Ursula Carlson: Warped, perverted, aberrant thinking
I never met the sheriff, Elton Sampson, of Montcalm County, Michigan, despite the fact that he was elected in 1950, my family’s first year in America. Elton, as he was affectionately known for the 18 years he served, had been Gen. Patton’s assistant and driver during World War II and had seen firsthand many of the prison camps after they were evacuated.
Elton, described as a “thinking man’s” sheriff by the local newspaper, would probably have frowned upon Michigan’s Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf, who made national news in the New Yorker magazine as well as on Fox News when he spoke out against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Witmer’s stay at home order as “unconstitutional.” Leaf belongs to the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, which holds that county sheriffs retain supreme authority within their jurisdictions to interpret the law and that their prime responsibility is to defend constituents from government overreach.
The CSPOA’s take on a sheriff’s duties do not adhere at all to the duties of a sheriff as described in the manual that, for instance, Michigan’s Mackinac County publishes.
It refers to the state of Michigan’s Constitution last revised in 1963, and it unequivocally states the following: “Sheriffs are elected officials but are duty bound to enforce laws of the land. Freedom is one of the paramount virtues of a democratic society. This is balanced by the need for society and the government to protect its citizens against harm or intrusion. On the one hand the police are to keep the peace and prevent civil disorder and on the other, selectively force citizens to comply with laws that may conflict with what that citizen feels is a freedom that he is entitled to have.”
Clearly, those who objected to or were ready to kidnap Witmer do not believe in obeying any law they disagree with personally.
And so, what was the “government overreach” that violated them to the point where one woman screamed, “We are living in Nazi Germany!”?
Having to wear masks to protect themselves and others against the COVID virus. And having to endure the temporary closure of “personal-care services” and other non-essential businesses in interests of containing the virus.
Today, in Germany, there actually are neo-Nazis who are “burrowing into the ranks of German police departments,” as reported in the Nov. 28 New York Times. After World War II, the Allies as well as West Germans themselves saw to it that the country’s police force never again be militarized or politicized by an authoritarian state like it was under the Gestapo. Cadets are now taught in “unsparing detail” about the shameful legacy of policing under the Nazis.
Nevertheless, to the dismay of those in government, far-right extremism is resurgent in Germany. Germany has approximately 80 million inhabitants; 1.8% are Turkish; 1% are Polish; 1% Syrian; 9% other. Turks began immigrating to Germany in the late 1950s and ’60s. Now the second, third, and fourth generations are no longer considered “foreign,” and Germans have incorporated their culture as part of their own.
The New York Times article focuses on a Turkish-German defense lawyer who specializes in Islamist terrorism cases and who is “used to threats from the far right.” What is alarming, however, about the last threat is that it contained her address which is not publicly available because of the earlier threats. So, whoever sent the threat had access to a database protected by the state.
An investigation revealed that her address had been retrieved from a police computer. And there are more revelations. Thirty-one officers were suspended for sharing images of Hitler, memes of a refugee in a gas chamber and a shooting of a Black man. Another racist chat group with 25 officers was discovered in Berlin because one officer blew the whistle. Six cadets were kicked out of Berlin’s police academy after playing down the Holocaust and sharing images of swastikas in a chat group of 26 other members. Ammunition and Nazi memorabilia were found in raids of homes of two officers in the cities of Kiel and Neumunster.
The police have been “courted” by the far-right group AfD (Alternative for Germany), and the organization has made “deep inroads” into the police force. A politician who runs the AfD in the state of Thuringia has been asking the police and intelligence agents to resist the orders of the government which he calls “the real enemies of democracy and freedom.”
The idea that one’s democratic government is the enemy of democracy and freedom is irrational on its face. Yes, we might think to ourselves, it’s not a big surprise that the rise of the far-right is crazy in Germany given its history, but we have our own shameful history, past and current, which makes the present anti-government, anti-democracy agitators very much at home here, too.
Ursula Carlson, Ph.D., is professor emerita at Western Nevada College.