Phoenix-area anarchists earned the right to wear their Zapatista-like bandannas Saturday in a full-on street battle at 8th Avenue and Jefferson, with anarchists and assorted counter-demonstrators on one side, and the Phoenix Police Department and a contingent of neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement members on the other.
Although I cannot condone the throwing of rocks and other objects, neither can I ignore the determination and the fierceness of the fight from the anti-fascist side.
(Note: You can check out a slideshow of the day's events, here.)
Unlike the NSM's march to the state Capitol last November, where the anarchists merely taunted the Nazis and vice versa, this time the anarchists came ready to throw down, with a large contingent of members in their "black bloc" attire, linking arms, and refusing to allow the NSM to continue to the Sandra Day O'Connor U.S. Courthouse, where they had a federal permit to rally.
The increasing police presence, dressed in riot gear, with a line of shield-carrying officers facing off the anarchists, was left with a dilemma: How to escort the 46 swastika-lickers in Nazi regalia under their protection through a crowd of 300 counter-demonstrators, many of them actively pushing back on the cops' plastic shields every time the police inched forward?
As the stalemate dragged on for about an hour, the mood remained festive and defiant in the anti-Nazi camp. Demonstrators in clown outfits carried signs reading "Follow your leader," with an image of Adolf Hitler blowing his brains out. One hippie chick moved through the crowd banging her drum, as another gal dressed in a bear outfit did cartwheels.
Other anti-fascists held their ground against the police line, while the neo-Nazis did the Hitler salute and yelled sieg heils. One of the counterprotesters yelled back, "Speak English motherfuckers!" Loved that one.
The Nazi-haters chanted slogans like, "Fuck you, Nazis, fuck you!," "Hey, Nazi, you're an immigrant too," and "Hiding behind the cops," which, of course, the so-called master race was doing. There were at least a hundred cops out there, maybe more. If the Nazis had not had that cordon, the anarchists would have eaten them alive.
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The anarchists were ticked and looking forward to a melee. Rocks and other objects sailed over the heads of the cops and hit some of the Nazis, as well as some cops and bystanders. (Two alleged rock-hurlers were arrested by the Phoenix PD.)
Nails were strewn all over the street, I suppose to halt police vehicles. Dozens of anarchists pushed against police shields, anticipating an advance, which they knew had to come.
This police advance was eventually achieved through the liberal use of pepper spray. Several members of the media, as well as numerous counter-protesters were hit with the debilitating chemical agent, which causes temporary blindness and an intense burn in the eyes and on the skin.
As with videographer Dennis Gilman, a cameraman from ABC 15 and other journos, as well as numerous protesters, I earned a face full of the noxious goo. I expected aerosol, but got a blast of viscous yellow liquid instead. Nurse, Quaker and social justice advocate Jason Odhner tended to my eyes, and members of a contingent of Unitarians helped me and others so hit. I'm grateful for their assistance.
By the time I was able to see, the action had moved down the street and my shirt, drenched in dreaded oleoresin capsicum had to be ditched. Fortunately, I had another shirt in my trunk, so as soon as I was able to get to my car and don that, I headed back to the federal building where the Nazis had taken center stage on the courthouse plaza.
There they were protected by barricades, and a large force of federal and local police. NSM "commander" Jeff Schoep droned before his little group of Schutzstaffel-wannabes, which was smaller than last year's showing. At one point he claimed that the NSM's numbers were "growing by the hour," a statement belied by the almost entirely empty plaza, save for the cops and the press corps.
Media was kept at a far distance from the goosesteppers, though I'm not sure why. As such, with the poor sound coming from the rinky-dink system the Nazis had, you could barely make out what Schoep, dressed as a two-bit gangster in a gray pinstripe suit, was saying.
Generally, the rally itself was pretty anticlimactic. The counter-protesters were obviously not allowed to go up on the plaza, so they were left to agitate from the sidelines.
At one point a bald-headed J.T. Ready -- who marched with the NSMers, even though he's stated that he's left the organization -- ended up separated from the Nazis on the plaza. A throng of anarchists pounced on him like flies on a melted Milky Way bar.
But Ready received help from an odd source -- a large African-American gent, who came to his aid and acted as a temporary bodyguard, staying with Ready till he was in an area with plenty of cops and marshals about. (Was the man himself an undercover cop? I have no idea.) I heard Ready's unlikely defender tell Ready, "You have every right to be here," as one anarchist lobbed a loogie at Ready and hit bullseye.
Earlier in the day, as the Nazis assembled at a parking lot just north of 12th Avenue and Washington Street, Ready told me he was marching in solidarity with the NSM because of the pro-SB 1070 message of the march. (The NSM was in part protesting the enjoinment of much of the law by a federal judge in July.)
I asked Ready what he thought of his erstwhile pal and now state Senate President-elect Russell Pearce's recent announcement that the Nazis were not welcome. This, despite the fact that Pearce and the Nazis hold similar views on immigration. Is Pearce a hypocrite?
"Maybe he needs to be more honest about what some of his views are," said Ready of his former mentor, hinting, "Maybe some of those views will be coming to the surface real soon."
Of course, Pearce and his bigoted clique are one reason neo-Nazis and white supremacists are drawn to Sand Land. Arizona is the state of hate, fertile ground for racist proselytizing. Pearce denouncing the Nazis is about as believable as Rand Paul denouncing the Tea Party, were the latter ever to occur.
Interesting aside, the Nazis were late to their own parade. Ten minutes past their start time of 1 p.m., Phoenix police were waiting for them to show. While I was standing there, one of the Nazis called a cop via cell phone, and let him know they'd lost their way but would be there soon.
So much for Aryan efficiency.
Later that night, the Nazis purportedly assembled for an after-party at the same secluded spot in Tonopah, where the White Knights of America hold their annual Oi Fest. You can actually check out neo-Nazi Harry Hughes's review of this year's Oi Fest on his blog site, "Just Another Day."
In fact, the Nazis invited me out to Tonopah. (No, really.) Which, admittedly, sounds like the lead in to my last will and testament. If I'd gone, I'd planned to have various elements on standby to respond if I didn't phone in every 20 minutes. And I was not planning on going alone.
But curious though I was to see my first swastika-burning (I'm told they do that kind of thing occasionally), the effects of the pepper spray lingered in my lungs and on my skin, and I was eager to get home and get it off my body.
Unfortunately, showering reactivates the chemicals, and I think that the second dose of pepper spay I got while showering was worse on my lungs than the first. I had taken the precautions recommended to me by nurse Odhner. After an hour-long coughing fit, I decided to call it a night.
NSM "captain" Charles Wilson has informed me that the NSM may be back for another round in December. Perhaps I'll have another shot at them then. If I come out of it with all my teeth in tact, it could make for an interesting story.
I'm sure my nativist foes will dig radio host Carlos Galindo's video of me sitting on a curb enjoying a little pain courtesy of Phoenix's finest. Some folks have suggested I may have been targeted in some way by the cops. I seriously doubt that. The spraying was indiscriminate, and covered activists and journalists alike. I was just in the wrong place at the right time. As were many others.