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In March, 40 officers divided into 10 four-man teams swooped in with
helicopters in a pre-dawn raid to seize six suspects in Dorchester
County, Md.

The principal suspect, Robert Gootee, was hauled from his bed and led
away in chains. His wife was not allowed to call anyone, nor were her
neighbors allowed to come in to comfort her, for four and a half hours.

What was the offense that precipitated this action? Was the four-year
investigation that led to the armed raid concerned with terrorism,
serial homicide or a major drug ring? What type of criminal offenses
were involved? Who were these brave law-enforcement agents who defied
death to make the arrests?

You had better sit down.

Gootee was charged with possession of an undersized striped bass,
striped bass out of season, untagged striped bass, possession of summer
flounder out of season, failure to tag and check deer within 24 hours
and possession of a loaded weapon in a vehicle. The agents involved were
from the state and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. And the target for
the raid was the Golden Hills Hunt Club.

Gootee, the club treasurer, was hauled away with such “evidence” as
deer and duck mounts and a framed photograph of his retriever bringing
in a duck.

Eventually, 24 other club members were charged with related offenses,
including failure to wear sufficient fluorescent orange while hunting.

We’re in serious trouble, folks.

Even as more Americans wake up to the reality of the dangers posed by
the gun-toting federales who brought us Waco, a new breed of
armed-and-dangerous green commandos is turning our forests into police
states.

Check out a report in this month’s issue of usually low-key Field &
Stream Magazine: “Looking for firepower, firefights and other fun stuff?
Forget the SEALs; Fish and Game is the place to be.”

“Wardens may be watching too many cop shows. How else can one explain
why increasing numbers of them seem to reject their workday reality and
the routine of dealing with essentially law-abiding people in favor of a
world in which the everyday sportsman is an ex-army commando ready for a
shoot-out or a high-speed car chase?”

The story continues: “Recruits to wildlife law enforcement now spend
more time learning how to break down the doors of alleged poachers than
how to differentiate the various species of sunfishes. The April 1999
issue of Wildlife in North Carolina describes the boot camp that
would-be officers go through in that state: ‘Relentless physical
exercise, material training and plenty of barracks inspections are the
norm for the first two weeks of wildlife recruit school … this
includes 40 hours of firearms training as well as many hours mastering
defensive tactics to disarm suspects.’”

The piece goes on to explain that the rationale used by many agencies
for such official militancy is a claim that game wardens are “seven
times more likely to be killed during an assault on the job than any
other type of law officer.” Trouble with that statistic is that there is
no basis for it in fact.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in 1997, 65 law
enforcement officers of all kinds nationwide were killed in the line of
duty. Not one was a warden. Whoops!

There seems to be an active effort by government to portray hunters
and other sportsmen as dangerous hombres — all potential killers. That
was the picture painted by some involved in the planning of the Maryland
raid.

Richard McIntire, spokesman for the state’s Department of Natural
Resources, explained: “We were dealing with people who are known to have
weapons,” he said, “and who are proficient in their use.”

Yeah, so? America is a land free precisely because the people have
historically been armed and self-trained in how to use firearms. The
Constitution not only protects the rights of individual Americans to
bear arms, it actually suggests — and, I believe, accurately — that it
is akin to a sacred duty for citizens to be armed and vigilant.

Of course, the picture of the woods as territory occupied by armed
anti-government militiamen and dangerous scofflaws doesn’t hurt one bit
when it comes time to convince legislators that the green cops need more
money for training, weapons and manpower. (Remember, the initial assault
on Waco was a public relations dog-and-pony show designed to persuade
Congress the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms needed more funds.)

It’s not surprising, then, that after the raid in Maryland some
American flags in Dorchester County were flying upside down. Not
surprising and not unwarranted.

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