The return of ‘jack-booted’ thugs!

Pardon a little ancient history here: In my next-to-last column for The Washington Post I wrote that it was time for Republican politicians to “put the phrase ‘jack-booted thugs’ to rest.

You could hear it almost nightly on the news. Some of them used it every time federal officers were used in dangerous and or controversial situations. It happened a lot.

But that was then, May 2000, and this is now, June 2020, several wars and two major economic upheavals later — a Great Recession and whatever we are now enduring — as well as several presidents and a worldwide pandemic in progress.

It’s an understatement to say a lot has changed — it’s just about everything. But some things are the same, only with a different twist:

Twenty years ago, then Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) one of the most powerful men on Capitol Hill, called federal agents, acting on orders, jack-booted thugs. They were immigration officers who, depending on your point of view had either kidnapped or rescued a 6-year-old Cuban boy in Florida on orders from then-President Bill Clinton’s Attorney General Janet Reno.

At that time, two decades ago, it was fashionable for some GOP politicians to refer to federal agents as thugs or the American version of the Nazi Gestapo — a lot. Now it’s different. Now it is Democratic elected officials, mayors, lieutenant governors and members of the House who are calling federal agents in Oregon and elsewhere jack-booted thugs. Those who agree say the feds are encroaching on state and local rights, that the federal agents are hiding behind masks, grabbing peaceful protesters and taking them away for questioning. The feds say they are protecting government property and facilities, and the Portland man they tailed and interrogated was suspected of flashing a laser on the cops.

Twenty years ago, in response to my column a reader responded, “This is no way to treat federal employees who are enforcing the law. The villains are those who say, since they don’t like that particular law, it should not be obeyed. But as a veteran myself, whose father really deserved the title (he fought from Normandy to Munich in World War II), and whose wife’s family includes numerous Holocaust survivors, I would say, without hesitation, that federal employees are not ‘jack-booted thugs,’ and it is unfortunate that anyone would characterize them as such.”

Over the years I’ve dealt with lots of federal agents from the FBI to ATF. And I’ve known, since childhood, my son’s best friend who grew up to become a U.S. Park policeman. I took aikido lessons with a Treasury Department agent. Several of my best buddies, especially around St. Patrick’s Day, were DEA agents — professionally and personally good people.

I’ve seen them in action, good and bad but mostly real good. One thing about the vast majority of them is you may not like their elected official bosses, or the the policies and laws they are sworn to carry out. But calling them jack-booted thugs or Gestapo is a little over the top. Go after their bosses, that’s fine, that’s what we do. It is our right, but be careful with the labels.

The Washington Post last week ran a front-page story explaining many people are concerned about the 2020 election, as in what happens if it is contested. Some Americans fear, the Post said, that if the election is contested or challenged, the incumbent might not want to vacate the White House. These days, that’s a thought. But politicians and pundits, right or left, trying to make a point shouldn’t hype the issue. Today’s heroes could be tomorrow’s jack-booted thugs, or the other way around.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Amelia Brust

The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City has a small plot of land behind its garden, dedicated as a rodeo animal cemetery. Interred animals include the quarterhorse Baby Doll Combs, Hells Angels the bucking bronco, Abilene the Texas Longhorn and Tornado the bull.

Source: Atlas Obscura

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