- South Carolinian leapt into action as the federal government’s shutdown began, cleaning up trash and tending the grounds on the National Mall
- A ‘bully’ Park Police officer made him stop mowing the lawn in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Wednesday, and said he couldn’t pick up the trash
- The officer told him news stories showing the Mall in disrepair would help government employees get back to work with full pay
- Chris Cox, 45, is calling on Americans to bring rakes and lawn mowers to war memorials and clean up what furloughed government workers won’t
14:35 EST, 9 October 2013
13:00 EST, 10 October 2013
Cox, a sought-after wood-carving artist, said he spent 10 hours every day since the government shutdown began, cleaning up the National Mall — until the Park Police made him stop
A kind-hearted South Carolina volunteer who has mowed lawns, cleared a fallen tree and emptied ‘hundreds of trash cans’ up and down the National Mall since the federal government partially shut down told MailOnline that an aggressive, ‘bully’ of a U.S. Park Police officer who ‘looked like Robocop’ today ordered him to leave the Lincoln Memorial.
Chris Cox, the one-man landscaping crew, calls himself the Memorial Militia. He said he has been on a mission to spruce up the lawns, trees and trash bins near America’s grandest memorials before the weekend, because a ‘Million Vet March’ event is expected to bring scores of retired servicemen and women to the nation’s capital.
U.S. Park Service employees have been furloughed by the thousands since Oct. 1, when a budget battle between the White House and congressional Republicans forced a partial shutdown of federal agencies.
Even though the feds told him he’s not welcome, Cox says his message hasn’t changed.
‘I’m calling on Americans,’ the 45-year-old told MailOnline: ‘Find a memorial. Go there. Instead of bringing a picnic basket, show up with a lawn mower and a rake.’
Cox said he’s not a veteran himself, but his grandfather served in the Marine Corps, his roommate was awarded multiple purple heart citations, and his stepfather is a 1959 West Point graduate.
‘And his brother’s name is listed on the Vietnam Wall,’ Cox said. ‘In my mind, that entitled me to pick up as much trash as I wanted to.’
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The take-charge landscaping volunteer didn’t last long on the lawn of the Lincoln Memorial before Park Police officers told him to take a hike
Chris Cox has emptied ‘hundreds’ of trash cans on the National Mall since the federal government shutdown began, and cleared a fallen tree with his chainsaw on Wednesday. But when he tried to mow a lawn, the U.S. Park Police threw him out
Cox said a single Park Police officer overruled his kinder, gentler comrades on Wednesday, and told him to ‘get your stuff and get out of here.’
‘I had a great experience there for the most part,’ he recalled, saying the police ‘knew who I was by the second day – they had my social security number somehow! And they all welcomed me. Nobody said anything to me for the next 6 or 7 days. I thought they were on my side because they saw what I did for them.’
‘Then this one cop, a big … guy, he had me scared, and I’m six-foot-two and 225 pounds. I don’t get intimidated easily. I mean, I had a chainsaw. But he was being a bully.’
He said he told the officer that it broke his heart to see newspaper photos showing the Mall in disrepair after the shutdown began.
‘I’m not here trying to make headlines,’ he recalled saying. ‘I’m here trying to prevent headlines.’
‘He says to me, “Well, maybe there should be a picture of the trash cans overflowing in the newspaper. Maybe that would help us.”‘
‘I disagree,’ Cox told MailOnline. ‘Do you want all the veterans coming here and tripping over banana peels, and dirty diapers, and everything?’
‘These are our memorials,’ Cox told WNEW-99.1 CBS radio in Washington, D.C. earlier in the day. ‘Do they think that we’re just going to let them go to hell?’
if they shut down our memorials, we’re still going to take the trash
out, we’re going to clean the windows, we’re going to cut the grass,
we’re going to pull the weeds, we’re going to do the tree work.’
Cox (L) is known for his wood carvings, which he sells out of a roadside garden center in suburban Virginia
Cox, 45, said while most of the Park Police officers he has encountered in the last week appreciated his efforts, one told him Wednesday that he had no right to empty trash cans near the Vietnam, Lincoln and World War II memorials
‘The day of the shutdown – I’m watching the news a week ago, and they’re talking about how vulnerable the memorials are,’ he told MailOnline. ‘So right after the news I threw my bicycle into my truck and I patrolled the memorials all night long. They were right. Anyone could just come up there and spray paint or whatever.’
‘I realized that I could serve my country better as a custodian,’ he concluded.
Cox also brought a giant South Carolina flag, which he carried over his shoulder while he worked.
‘The trash cans were overflowing. I emptied hundreds of trash cans on the Mall. I grabbed a leaf blower and blew the leaves off the lawn near the memorials. Today I showed up and a giant tree had fallen over. I took my chainsaw and cut it up and hauled it away.’
Later, he said, ‘They let me mow the lawn for an hour or so.’
And then the police showed up. Two officers, Cox said, ‘were high-fiving me. They knew I had spent 10 hours a day out there emptying trash, and I think they admired that.;
But the third, he recalled, rebuffed his handshake, saying ‘I don’t shake hands. … You need to get that lawnmower out of here.’
That officer later told him that he was ‘not allowed to pick up trash. That’s not your job,’ said Cox.
— Brandon Morse (@TheBrandonMorse) October 9, 2013
— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) October 9, 2013
Cox said his tree surgery and lawn mowing was just the icing on the cake: He’s been emptying ‘hundreds of trash cans’ all week and beautifying the National Mall for an upcoming veterans’ march
‘Find a memorial,’ Cox advises Americans disillusioned by the government shutdown. ‘Go there. Instead of bringing a picnic basket, show up with a lawn mower and a rake.’
Park Police public information officer Sergeant Paul Brooks said Cox wasn’t arrested. ‘He was asked to leave, and he complied,’ Brooks said.
But ‘I couldn’t believe it was happening,’ Cox told MailOnline. ‘They changed the reason later, saying it was because I had a gas can and the other guy lit himself on fire.’
Last week a man saluted the U.S. Capitol before sitting down on the National Mall, pouring gasoline over his own head and killing himself with a lighter.
‘And I was like, “Do you think I’m going to mow the lawn first, and then kill myself?”
‘Give him a medal,’ quipped one reader on Reddit, after the story first broke on Twitter and Instagram.
‘The medal-givers are all on furlough,’ replied a second.
‘I’m surprised he wasn’t taken down by a seal team,’ another chimed in.
The government’s partial shutdown has put hundreds of thousands of federal employees on unpaid vacations, including tens of thousands attached to the Department of the Interior, which runs the National Mall
Memorials on the Mall have officially been closed for eight days, along with all 401 National Parks and countless other public sites.
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