Groups Want Contractor Who Bulldozed Harpers Ferry Park Sued

Back in August I recounted an incident in which a contractor bulldozed a 45-foot-wide by 2,000-foot-long swath through a portion of Harper's Ferry National Historic Park so he could lay some utility lines.
Well, now the Civil War Preservation Trust, the National Parks Conservation Association and the National Trust for Historic Preservation want Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to take Jefferson Utilities, Inc., to court.
The utilities are intended to serve a 3,500-home subdivision being built on the park's boundary. While the contractor holds an easement to the land in question, he apparently failed to obtain permission before proceeding with the work.
"To ensure that these national treasures are preserved for the use and enjoyment of all Americans, alternations to national park lands must be thoroughly vetted through the NPS's permit process," says Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "In the case of this developer's proposal to alter land at Harper's Ferry, the permit review process was already under way, and it had found overwhelming public concern about the utilities and the thousands of homes they are designed to facilitate.
"Rather than abide by that process and honor whatever recommendation the NPS would eventually issue, we are concerned that the developer in this case willfully and knowingly violated the NPS permit process. If so, this is a deliberate disregard of the safeguards we have in place that protect our nation's historic treasures."
After the bulldozing occurred, a search of the land turned up several historic artifacts.
"The discovery of these artifacts suggests that additional historic remains likely were destroyed when the contracts removed dirt and debris from the Perry Orchard Tract," says Joy Oakes, the NPCA's mid-Atlantic senior regional director. "Interior officials must send a clear message that such deliberate illegal actions will not be tolerated on lands held in trust for all Americans."
You can read the groups' letter to Dirk here.


I go to Harper's Ferry from time to time and am trying to understand the geography of this. I take it that the subdivision is away from the main part of the park because geography would make that impossible. Along the Shenandoah there quickly rise extremely steep cliffs where a sub-development would be impossible. If I am reading this correctly, the utility lines to this sub-development, however, were in the narrow swatch of land occupied by the Park (nothing else can really take up that land except the park) to the sub-development adjacent to the Park. That's wild. Harper's Ferry regardless of its history is a stunningly beautiful area. While I am a student of history, it's not just a historical park. It is at the point where the Shenandoah and the Potomac meet surrounded by steep and beautiful hillsides. The geography is all important in understanding why John Brown failed and why the Union had no chance of holding Harper's Ferry if any of the high ground was controlled by the confederacy; it could be bombarded to oblivion. The geography, however, is also stunning enough that if no such town as Harper's Ferry existed, someone might have made it a national park anyhow. A more interesting story to me about Harpers Ferry National Park is something that I participated in protesting against. The National Park Service gave a permit to the Ku Klux Klan to have a rally at Harper's Ferry (they did the same at Gettysburg and Antietem), and they cited free speech as being the reason. I think its ludicrous to say that its free speech for racists to congregate who would deny free speech to people of color. What's more, NPS provided escorts and security for the rally. You could see Klansmen sitting in SUVs driven by rangers. I witnessed this with my own eyes. What's sadder is that people who came out against racism were outnumbered by onlookers who came to support the KKK. It was a scary and ugly scene, scarier I might add then utility lines. I felt ashamed to have witnessed such a display on the narrow strip of land along the Shenandoah. I guess Harper's Ferry has always been the scene of victories of racists over anti-racists, and that beautiful October day, with the leaves changing color, was no exception. Of course, that says nothing of the young people who were immediately arrested without warning and threatened with tasers by the local police in the town above because a couple had put on black masks. I don't think it's a legitimate that Park land be developed or that it should suffer through easements that allow utility. I also don't think that it should misunderstand the meaning of free speech so that oppressors and racists get permits, protection and full escorts while those who come to speak out against them get humiliated, scared, and in a couple cases arrested. Some would say that the Klan was exercising free speech, but a look at the scene will tell you something very different.
Free speech means free speech for all. You can't have 'free speech for me but not for thee'. The men at Gettysburg died to preserve America and its Constitution including the First Amendment.
So, you should actually be quite supportive of the actions against the Klan. What is free speech? If by free speech, it is speech that actually contributes to others not being able to have it, is it free? The Klan don't just have racist ideas; their very expression of those ideas is intentionally used as an intimidation against the speech of others. By its noise and intimidation, it actually stops free speech. What's more, free speech in this context is the speech that's permitted by the government in a place reserved for that speech - sometimes known as free speech zones or pens. Those without permits are not allowed to speak and are treated accordingly. Those with permits are tightly controlled. In this case, those with permits were protected while those without them were harrassed by authorities, intimidated, and left in a dangerous situation surrounded by racists. Some have said that campaign finance restrictions go against free speech on the grounds that money used in political campaigns is essentially speech. I won't disagree with that. I will disagree that the unlimited spending of money equates to "free" speech since there is a great imbalance in money. Those with more can speak so loudly by dominating the air waves that those with little get their speech drowned out. Their free speech has actually been impeded by the speech of others. The Klan have and intend to do the same thing. Many would not show up to speak against the Klan because they were very frightened by what might happen. That's exactly as the Klan intends it. Their speech of hate and disempowerment is not free speech, and it should not be tolerated. Any tolerance of it is complicity with overt racism and against free speech. And, the use of a utilities easement for a sub-development may be seen as a free right without qualification for anyone who own property. However, the use of that so called right in a way that disrupts the access by all to Harpers Ferry Historical Park actually is contradictory to the freedom that's supposed by the right. Freedom does not exist in a vacuous, meaningless space. It exists always among a community of inter-relations. When that community is violated by the use of what's called freedom, then it's a misuse of the word. The Klan is not just some other group with boneheaded ideas. They use their speech much the way the developer destroys land by digging ditches. Freedom is for all, and that's exactly why the Klan should be opposed. Jim P.S. You'd think it was all political, but I actually just wrote a different kind of tale about my experiences in Yellowstone: I don't think it's altogether irrelevant to our discussion. Briefly, I came upon moose one day in Yellowstone that stopped me in my tracks. I had to stop moving along the trail. Not all limits are detriments to freedom; we have to think about the way something limits us and why.
Jim, I believe, and think what your saying is that...we really don't live in a "free country"! Right?
Not if Jim has his way and only groups Jim approves of get to speak in public.
Well, that and a bit more. I'm suggesting that in the way that free speech is managed by the government, that it's a fiction that there actually is equal access to speech regardless of what one believes. I'm also suggesting, though, that not all use of speech constitutes free speech. I know that the Supreme Court said this in denying that if one yells "fire" in a movie theater where there is no fire that that should be considered protected free speech (although I guess this was ironically in a case used to stop people in the IWW who were speaking out against war and were subsequently prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917.) What the KKK does is not a simple act of expressing an opinion. It's not that they simply have racist opinions; it's that they speak those racist opinions in a way that actually stops or intimidates others from speaking. It's much like yelling "fire" in a theater when there is no fire. The Park Service at Harper's Ferry not only protected this speech, they further protected and helped the Klan to their speaking zone. They also gave privilege to the Klan over others who chose not to succumb to the permit process. I think the same thing happens in the blind eye often given toward those who abuse their claims to private property. Where that happens and the Park Service fights back, it's a wonder to me they don't apply the same principle to the KKK when they abuse their speech.
kath, I hope it's not only because I approve of the group; are we such moral relativists about everything that we can't determine the difference between free speech and oppressive speech? If we can't, then I don't even see the point of having a hard line about what "free speech" even means since that too will be relative. You have no basis for the claim that I oppose the Klan only because I disapprove of them. That's an ad hominem, and I'd hope we'd discuss reasons and not me.
In the line of what Jim says, I agree. The reason why one is not "free" to yell "FIRE" in a crowded theater where there is no fire is because that speech endangers the public around that person. In the same way, giving the KKK this platform endangers the public around the KKK. It wasn't that long ago that (and some believe it still goes on) that the KKK lynched and killed hundreds of African-Americans and others who sympathize with the Civil Rights movement. By allowing the KKK these platforms at high-profile, NPS sites, isn't the NPS, by default, allowing the KKK to further their message of hate, and recruit more to "their cause", thus potentially putting people in danger of their lives?
The government cannot make distinctions on which groups are given permits to speak on public land due to the content of their speech. That's basic First Amendment. The framers didn't want the Congress to ban speech that was unpopular. The framers believed that the best way to counter one speech was with more speech. So the Supreme Court let the Nazis march in a Jewish community, let anti-war protesters on the National Mall, let civil rights marchers cross the bridge in Selma and all sorts of similar examples. How long do you think we'd have 'free' speech if the government were permitted to decide that speech it didn't like was 'oppressive' and therefore banned? Thats the thinking of Mao and Stalin, not Madison and Hamilton.
Kath, what happened at Kent State?... a peaceful march and demonstration...then choas! A peaceful demonstration that went amuck after the National Guard started shooting at students...I think suppression was acted here! Besides, I thought Kurts blog was about the NPS, unless I'm missing point here.
Oh, I don't know, Snowbird, I think I'd have to side with Kath. Do we really want the government to say what is and what isn't free speech? Certainly there are laws in place to deal with inciting a riot and shouting "fire" in a theater. Kent State truly was tragic, a dark spot on our history. But I'd hate to think we need to edit speech before we hear it for fear of the ramifications of that speech. That, quite frankly, would be censorship. As for how pertinent this discussion is to national parks, I think it's fitting, not only in light of Harper's Ferry's turbulent history (ie. John Brown and his fight to end slavery) but because events such as the KKK march are, like it or not, part of our evolving history and, in this case, the march was conducted on park ground.
My point has been that the KKK is not simply being opposed on the grounds of the content of their speech but the actual application of their speech toward oppression. They don't just speak nonsense; I have no problem with a bunch of idiots like Free Republic being allowed to speak. They wield no influence at all with their hate speech. I do have a problem with the KKK, which parades with the intention to intimidate others who have no reason to be shut up from speaking. I also have a problem, bringing us back to the original intent of this thread, the government applying restrictions on free access inconsistently, allowing an abuse of speech but not allowing an abuse of a blank check assertion of property rights. I furthermore have a problem with the government applying their free speech rules based on a permit and zoning process. That's the wrong criteria on which to limit speech. The Park Service and other law enforcement groups have managed speech as a security concern and set up security guidelines that trump freedom; they however do not base it on the way the speech is used (or not typically - they actually do; they are much harsher toward political speech than they are other kinds of speech). When it comes to the Klan, it's not at all subjective, and it's not a matter of "not liking." Oppression isn't merely an "eye of the beholder" issue. Rape and murder, for instance, are clear individual acts of oppression. Slavery is one. And, so too are racism and sexism. And, there may be all kinds of ridiculous people who have ideas that rape, murder, slavery, racism, and sexism are okay. It sucks, but people are no danger except to themselves for being wrong. When they however do more than express their ideas but use the platform of those ideas as an explicit act of power and aggression, then it's a problem. When the state apparatus supports them by driving them to their area and harrassing those who came to speak out against them, that also is a problem. I can't say anything at this moment how it relates to Hamilton, Madison, or Stalin, none of whom are heroes of mine, but I can say that the support of a government in the aid of oppression is monstrous and should be opposed and spoken out against - and that speech should be allowed. There's a big difference between an anti-war protest (though the ones on the mall might as well be social carnivals - but that's my own personal lament) on the Mall, speaking out and taking action against state-sponsored aggression, and a Klan rally whose sole purpose is the intimidation of those people whom the Klan hates. The first supports a society where freedom can thrive; the second is contradictory to it. Jim
Kurt, your point is well taken. Your comment gives me good insight to my after thoughts.
A simple solution would be to deny permits to any group unless their reason for assembly is park-related. No "protests" of any kind should be allowed.
...and no POLITICAL use...the reason for the assembly should be related to the individual park mission...visitors on their summer vacation should not have to be confronted with mobs of angry people or those with a political agenda.
But, the very notion of a "national park" is by itself a "political" use; it is a political boundary set aside for a particular purpose. It would be all the more ironic for such a prohibition at Harper's Ferry! I think what you are proposing is perhaps the only one I've heard worse than allowing the Klan to speak because the power of the government is just that much more overwhelming. I don't understand what's so hard about the principle, especially as it relates to the Ku Klux Klan. Speech that is actually used as a tool of oppression shouldn't be allowed by the National Park Service, by you, or by me, whether it disturbs our vacations or not. Speech that is simply speech, however hateful or seemingly inappropriate, should generally be allowed, even at times to the detriment of our vacations. Of course, this opens up a whole load of other issues, but I'll save them for the time being. I'm working on my own essay related to the controversy here. Jim
Okay, the essay is written, drawing upon a lot said here but hopefully better written and therefore more coherently expressed: "Why KKK speech is not free speech"