As I watched a live feed of the roiling ugliness outside the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix on Friday, I kept thinking of "Gimme Shelter" by the Rolling Stones and that chilling refrain, sung by legendary backup singer Merry Clayton:
"War, children, it's just a shot away."
Indeed, with a heavily armed group of bikers, rednecks, and white supremacists on one side, and an animated but generally unarmed group of counter-demonstrators on the other, a firecracker, much less a bullet, could have started it off.
Phoenix videographer and freelance New Times contributor Dennis Gilman writes on RealNewsAZ.net of the demonstration, "While there were no injuries or arrests, this could’ve easily spiraled into a bloodbath."
Gilman's video of the event, titled "Anti-Muslim Protest Attracts Phoenix's Best and Worst" also attests to the barely checked violence underlying the face-off.
"Some of the younger Muslims (some who are also veterans of the Iraq war) were more than willing to go toe to toe or fist to fist with the white supremacists," Gilman reports in his companion piece to the video.
Initially, it seemed as if the two sides would soon be at each other's throats, but an overwhelming presence from the Phoenix Police Department ultimately prevented this from happening.
My colleague Miriam Wasser covered the donnybrook for New Times, describing the cops' sensible response to the growing intensity of the demonstration.
"The police erected traffic barriers and used yellow police tape to rope-off the street," she writes, "which meant screaming individuals from opposite sides of the street were no longer allowed to come within an arm’s length of one another."
Though the Phoenix PD and their federal partners deserve credit for keeping the peace, it would not have taken much for one of the Muslim-haters to drift over to the peacenik side, fire off a round, thus making Gilman's feared bloodbath a reality.
Gilman noted, and I noticed as well from the live feed, that many of the usual suspects were present on the haters' side: familiar faces from the battles over immigration in this state.
The local news hound also had an interesting interview with National Socialist Movement member Harry Hughes, who made some of the more interesting observations of the video.
Though the counter-protesters well-outnumbered those on the anti-Islam side, I was surprised that so many white trash idiots answered the call of clueless organizer Jon Ritzheimer, who came off as a blithering idiot when interviewed by the TV news.
I shouldn't have been. Ritzheimer represents a very real and all-too-prevalent class of ignorant, angry whites in this state and this country.
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One image sticks with me from the live feed: a couple of young Muslim women, wearing hijabs, holding signs that read, "Love your neighbor."
Reminding me of that other line from "Gimme Shelter," which Mick Jagger croons to Clayton:
"I tell you love, sister, it's just a kiss away..."