Swastikas, Big Brother, and Image Control: You name it, it's coming to the Twin Cities

Apparently there is nothing that makes Republican strategists more nervous than the possibility of being photographed in front of a Nazi flag during the convention. Albeit, even if it is a historic memento and reminder of American servicemen fighting on the right side of what is perhaps one of the more socially justified wars in American history.

Throughout the past week, Republican party planners have made numerous requests to TRACES Center for History and Culture in St. Paul, that it remove a Nazi banner on display at the front of its museum in the Landmark Center, says Museum Executive Director Michael Luick-Thrams.

A RNC party is being planned for inside the building and the flag is visible from the room where the party will be hosted, says Dina Vaynerman, program and marketing manager for Minnesota Landmark, the company commissioned by Ramsey County to manage the building. However, the lights at the museum will be turned off during the event.

Initially staff at Minnesota Landmarks contacted the museum to take down the display, on behalf of a client. "We have lots of events going on during the convention and get a lot of high class demands," says Dina Vaynerman, program and marketing manager at the company. "I don’t think this has been ever asked of us before," she later added.

Vaynerman wont won’t comment on who the client is, but museum staff says they were told it was a large law firm. "It’s a big swastika flag and they were uncomfortable with that," says Vaynerman. "They were afraid someone might see it and get offended."

Luick-Thrams says he was told that the client renting the building next Thursday was worried that "a delegate or some official might inadvertently be photographed" by it.

"Both parties, during both conventions, care about impression management—but this move seems to my staff and me to go too far," said Luick-Thrams in a press release.

The museum is refusing to take down the display.

"This is a museum, telling a historical story. Who can 'erase' the past, and for what reasons?" wrote Luick-Thrams, who holds a doctorate degree in modern European history. "...Our museum is all about learning from the past, even the complicated and 'messy' past.”

The TRACES Center for History and Culture documents encounters between Midwesterners and Germans and Austrians from 1933 to 1948. The flag in question, taken by an American soldier from a German city hall, is part of an exhibit on the Nazi book burning of 1933.

Minnesota Landmark respects the museum’s decision. They have the right to do what they want in their private museum space, Vaynerman says. “We don’t want to ruin the integrity of the exhibit. We told our client they said no and that was the end of our involvement."

But, that, says Luick-Thrams, wasn't the end of the story. When people who wouldn’t identify themselves kept calling the museum, even after it told Minnesota Landmark no, things started getting out of control. Luick Thrams says St. Paul police followed him for almost two miles Thursday as he drove a van to the museum’s storage space.

"For me, that was it," he says. "I kept thinking, this is over the top, this is nuts. I've been to the Soviet Union twice, Cuba, Vietnam, this kind of behavior in unacceptable."

"This sort of Big Brother-ism is counter to America’s tradition of unrestrained freedom. I feel like we've slipped into some netherworld of smoke and mirrors, where appearances count more than substance or any semblance of reality."

"John McCain endured years of captivity as a POW… Wouldn’t this museum—about the effects of war—be an exceptionally relevant story to feature, as the nation considers choosing this man to lead it? We think that the legacy of Nazism’s defeat by America and its allies in the Second World War remains an inspiring and relevant one. Why, then, are we being asked to alter our exhibit during the convention?"

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