White Supremacists: Is It Really Necessary We Have to Choose Sides on This Issue?

Members of Phoenix's John Brown Gun Club may show up at the Trump rally on Tuesday night.
Members of Phoenix's John Brown Gun Club may show up at the Trump rally on Tuesday night. Stephen Lemons

For those of us of a certain age, life seems like it's been a series of choosing sides.

Boys versus girls.

Shirts versus skins.

Millbrook Drive versus Eastwood Street for neighborhood sandlot supremacy in games that went long into the summer evenings.

The unfortunate cowboys versus Indians. Now that I’ve learned more about my heritage, I consider Native Americans to be the home team.

Of course, sometimes we didn’t have a choice of sides, like when we were picked last for a game of kickball. Not that I’m still bitter about that.

As we got older, the selections got more serious.

Beatles versus Rolling Stones.

Cool kids versus geeks.

Students versus National Guard. In Kent, Ohio, that debate still rages after almost half a century.

O.J. versus the police.

White supremacists versus the rest of us.

That last one seems an easy choice. Our president thinks not.  Donald Trump first told us there were “many sides” to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. And he really hasn't backed down from that contention.  I’ve also heard the same from friends I respect, insisting that the media is reporting only one point of view.

Yes, and there were many sides to the violence of World War II. Should the media have made more of an effort to bring you the Nazis’ perspective?

“We were the good guys, Stuart,” a friend responded to me about the war. “But our Soviet allies fighting Hitler were bad guys, too.”

Then maybe we should have just asked the Reds to sit that one out. Hey, Stalin, we got this.

There is no question that there were militants from the extreme left in Charlottesville and they had a role in the violent clashes.

On that issue, I side with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.

“We’re against violence, just straight up,” Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, told the New York Times. “If you want to protest racists and anti-Semites, it needs to be peacefully and hopefully somewhere away from where those guys are rallying.”

But suppose everyone had just stood down against Hitler. How might that have worked out?

So I understand the feelings of some of the left-wing militants, such as Beth Payne, a member of Phoenix’s John Brown Gun Club – or lefties with guns, as my former colleague Stephen Lemons called them.

The JBGC is part of a loose collection of groups called the Redneck Revolt, which had an armed presence in Charlottesville. I suspect we'll see many of them Tuesday night in Phoenix, too.

Payne and her comrades in arms don’t believe in turning the other cheek … unless you’re talking about the butt of a rifle.

“It seems pretty obvious that if someone actually pointed a gun at us and intended to fire on us, we would respond,” she told Lemons. “We’re not going to die to prove a point.”

She believes that both sides packing heat keeps these confrontations much cooler.

“If anything, the fact that both groups know that the other group has arms keeps things much less threatening,” she said.

That scares me. I vote for let’s all leave our guns at home … all the time. But this is Arizona so I know I'm losing that argument in a landslide.

But I won’t accept Trump’s contention that there were “very fine people” marching with the Neo-Nazis and other white supremacists in Charlottesville.

“Very fine people” don’t walk alongside folks carrying tiki torches, wearing swastikas, and chanting ‘’blood and soil’’ and ‘’Jews will not replace us.’’

“Very fine people” would have either turned around and gone home, or have joined those angrily opposing these racists and fearmongers.

And “very fine people” wouldn't associate with others who, according to another former colleague, Connie Schultz, “targeted Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville during morning services” before the main protest.

The congregation felt threatened enough to hire an armed security guard, the temple’s president, Alan Zimmerman, wrote in a blog post.

‘’Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, ‘There’s the synagogue!’ followed by chants of ‘Seig Heil’ and other anti-Semitic language," Zimmerman added. "Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols. ...

‘’When services ended, my heart broke as I advised congregants that it would be safer to leave the temple through the back entrance rather than through the front, and to please go in groups.

‘’This is 2017 in the United States of America.’’

Alas, yes it is.

And apparently it’s time to choose sides.

I know which one I’m on.

The right one.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Stuart Warner was the editor of New Times from 2017 to 2019. He has been a journalist since the stoned ages of 1969, playing a major role on teams that won three Pulitzer Prizes. He is also the author of the biography JOCK: A Coach's Story.