Alan Greenbaum: Echoes of a dark history
Occasionally, something sets off an alarm within me; a siren goes off; something is going terribly wrong. This happened last week after certain events in Portland, Oregon.
In the words of the New York Times, “… unidentified federal agents clad in camouflage and tactical gear descended on Portland, beat and tear-gassed protesters and pulled others into unmarked vehicles for arrest and questioning.”
It turns out that these were federal agents representing different defense agencies including Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, TSA, the Coast Guard and the Federal Protective Agency. Together their announced mission is to protect federal “assets,” a term which usually refers to federally owned and run properties (courthouses, federal buildings, etc.). But in reality, this combined force was used in Portland to suppress protests that have been going on in that city for well over a month.
These troops wear informal camouflage clothing, have no uniforms, no name tags, no identity cards. They were driving around the streets of Portland in unmarked vehicles, stopping people who looked suspicious to them, dragging these individuals into their cars, taking them off to unannounced locations to question them and eventually, letting them go. No reading of their rights. No warrants for their arrest.
Since then, the second in command at Department of Homeland Security, Ken Cuccinelli, told NPR that they would be taking these tactics to cities throughout our country.
“I don’t need invitations by the state, state mayors or state governors to do our job. We’re going to do that, whether they like us there or not.”
In addition, according to the New York Times, “… the Department of Homeland Security has also authorized domestic surveillance of Americans on the basis of the president’s June executive order on the protection of statues and monuments.”
Reading about this set off an alarm within me. It was very familiar in an uncomfortable way. It took me back to a place and time that preceded my birth, but that I am very knowledgeable of because of my Jewish heritage — Nazi Germany during World War II.
After Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, Hermann Goring was assigned to form a Secret Police force. To do so, he merged units from two Prussian defense agencies and formed what was to be called The Gestapo. In 1934, Goring extended the Gestapo’s reach from being a state agency to being able to access every corner of Germany.
By design, the Gestapo troops did not wear uniforms. They wore no name tags. Even their official identity “shields” did not show their photo or name. This indeed was a secret police force designed to protect the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler. Part of the Gestapo was to collect intelligence regarding any person or entity that protested against the government policies. And there was dissent. It came from the religious community. Then it came from the students around the country. Finally there was a more general opposition.
You could see this in the organization structure of the Gestapo; its different departments:
Dept. A – Political Opponents (Communists, liberals, etc.).
Dept. B – Religious Groups (Catholics, Freemasons, Jews, etc.).
Dept. C – Administration of Political Affairs.
Dept. D – Occupied Territories.
The Gestapo dealt with each of these areas with a ruthlessness that created its own brand of terror throughout the country. It was very effective. Eventually the dissent quieted down and the rest, as we know, is a shameful part of history.
This seems to be where we are headed as a nation. Is this what we want for our own country and legacy? In our beautiful land of the free and home of the brave, where dissent is a Constitutional right to be cherished, are these voices to be brutally silenced? I hope you are also hearing the alarms that are sounding within me.
Alan Greenbaum lives in Grass Valley.
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