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DAYTON, Tenn. — Adolf Hitler's stern visage has loomed for months over U.S. Highway 27 from a billboard at the south end of town.
The hated dictator's face is meant to direct drivers' attention to a quote he made in 1935 praising Germany for adopting the first-ever registration program for all guns.
"This year will go down in history. For the first time, a civilized nation has full gun registration! Our streets will be safer, our police more efficient, and the world will follow our lead into the future!" the billboard reads.
"Sound familiar?" it asks. "Wake up America. Registration then confiscation."
Lee Fuller, an employee at the O'Reilly's Auto Parts store next to the billboard, said lots of people just stop and take pictures of the sign.
"They don't really like the idea of Hitler being on it," Fuller said. "But they agree with what it says."
Trouble is, Hitler apparently never said what the billboard claims he said.
"There's not a shred of historical evidence that Hitler ever said this," The Skeptical Libertarian Blog states.
An "urban legend"
The website links to an article that Bernard Harcourt, chairman of the department of political science at the University of Chicago, wrote in 2004 for the Fordham Law Review.
"Hitler's infamous quote ... is probably a fraud and likely never uttered," Harcourt wrote. "It has been the subject of much research, all of it fruitless, and has now entered the annals of urban legends."
The Skeptical Libertarian Blog states that the Weimar Republic established in Germany after World War I almost completely banned private gun ownership. Its strict laws were "designed to disarm the Nazis and Communists who were shooting each other in the streets."
"It wasn't until 1928 that the prohibition was lifted and a strict registration program imposed -- all prior to the Nazi takeover," the website states.
A 1938 Nazi government law prohibited Jews from owning guns, "but simultaneously liberalized gun restrictions for most everyone else. The law totally deregulated the sale of rifles, shotguns and ammunition," the blog states.
"It's utterly implausible that Hitler would have been praising laws by the previous administration to disarm his Brown Shirts and counter his revolutionary ambitions," the Skeptical Libertarian Blog said.
The company that owns the billboard, Tumlin Outdoor Advertising, didn't return a call seeking comment.
The billboard states that it was "paid for by Rhea County Constitutional Citizens." The Chattanooga Times Free Press couldn't locate any contact information for that group.
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6651.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.