It’s not often that an American citizen is the object of cheers for merely ascending the iconic steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
But amid the unprecedented shutdown of National Mall memorials, the breach of the federal government’s barricades became a political statement that provided some catharsis for visitors angered by the fact that the memorial and other open-air sites had been targeted for closure for the first time during a government shutdown.
After all, to the casual observer, it seemed clear that many more resources were being poured into keeping people away from the open-air memorials than it took to maintain normal operations.
John Ervin of Hermann, Mo., came to the nation’s capital with his wife and his daughter, who was celebrating her 10th birthday.
“The Lincoln Memorial was the only things she wanted to see,” he said Wednesday, referring to his daughter.
He told WND in a video interview that he decided, for the sake of his daughter, to breach the barrier at the memorial
Video by WND’s Jeremy Murray shows Ervin and another tourist at the top of the steps being confronted by a park officer and escorted off the site. When Ervin reached the top, however, the crowd below cheered.
“I was the second one to walk up there … and I wish a dozen or a hundred or everybody would have gone up there,” Ervin said. “It’s kind of hard to keep a thousand people from walking up there.”
He called the memorial closures “a stinkin’ mess.”
“We should be allowed to see all these things … our national treasures, our national monuments,” he told WND. “So I feel sorry for everybody that’s out here.”
On Wednesday, as WND reported, octogenarian World War II veterans who had flown in from Mississippi to visit the World War II memorial on the National Mall had to break through the barricades, with the aid of members of Congress, to fulfill their mission.
At the Korean and Vietnam memorials, tourists were routinely bypassing the barricades this week.
Carol Johnson of the National Park Service made it clear to John McCormick of the Weekly Standard that the order to barricade the World War II memorial came from the White House.
In contrast, during the government shutdowns in 1995 and 1996 in which President Clinton faced off with House Speaker Newt Gingrich, public sites, monuments and war memorials were kept open.
The barricade of the Lincoln Memorial marked the first time in history it had been completely cut off to visitors during a shutdown, the Daily Caller reported.
A Park Service ranger cited by Washington Times columnist Wesley Pruden couldn’t hold back his revulsion, tacitly disclosing the White House is using the memorials for political purposes.
“It’s a cheap way to deal with the situation,” he said. “We’ve been told to make life as difficult for people as we can. It’s disgusting.”
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s experience with the federal government this week regarding the shutdown suggested that it wasn’t for a lack of funding that the public sites were closed.
Her proposal to reopen Grand Canyon National Park using state money, the Associated Press reported, was rejected by the feds Thursday.
“I appreciate the support and I thanked them for the offer, but it’s not an offer we can accept,” said park superintendent Dave Uberuaga.
When WND tried Friday to reach Johnson, spokeswoman for the National Mall and Memorial Parks unit of the National Park Service, her voicemail message explained that because of the government shutdown she has been furloughed and couldn’t respond to phone calls.
National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst – available to answer questions only by email, the agency said – did not respond to WND’s questions.
The White House press office voicemail said the office had “greatly reduced staffing” and could only handle emergency requests via email.
A WND email went unanswered asking why the administration appears to have spent more money keeping people away from the open-air memorials than it costs to keep them running and how it would respond to critics who see a political motive behind the decision.
The Daily Caller noted the memorials are being guarded by more security personnel than they are during normal operations. Federal employees, meanwhile have been deployed to erect barricades on public grounds, such as bike paths, that normally are not patrolled.
Eight mounted police officers were on duty at one point this week to keep people out of the World War II memorial, the Daily Caller reported.
Normally, there are no employees of the National Park Service at the World War II memorial, but on Tuesday, the Weekly Standard’s McCormick reported, seven National Park Service employees were seen erecting and tending to the barricade.
The barricades were easily moved away when the veterans made their widely reported visit Wednesday, but by Friday, McCormick reported, the barriers had been reinforced, with wires tying them together.
Talk host Mark Levin stood up for the Mississippi vets in his typically blunt manner, issuing an angry warning on his Wednesday radio show.
“I want to tell you folks something – I want to say this loud and clear to the people who are on Capitol Hill who are listening, to this administration: You lay one damn hand on one of those World War II vets at that memorial, I’ll bring half a million people to that damn memorial.”