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Commentary: Furor over der Fuehrer

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 23, 2009 - National Socialism returned to St. Louis last weekend. On Saturday, while a detail of local cops and federal park rangers looked on, a throng of tens gathered beneath the Arch to listen to speeches by the National Socialists -- more commonly known as Nazis -- about how God intended us white folk to enjoy dominion over the Earth and the inferior races of people that comprise the majority of its population.

The Almighty's opinion of this interpretation of divine will is unknown, though it is perhaps not merely coincidental that just as speeches began, so did a heavy spring downpour that sent the hundred or so onlookers scurrying for cover.

Mankind's first experiment with this particular ideology resulted in a world war, the destruction of most of Europe and the loss of millions of lives. Undeterred by initial setbacks, the modern neo-Nazis seek to rekindle the movement.

They first came to St. Louis for a parade 31 years ago. At the time, I was a beat cop in the city's Third District detailed to provide security for the event. Twenty years later, I wrote a column about the day. As the following abridged and slightly revised version of that piece should serve to illustrate, Karl Marx had it right when he remarked that history repeats itself, "the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce." Listen:

National Socialism made its brief debut in St. Louis on March 20, 1978. Earlier that spring, the American Nazi Party had garnered some cheap publicity by staging a march through Skokie, Ill. -- a predominantly Jewish community near Chicago. Understandably, the march took place under heavy police vanguard and was widely reported by the national press.

Buoyed by the prospect that somebody might actually be paying attention to them, the born-again Nazis decided to hold more parades. Here, they chose the city's near South Side, territory known in the Police Department as the Third District.

The choice of locale was not accidental. The Third had a large population of blue-collar whites, and the area was undergoing significant racial integration. Our storm-trooper wannabes planned to stir up a little ethnic paranoia, appeal to everybody's baser instincts and, in the process, win some converts to their simple-minded doctrine of intolerance.

Unfortunately for the aspiring National Socialists, their target population included a large contingent of WW II veterans and their families. These people didn't just dislike Nazis; they hated them.

Fearing civil disorder, the Police Department went into full mobilization. Recreation days for district officers were cancelled, and riot control techniques were reviewed daily at roll call. District detectives were returned to uniform duty and a plain clothes detachment of officers was formed to work behind the crowd. It would be their job to disarm the more enthusiastic spectators.

We took our positions along the parade route on an overcast Saturday morning. I was assigned to what was optimistically termed "crowd control." This turned out to be a lot like working as a traffic cop during the parting of the Red Sea.

As the onlookers swelled into the thousands, "crowd control" devolved into "horde management." Event organizers decided to forfeit their precious right to march, agreeing instead to ride in the back of a flatbed truck.

The now-motorized march started off pretty much on time with a few limp "Sieg Hiels." Spectators returned that salute in a different fashion.

By the time the "parade" got to me, it was going about 40 miles an hour. The show consisted of 20 or so geeks in ill-fitting uniforms cowering under a barrage of rocks, beer bottles and fetid vegetation.

We were next deployed to Nazi headquarters -- in the back of a vacant shop on Chippewa. The police formed a cordon around the building. I was among those who drew the duty of accompanying our guests inside. We got to guard them while they changed out of their Halloween costumes so they could slink home in anonymity.

My shell-shocked charges looked more like wet dogs than the Waffen SS. Most were in their late teens or early 20s and would have been better advised to seek an effective cure for acne rather than worry about world domination.

Ultimately, the plainclothes guys hustled them out and the crowd dispersed, well-pleased with the day's effort. Local taverns reportedly did a brisk business.

I mention all of this because the young men who saved the world during WW II fought to ensure that their heirs could enjoy the blessings of liberty. Not the least of these is freedom of speech. And the farce I've described was, believe it or not, a practical application of that right.

But the young men who stormed Omaha Beach didn't demand a police escort before they'd get off the boat. They knew full well the consequences of their actions and paid a terrible price for their conquest. That's why they're heroes.

If you want to burn the flag or conduct a Klan rally in a minority neighborhood, go right ahead. The government can't stop you. But be a hero to your cause. Don't ask me and the other people you're trying to insult to shield you from the results of your crude behavior.

As Charles Peguy once observed, 'Freedom is a system based on courage'."

Among other things, the First Amendment was written to prevent governmental censorship of political expression -- not to create a permanent holiday from the consequences of outrageous behavior. It begins with the words, "Congress shall make no law ..."

If a vocal contingent of morons chooses to exercise that liberty to rally on behalf of der Fuehrer, it's difficult to see why the rest of us have to pay to protect them from the furor they provoke.

M.W. Guzy is a retired St. Louis cop who currently works for the city Sheriff's Department. His column appears weekly in the Beacon.

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