---- — We have reached a very sad state of affairs indeed in our country when citizens can describe public servants as behaving like the Gestapo -- and that heinous description turns out to be quite justified.
The experiences of a Merrimack Valley resident on a tour of our national parks as the federal government shutdown hit echo the stories of officially sanctioned thuggery we have heard from across the nation. The treatment of this woman and her tour group at the hands of Park Service rangers -- acting under the direction of the Obama administration -- is shameful and appalling.
It is a measure of the contempt in which political leaders hold the public, an attitude that turns the concept of “public service” on its ear. Those who would behave in such a manner do not see themselves as public servants at all but rather as overlords attempting to control an unruly peasantry.
The budget stand-off in Congress that produced the shutdown is rapidly diminishing in importance as the evidence of how official Washington views the public it was elected to serve becomes clear. The message from the administration is this: The people’s representatives have forced a government shutdown. Therefore, the people must be made to suffer.
Salisbury resident Pat Vaillancourt was unwilling to accept her punishment meekly. The senior citizen, who grew up in Lawrence, told the Daily News of Newburyport of her outrage at the treatment of her group at Yellowstone National Park.
Vaillancourt was on a nine-day tour of Western parks and sites along with about four dozen senior citizen tourists. The group arrived at Yellowstone just as the shutdown went into effect. Armed rangers ordered the tour group to stop photographing wildlife and herded them into a hotel, where they remained under armed guard to prevent them from going outside and “recreating.” Barricades kept them from viewing the park’s scenic sites, such as Old Faithful geyser. Some of the foreign nationals on the tour feared they were under arrest.
“We’ve become a country of fear, guns and control,” Vaillancourt told the Daily News. “It was like they brought out the armed forces. Nobody was saying, ‘we’re sorry,’ it was all like ...” as she clenched her fist and banged it against her forearm.
When the tour was ordered to leave the park -- a ride of more than two hours -- the bus was unable to stop to use the bathroom facilities of a private dude ranch located within the park. The ranch owner had been warned his license to operate would be revoked if he allowed the bus to stop.
The tour bus made its way to Livingston, Mont., at the gateway to the park. There, tour guide Gordon Hodgson decried the park service’s “Gestapo tactics.”
“The national parks belong to the people,” he told the Livingston Enterprise newspaper. “This isn’t right.”
Similar tactics have been on display across the country. Rangers have barricaded roads and blocked access to the Gettysburg National Military Park, a collection of open-air monuments along largely public roads on the Civil War battlefield. They have blocked highway pullovers that allow views of Mount Rushmore and they have barred veterans from visiting open-air war memorials on the National Mall. Curiously, the Mall will be open for a rally in support of immigration reform, a cause dear to the Obama administration.
In Newbury, the gates to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge have been locked, keeping visitors from walking along the beach without federal supervision.
Visitors to the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire are still allowed to look at the turning leaves. But 22 privately run campgrounds on federal land have been ordered closed by the Forest Service.
Our leaders have made it clear that Americans must be made to pay for their insolence. We hope our fellow Americans will remember this bitter lesson at their next visit to the ballot box.