Editor’s note: This commentary is by Weiland Ross, a resident of Sunderland.
In 1946 there appeared a poem written by Rev. Martin Niemoller titled “Then They Came For Me.” Niemoller was a clergyman in Germany who for several years was a strong supporter of Hitler and the Nazi movement. At some point he realized the fallacy of his position and began to criticize the Nazis. He was imprisoned at Dachau, but escaped the Holocaust.
His poem lists the groups being purged by the Nazis, and his reaction. The poem reads, in part, ‘First they came for the ___, I did not speak out. Then they came for the___, I did not speak out. When they came for me, there was no-one left to speak out for me.’
The lesson here is clear. A political party spent several years gaining control of the government and then demanded complete conformity to their ideas. They implemented a concentrated ‘fake news’ machine which relied on the dictum that a lie repeated over and over becomes the truth. Anyone who opposed them were considered undesirable as members of society and were to be deplored and silenced. No dissent of any kind was tolerated.
The Nazis soon had a devoted following that did not sense the danger in their demand for ideological purity. They were supported in their programs by major corporations that profited by going along with their movement. Before long the demand for conformity spread from the national level down to the state and local levels. People fell into a mob rule mentality and turned on each other to demand conformity.
A similar mentality has emerged in the U.S. in the past several years. We have seen the rise of the ‘cancel culture’ and its demand to re-write our history to fit a confused set of new social and cultural memes. Too many people smiled vacantly as our national sovereignty was attacked by the open border folly and the ‘sanctuary’ cities and states that refuse to enforce federal laws. ‘Identity politics’ became a major force. Members of any identifiable group were told that they have no status as individual persons. Their only worth is determined by their membership in a group. Individual responsibility and free thought are considered dangerous.
The virtues that made our great nation are now under attack by those who would control our society for their own gain.
Vermont has not been immune to these trends. Too many Vermonters have mindlessly joined the movement to destroy the traditional values of our democracy. Controversial speakers are not tolerated at our most prestigious colleges, i.e., the riots at Middlebury two years ago. This past year has seen a series of abuses of freedom, i.e., the privileged status of the Black Lives Matter group. This group is controversial for several reasons, even though some of its goals are worthy. State and local official officials are afraid of them. They are permitted to paint their slogans on city streets and highways, but other groups are denied this opportunity.
BLM is a private political group, but their flag is flown officially at several schools around the state. No other political group is given this perk. When a group of voters in the Mill River School District tried to submit a petition to their school board to remove the BLM flag, they were told that they had no right to submit such a petition. So much for dissent.
Attacks on personal free speech are routine. The principal of a high school in Windsor County was forced to resign because she posted some comments on social media that were in support of President Trump. These were personal remarks not made in school or in any official part of her job. How can we justify punishing someone for speaking freely? The same question arises in the case of the Vermont State Police trooper who was forced to resign because he posted a comment on social media. Again, this was not done in any official police capacity, but as a private citizen. What happened to his right to express an opinion in a democracy?
Perhaps the most potentially dangerous abuse came last week when a legislator requested the attorney general if it was possible to subpoena the bus company that drove 51 Vermonters to Washington to attend the pro-Trump rally on Jan. 6 to supply the names of those who went. For what purpose? This representative has no right to inquire about these names. They broke no laws. The right to travel freely has been established by the U.S. Supreme Court in several rulings. Her only motive could be some kind of harassment of these people for being active participants in our democracy.
If free expression of ideas by our citizens is no longer tolerated in our peaceful little state, we have no choice but to be afraid, very afraid, of the steps that could follow.