Let's not mince labels, here: The neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement members who'll be rallying at the state Capitol this coming Saturday afternoon are lowlife degenerates. And I don't just mean that their anti-Semitism, outright racism and adoration of mass-murderer Adolf Hitler (you know, the guy that's always on the History Channel) is vile and reprehensible. No, I mean they're real bottom-feeders, even for neo-Nazis.
Locally, friend of the NSM -- and of Arizona state Senator Russell Pearce -- J.T. Ready was court-martialed twice and booted from the U.S. Marines. He's had his run-ins with non-military cops as well. Ready's said to be speaking at the November 7 rally. Semper Fi, dude.
All of which raises the legitimate question: Why should anyone with half a brain bother to counter-protest such a putrid rogues' gallery? (All apologies to the Satanists out there. I'm sure most of you are lovely people.)
"I wouldn't expect that they'd get more than 30 people there," the SPLC's Mark Potok predicted recently of the upcoming supremacist shindig. "There aren't more than 250 NSM members nationally, and they've got about 80 chapters, which shows you how small some of their chapters are."
Does that mean we should write off this Saturday's rally? Potok indicated that though the NSM has "a dubious reputation in the white nationalist scene," it is, by default, "the leading neo-Nazi formation in the United States." Other neo-Nazi outfits are in decline, crushed by lawsuits from the SPLC, or withering because of the deaths of those in command. The NSM endures largely through a lack of competition.
There's also the little problem of why the neo-Nazis have chosen our fair city as the site of their anti-immigration "America First" powwow.
"Sad to say," opined Potok, "but Phoenix has become sort of a Mecca for this kind of thing. These days, if you really want to be somebody [in white nationalism], you've got to make your way to Phoenix at some point."
I concur with Potok. Phoenix has become a Mecca for extremism, a situation made worse by our noxious mix of minutemen, nativists, and bigot politicians, such as Sheriff Joe Arpaio, County Attorney Andrew Thomas, and the aforementioned Russell Pearce. The climate practically nurtures racism. Why wouldn't the neo-Nazis want to have their rally here?
Which brings me to why I think there should be some sort of response, no matter how lame and comical the Nazis' presence may seem. Yet, many in Phoenix's civil rights community disagree with me.
So far, all of the civil rights organizations I've spoken with locally will be avoiding the Nazis like a petri dish full of anthrax spores.
The Arizona ADL's regional director Bill Straus suggested a headline for the next day's papers, "Nazis march on Phoenix, community couldn't care less." He's urging folks not to attend.
Puente Movement's Salvador Reza declared any counter-protest of the Nazi assemblage to be a diversion.
"They'll get people who want confrontation," he explained. "You're going to get the Brown Berets there. You're going to get the anarchists there. It's going to be the crazies against the crazies. Basically, it's not going to be an organized event."
Lydia Guzman of the Latino umbrella group Somos America and the advocacy group Respect/Respeto also thinks the community should ignore the influx of toothless boot boys.
"To attend their rally would be to validate them," she argued. "They're insignificant."
All expressed concern for the safety of counter-demonstrators. And some made the point that it's inevitably counter-demonstrators who end up getting arrested at such events. The example was given of the recent neo-Nazi rally in Riverside, California, which featured 20 neo-Nazis and 600 or more counter-protesters. At one point, a scuffle broke out between some Brown Berets and the National Socialists. Fists flew, but order was quickly restored.
I doubt Phoenix will get 600 people organized against the neo-Nazis. Granted, the NSM's hoping to provoke a response, and perhaps sign up a few more knuckleheads to its pathetic cause. In the end, it's all about selling enough neo-Nazi swag to keep the U-boat afloat.
Would it really be bad thing to have 600 souls show up to oppose these clowns and let them know they're unwelcome? I don't think so. Potok informed me that the SPLC's position is that people counter-demonstrate, but at a location away from the racists, to avoid the possibility of violence or arrests of counter-demonstrators.
But why deny these lumpen oafs the opportunity to learn that they are almost universally despised, by brown, black, white, Muslim, Jew, and so on? Hatred of hatred, intolerance of intolerance is the basis of liberal democracy. These neo-Nazi thumb-suckers are no master race. But neither were their progenitors, the actual Nazis, who began as right-wing hoodlums fighting communists in the streets of the Weimar Republic.
If a lawless gang shows up on your doorstep and informs you that they're going to burn a swastika in the town square, there are couple of ways of dealing with that menace. Sure, you can pull the blinds and stay in that evening. After all, if they have the proper permit, the dictates of a free society state that they must be allowed to continue.
Still, if you present no opposition, you run the risk of having your indifference misinterpreted as a tacit invitation for the thugs to return. Worse, the gutter-trash might take it as sign of acceptance, even capitulation.
So the thing to do, is to show up, snarl at the snarlers, heckle them, laugh at them, treat them as the low-brow comedic relief they are. This isn't the Harvard debate team, people. Moreover, a middle finger does wonders for the psyche. And it's just about the best reply to a sieg heil that anyone can offer these days.
Stephen is a staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.