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4 Creative Law Enforcement Techniques in the National Parks

March 3, 2009
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BY BRIAN KEVIN

When the Interior Department decided a few months ago to allow loaded, concealed weapons into national parks, heat-packin' groups like the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms hailed the decision as a victory for public safety. They cited, among other things, "the inability of park officials to provide adequate law enforcement services" due to slim budgets and staff.  But our trigger-happy pals might not be giving the Boys in Green enough credit. Where law enforcement is concerned, national park rangers have historically displayed a consistent knack for doing more with less. Check out these four examples.

1. Poachers Do the Walk of Shame

Picture 2.pngBack in the 1880s, poachers roamed Yellowstone like it was their own personal shooting gallery. Because the National Park Service wasn't formed until 1916, a ragtag company of U.S. Cavalrymen served as the park's first rangers. Unfortunately, they lacked the legal authority to punish poachers in any real way other than booting them from the park and temporarily seizing their gear. So in order to give their rule some teeth, soldiers got creative with logistics. After marching ornery hide hunters to Yellowstone's south entrance, rangers let the poachers know they could retrieve their sleep roll, gun, and supplies from the desk at park headquarters . . . seventy-five wilderness miles away at the park's north entrance!

Of course, that wasn't the only time early rangers relied on the technique. They resorted to similar measures when Basque shepherds were caught illegally grazing on park lands. While the hapless sheepherders got kicked out via the park's north gate, their sheep were graciously escorted east.

2. Smoking Out the Squatters

When Congress formally chartered Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1934, the crown jewel of the Eastern parks wasn't exactly a pristine wilderness — in fact, there were still a few hundred people living in it. While many Appalachian residents had accepted buyouts in the years leading up to the park's formation, others were too poor or too stubborn to relocate. What's more, the hundreds of empty cabins tucked away inside the park lured hordes of Depression-era squatters. Park rangers made a mission of evicting the unwelcome guests, but when the wily mountaineers wouldn't stay ejected, they simply began burning down any abandoned or temporarily vacated cabins. Not entirely without empathy, the park's first superintendent J. Ross Eakin noted that preventing squatters by torching ancestral homesteads tended to raise "considerable ire among residents."

3. Strong-arming the Kolorado Klan

In the mid-1920s, Colorado was a bastion of influence for the Ku Klux Klan-- a state where the governor, the mayor of Denver, and U.S. Senator Rice Means all openly accepted Klan support. After Senator Means made a publicity tour through southwestern Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park in 1926, local Klansmen sought to convince park superintendent Jesse Nusbaum to grab a white sheet and join the club. When he declined, the Klan showed up with plans to hold a torchlight parade in front of one of the park's most recognized Anasazi ruins. The upright Nusbaum told the Klan they weren't wanted in Mesa Verde, and to show that he meant business, visibly armed the small park staff with pick-ax handles and other improvised weapons. The Klansmen got the message and left the park without incident.

4. Taking Out Snowmobiles, Execution-style

a.snowmobile.pngGlacier National Park ranger Art Sedlack was getting pretty fed-up with snowmobilers cutting through the park along a snow-smothered stretch of Montana's Highway 2. He was pretty clear about this point when he apprehended four sledders one night in December of 1974, warning them not to return by the same route unless they wanted a ticket. When he heard the whine of approaching snowmobiles an hour later, Sedlack hopped on his 4x4 and chased down the repeat offenders. Fearing they'd try to bolt, he reached in to yank out the one of the lead vehicle's spark plugs, but when it proved tricky to remove, he opted to improvise. Drawing his park-issued .38 caliber pistol, Sedlack fired point-blank into the snowmobiles' still-cooling engine.  Man 1, machine 0.

The trespassers paid $25 fines, and Sedlack got a stern reprimand, along with the secret admiration of every ranger who's ever wanted to go Scarface on an exhaust-spewing snowmobile. For years, the Montana Wilderness Association even issued a "Sedlack Award" for creativity in defense of public lands.

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This Week's Best Amazon Deals You Can Still Get
April 30, 2017
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As a recurring feature, we share some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. These items were the ones that were the most popular with our readers this week, and they’re still available.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers (including Amazon) and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

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When the FBI Went After Mad Magazine
April 29, 2017
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Warner Bros., IStock

In a memo dated November 30, 1957, an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation identified as “A. Jones” raised an issue of critical importance: "Several complaints to the Bureau have been made concerning the 'Mad' comic book [sic], which at one time presented the horror of war to readers."

Attached to the document were pages taken from a recent issue of Mad that featured a tongue-in-cheek game about draft dodging. Players who earned such status were advised to write to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and request a membership card certifying themselves as a “full-fledged draft dodger.” At least three readers, the agent reported, did exactly that.

Mad, of course, was the wildly popular satirical magazine that was reaching upwards of a million readers every other month. Published by William Gaines, who had already gotten into some trouble with Congress when he was called to testify about his gruesome horror comics in 1954, Mad lampooned everyone and everything. But in name-checking the notoriously humorless Hoover, Gaines had invited the wrong kind of attention.

The memo got several facts incorrect: Mad had switched from a comic book to a magazine format in 1955, and it was Gaines’ E.C. Comics that had “presented the horror of war” in other titles. Despite getting these crucial pieces of information wrong, Jones didn’t hesitate to editorialize: "It is also of interest to note that…it is rather unfunny.”

The agent recommended the Bureau’s New York offices “make contact” with Mad’s headquarters to “advise them of our displeasure” and to make sure “that there be no repetition of such misuse of the Director’s name.”

Less than a week later, the Feds entered the hallowed hallways patrolled by Alfred E. Neuman. Their New York office would later report to Hoover directly that they had met with John Putnam, the magazine’s art director. (Conveniently, Gaines was not in that day.) Putnam told the agents he regretted the magazine using Hoover’s name and that nothing malicious was intended:

Putnam said that the use of the membership card and the name and address of the Director at the end of the game was referred to in their business as a 'gag' or 'kicker' in the same way that a comedian like Bob Hope or Milton Berle might use it.

Putnam swore that Mad would never again take Hoover’s name in vain; Gaines sent off a letter of sincere apology to the Director.

The Smoking Gun

Just two years later, in January 1960, Agent A. Jones was forced to file a second notice about the shenanigans at Mad. A recent issue had made not one, but two derogatory mentions of Hoover, including one in which he is blatantly and disrespectfully portrayed as being associated with a vacuum cleaner, “The Honorable J. Edgar Electrolux”:  

Obviously, Gaines was insincere in this promise…and has again placed the Director in a position of ridicule…it is felt we should contact Gaines…and firmly and severely admonish them concerning our displeasure…

It was by now clear Mad was not only polluting young minds, but that Gaines had absolutely no regard for the honorable Hoover’s position.

In June 1961, the FBI’s worst fears had been realized. Detailing an investigation into a Seattle-area extortion attempt led to the following:

Investigation … resulted in gaining admissions from the victim’s 12-year-old son and an 11-year-old companion that they had gotten the idea of preparing an extortion letter after reading the June issue of 'Mad' magazine.   

Working in concert with the Buffalo field office, the FBI determined another letter had been sent by a young boy demanding money in the style of a recent issue’s extortion advice. And there was a third under review that was sent to the agent of some professional wrestlers.

Mad was quickly becoming the scourge of the federal government. The FBI suggested the magazine be brought to the attention of the Attorney General for “instructing [readers] to deliberately violate the Federal Law.” They tried reaching out to Gaines, who was on vacation. (Time and again, Gaines simply not being in the office when called upon seemed to confound the FBI.)

Agent A. Jones, having exhausted all attempts to reason with these irresponsible anarchists, filed one last memo:

Despite assurances, they have continued to publish slurring remarks about the Bureau. In view of this situation, it was deemed useless to protest all such irresponsible remarks to a magazine of this poor judgment and capriciousness … we will have to wait and see if our action will result in increased discretion by this publication.

Poor A. Jones was unable to put an end to Mad’s reign of terror. But the magazine redeemed itself somewhat. In the 1970s, when the Bureau was trying to suppress the influence of the Ku Klux Klan, an agent suggested they copy and distribute a sticker from the magazine that read, “Support Mental Illness—Join the Klan!”

Hoover said no.

Additional Sources:
The Smoking Gun.

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