This article shows how the US national park ranger comes to function simultaneously as friendly, educational caretaker and as policing authority forged through and upholding state violence. It argues that long-standing government and popular discourse distinguishing rangers from “real” police naturalizes and actively supports the ranger’s authoritative role in hierarchies of power. This framework further obscures the violent mechanisms of social and environmental control that underwrite the national parks as such. At the same time, however, the article suggests that persistent efforts to distinguish rangers from law enforcement create an opportunity to practice collaborative and anti-authoritarian forms of protection.

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