These children could be killed in the crossfire...
White supremacist Damon Ashenfelter (third from left), one of the several extremists present on Saturday. The sign held by the first man on the left is a vicious, racist lie.
Will blood flow through the parking lot of Pruitt's Furniture this Christmas season? It's quite possible if the current, tense standoff continues between Pruitt's owner Roger Sensing, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and the nativists on one side, and pro-immigrant activist Salvador Reza and his supporters on the other.
This Saturday, Sensing had some sort of permit restricting access to his sidewalk because he was supposedly having landscaping done (none was being done while I was there). So Reza and those urging a boycott of Pruitt's in favor of the day laborers were on the north side of Thomas, facing Pruitt's. Scores of the Harley-riding American Freedom Riders and Rusty Childress' smaller, rival bike group Riders U.S.A. were clustered nearby Reza's demonstrators, the latter with their mariachis, their anti-Arpaio signs and a handful of Hispanic children dancing in traditional dress. These groups intermingled (in toto, there were probably a couple of hundred people), and the situation was tense, with some nativists shouting through bullhorns right in the faces of some of the demonstrators.
Fortunately, there was a visible Phoenix police presence, and there was no violence while I was there. Though after I left, I was told by a source that a driver-by threw some sort of liquid on a group of nativists. There were several right-wing extremists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis present on the nativist side of things. Familiar, truculent faces from Childress' United for a Sovereign America, for instance. White supremacist Damon Ashenfelter was present. I have a photo of him above. Other skinheads and potential troublemakers were on site. And of course Sheriff's deputies patrolled the Pruitt's lot, threatening to collar anyone who strayed onto the blacktop.
I cannot speak for the immigrants-rights folks present, but I do know that the nativist camp, as you might expect, was heavily armed and ready for any possible conflict. What worries me is the presence of women and children in this heavily armed atmosphere where two groups at each others necks would need only one hothead or provocateur to set off an O.K. Corral-type bloodbath.
"A lot of these minutemen, rolling thunder people, skinheads, Nazi people, they walk around with arms, openly," Gutierrez told me. "That’s always been a concern of ours. Because they’re angry. They want to provoke."
Indeed, as we spoke, some old nativist geezer with a megaphone loudly sang gibberish right next to us, in an obvious attempt to disrupt our conversation. Gutierrez told me that he believed the nativists were ultimately aiding his and Reza's intent to hurt Pruitt's economically.
"These people do nothing but help us," said Gutierrez. "Some are going to be inspired by these people to go in and buy a chair, but most people are going to stay away. It’s a self-inflicted wound. Signing that contract with the sheriff, that’s a self inflicted wound. Inviting Childress and all those people to come here, that’s another self-inflicted wound."
I happen to agree with Gutierrez that Sensing is making things worse by indulging extremists such as Rusty Childress. Pruitt's is becoming a magnet for extremists, ready to rumble. There are those on the nativist side of the fence without ill-intent, I believe, such as AFR leader Danny Smith. But if a fight starts or someone cruises by and fires a shot, every gun might come out of hiding and all hell break loose.
In some ways, having the children there might have been a calming influence. I did note one female nativist make positive remarks about the dancing kids. But I think, considering the ongoing threat of violence, that Reza should discourage parents from bringing their children to an event such as this one.
Reportedly, Sheriff's deputies arrested eight suspected illegals on Saturday, something I'm sure the nativists will applaud. Yet, these arrests will only make Reza's side more determined to bring out larger numbers and not to go away until Pruitt's contract with the MCSO is cancelled. And that, in turn, will inspire the nativists, who seem itching for a battle. Some nativists have even told me off the record that they believe a conflict like the one brewing outside Pruitt's is inevitable, and that it might as well happen there as anywhere. They avow, however, that they will not fire the first shot or throw the first punch. So they say, but can they control everyone on their side? Will the fact they didn't start the fight salve their consciences if a child is killed?
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Look, I'm a First Amendment guy, and both sides have a right to their say. But I would like to see the cops take a cue from the Offspring. You know, "You gotta keep 'em separated." Otherwise, bloodshed may be inevitable. If we had a real mayor in this town, instead of a weasel like Phil "Goober" Gordon, then I would say the mayor's office should step in and attempt to broker an end to this, before it gets ugly. But I fear Goober's too incompetent to pull it off.
I hope I'm overstating the potential danger here, but the situation reminds me, eerily, of the 1979 "Greensboro massacre" in my native North Carolina. In that case, the local Communist Workers Party had challenged the local KKK to show up at a "Death to the Klan" rally. When members of the Klan and the American Nazi Party did, 5 CWP marchers were killed in the resulting shootout.
It's not an exact parallel, of course, especially in regards to the parties involved. But there are enough similarities to make me wonder if history will repeat itself near Thomas and 34th Street in the very near future.