial is a wall outside on some grass next to a sidewalk. Keeping people “out” meant erecting barricades, not shutting and locking doors, not boarding up windows, but erecting temporary barricades in a show of grotesque childishness. Yet Ranger Durkee clearly thinks it was appropriate to erect these barricades at an open air memorial adjacent to a sidewalk and the poor, poor, pitiful Park Ranger who was castigated by Rep. Neugebauer was only doing her job.
The United States military tribunal in Germany hung Nazi soldiers who made that exact same argument. Granted, placing barricades around an open air memorial adjacent to a sidewalk is no where near the atrocity of the Holocaust but a superior orders defense can only lessen a charge or conviction and is generally not accepted as a valid defense for the knowing commission of a crime. Was it criminal to place barricades around an open air memorial adjacent to a sidewalk? It is arguably coercive which is certainly criminal. Then there is the matter of violation of rights. If the government is going to prevent someone from exercising their right to visit the World War II, and just because it is a Memorial built by that federal government does not in anyway diminish the right to visit it, they must have some compelling argument to weigh against that violation of a right.
What compelling argument does the government have to coerce people into believing government shutdowns mean deprivation of rights?
“Closing National Parks is against our nature. The reason we became Park Rangers and love our profession is because we enjoy welcoming people from around the world to our national treasures, and providing for safe and enjoyable visits to these sites, while leaving them protected for future generations.
However, there is a law governing government shutdowns, the Anti-Deficiency Act. Over the decades, multiple administrations have implemented closures under this law. We are unaware of any injunction or other court-issued document that has ever overturned the government’s authority in these matters. For those who believe they have standing, we urge you to seek legal remedies in court if you believe NPS actions to close park facilities to be illegal. Life would be much easier for us if the parks were open.”
The emphasis is added, but before emphasizing this legal argument made by Ranger Durkee, let’s consider his claim that closing national parks is against the nature of park rangers. If this is so, then why has no Ranger refused to follow the order to “make life as difficult for people” as they can? Is it also in a park rangers nature to use gestapo like tactics to harass old women at Yellowstone Park? Is this what the Anti-Deficiency Act requires of Park Rangers, to “make life as difficult for people” as they possibly can?
The Anti-Deficiency Act does no such thing! What the ADA does is prohibit the federal government from entering into a contract that is not fully funded. Presumably our National Parks are fully funded and further the order to “make life difficult for people” is arguably a new contract made with Park Rangers as there is no evidence such a contract was made with Rangers prior to the government shutdown. Is Ranger Durkee lying by pointing to the ADA? Probably he is lying, and at the very least that falsehood is rooted in his probable ignorance of the actual language of the ADA.
Police officers across the nation, federal, state and local, generally have a tendency to cite some legislative act to defend their criminality counting on the general ignorance of the law most people hold in this country. However, a park ranger counting on the ignorance of the law in others while bragging about his own ignorance of the law is a recipe for embarrassment, at the very least. When a police officer or even a park ranger misinterprets law and is guilty of mistakes of fact and is confronted by someone who actually knows the law, time after time the reaction is the same. They look like frightened deer caught in the glare of headlights.
Ranger Durkee apparently believes that part of his job as Park Ranger is to enforce the Anti-Deficiency Act:
“Without any contrary court findings or changes in the law, we will carry on with this miserable, thankless, and pay-less task denying public access to parks during the government shutdown. Although our actions too often make sensational news stories and fodder for pundits — they are supported by precedent and legal guidance from government lawyers, under laws we are sworn to enforce.”
This memorandum, however, makes clear who is tasked with enforcing the ADA and it sure as hell ain’t Park Rangers ignorant of the law. There was a time when non-acquiescence was a central part of the American spirit as is demonstrated by 90 year old World War II veterans who tore down the barricades to the World War II Memorial, but that’s “Joe Sixpac” engaging in non-acquiescence and more recent generations hardly even know the term let alone engage in it, but there was a time when politicians and law enforcement would also practice non-acquiescence. If ever there was a valid reason for Park Rangers to not acquiesce to an order, this was the moment and that none did is what is shameful.