Michael Israel's Lady Liberty, painted live on the premises.
"So where are the slaves and the dead Indians?" That was my first thought on arrival at Mesquite High School this Saturday evening for Gilbert's 6th annual Constitution Week Fair, an event celebrating America's founding document, with George and Martha Washington impersonators, fireworks, patriotic music, red-white-and-blue bunting, and more crackers than a warehouse of saltines. I think I saw one Asian chick out of the over 10,000 Constitution-lovers on site. A couple of Hispanics. Zero blacks. Well, we are talking about Gilbert. And to be fair, Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution only recognized then slaves as three-fifths of a human being. So what should I have been expecting, a live reenactment of Alex Haley's Roots?
No, this isn't where they buried the Native Americans, or the slaves. It's supposed to be Arlington...
To be honest, this is just the sort of family-friendly event that I normally try to avoid like the clap. It was just like having July 4th in September, but without beer. Believe me, once a year is enough, and the cool fall weather hardly makes up for the lack of alcohol. But I digress. Needless to say, you haven't lived until you've seen a huge crowd of ofays held spellbound by a live-action painter, in this case, Michael Israel, who wowed 'em as he painted Lady Liberty and other patriotic images on spinning canvasses, sometimes painting with his bare hands as the audience oohed and ahhed. Israel is talented in a kitschy State Fair art kind of way, and I admit to being intrigued enough at one point to wait until he was finished. I couldn't help it. As a Caucasian, the rage for processed cheese runs in my blood.
The funhouse recreations of national monuments delighted the kiddies and their 'rents alike. But I was on a mission, to spot and perhaps even jawbone with members of the mythical John Birch Society, who had nested in an enclosed encampment called the "town square." This is where the Constitution Week organizers corralled all the political booths and activists, like a political petting zoo where you could come in contact with everyone from supporters of Jeff Flake and Ron Paul, to Goldwater Institute shills, Democrats, ACLUers, and Republicans.
I was most interested in the extremely rare John Birchers, the JBS being a far-right, anti-communist org. founded in 1958 by former candy manufacturer Robert Welch, who held a conspiracist view of history and believed there was a cabal of internationalists manipulating human events and engineering a secret plot to turn America into a pinko, commie state. Welch even believed President Dwight D. Eisenhower was "a dedicated, conscious agent of the communist conspiracy." Welch and his fellow Birchers were considered to be so wing-nut in their day that they were denounced by William F. Buckley, Jr., and kept at arm's length by Mr. Conservative, Barry Goldwater. Indeed, Welch went even further off the deep end years later by embracing elements of the Illuminati conspiracy, the ultimate in crackpot paranoia.
One would think the Birchers would be an anachronism left over from the Cold War. After all, the Berlin Wall fell, and Red China has become a capitalist powerhouse, albeit sans democracy. Funny enough, the Birchers are anti-democratic too, but that's because they regard the U.S. as a republic, and reject the concept of "indirect democracy." I'd heard the Birchers were still very active in Arizona, so here was my chance to find out what they're all about these days. What threat replaced communism as the Bircher bugbear, I wondered?
To judge by their booths (they had two in the "town square"), their main emphasis these days is on battling the chimera of the North American Union, the supposed plot to merge Mexico, the U.S. and Canada into one large superstate with its own currency, the Amero. Bircher pamphlets show Americans pledging allegiance to an N.A.U. flag, cobbled together from the three nation-states. And they depict the Amero with a portrait of George W. Bush on the front. Of course, none of this exists. Even the N.A.U. name is a crock, an invention of overheated wing-nut imaginations. Essentially, believers in N.A.U.-inevitability have twisted a White House initiative called the Security and Prosperity Partnership, which basically assists in streamlining cooperation between the three countries, and turned it into a loony conspiracy fantasy only to be rivaled by Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.
John Birch-er Bryan Turner...
Manning the main JBS booth, along with a few older gents, was 30-year-old Bryan Turner, the Gilbert-based state coordinator for Arizona. He estimated that there were over a thousand true-blue Birchers statewide, with four chapters in the Valley. Though that doesn't sound like a lot, Turner stated that the JBS was undergoing a resurgence of sorts.
"The JBS is non-political, we don’t endorse candidates, but look at Ron Paul," suggested Turner. "He has a similar message as the JBS, and the people that are joining with Ron Paul are much younger people. People my age like freedom. We don’t want to be stifled with regulation. We don’t want to be told what we can and can’t do with out own personal lives. As far as the government itself, sticking to the principles of freedom is something that’s important for us."
I asked him if the freedom he was talking about included freedom from the fluoridation of water, which was once a paranoid chestnut the Birchers were associated with, but Turner said he'd never heard of it. Then I wondered if the Birchers still subscribed to conspiracy theories, to which he replied:
"People say conspiracy theory. I would say we’re conspiracy factists. We don’t believe these things are happening by accident. The people that are pushing us in this direction towards collectivism, totalitarianism and even world government know what they’re doing and they’re doing it on purpose."
What then followed was a somewhat rambling discussion on the N.A.U, and how this was the main thrust behind the JBS these days. Turner and old-school Bircher Jim Pinkerman loaded me up with JBS literature, DVDs, and a copy of the JBS mag, The New American. Very nice fellows, even if I do think they're wacko.
Around this time, my pal Todd Landfried of the Maricopa County Democratic Party alerted me that everyone's favorite local fascist J.T. Ready had invaded the premises with some anti-immigration signs that he wanted to stand around and hold. Organizers of the event told him that to set up in the town square area he had to have paid $50 and signed up ahead of time. When Ready refused to leave, they sicked the Gilbert po-po on him, who informed him that this was a private event and that he had to abide by the rules of the organizers. Ready huffed off, and I followed behind, asking him, "How was Omaha, J.T.?", a reference to the neo-Nazi rally Ready attended in Nebraska a couple of weeks ago. He turned around, went back to the cops and told them I was harassing him. Later when I left, I saw him out by the entrance to the parking lot, holding up his signs as cars filed out, looking like the world's loneliest white supremacist.
J.T. Ready: Back from Omaha, and back in trouble...
With Ready gone, I headed back into the bullpen to mix it up with the Ron Paulites, specifically with Ed Vallejo, a bearded, stovepipe hat-wearin' dood with Ron Paul for Prez buttons all over himself. Vallejo informed me that he was an officer in the state Libertarian party, and that he was spending all of his time these days working on Congressman Paul's dark-horse campaign for the Republican nomination. I asked him why so many Libertarians dug Dr. Paul.
"A lot of Libertarians are for Ron Paul," he intoned, reminding me a lot of Tommy Chong. "A lot of Republicans are for Ron Paul. A lot of Democrats. A lot of independents. A lot of everybody is for Ron Paul. Why? Because he’s telling the truth with the freedom message. You know? We need to be free, and we aren’t."
Ed Vallejo, channeling Tommy Chong...
I noticed that he and his fellow Paulites had a portable DVD-player screening this doc America: From Freedom to Fascism, which argues that income tax is illegal somehow and we don't really have to pay it. I'm simplifying, but that's the jist. So I asked Vallejo if this freedom included freedom from taxes.
"Most of the IRS tax code is corporate taxes," he told me. "Taxes on profit. That’s a legal tax. When you tax labor, that’s slavery."
I asked him if he paid income taxes, and he gave me the pat answer almost all Libertarians and anti-tax people give me on this subject: He said he pays all the taxes he's legally required to pay. I don't know why all these anti-tax cats answer this way, but it seems to imply that they're getting away with something. Either that, or they don't want to admit they pay income taxes like the rest of us slobs.
"Not one penny you’re paying on your Federal Income Taxes goes for any services whatsoever," preached Vallejo in a cliched anti-tax canard. "Every last dime goes towards paying the interest on the $8 trillion national debt."
"Well, how do roads get built?" I asked.
"Roads get built with your gasoline taxes," he replied.
This continued for a sec. Finally, I wondered,
"OK, what about the salaries of government employees? How do they get paid?"
(Pause) "You know, I didn’t research that stuff," admitted Vallejo.
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Around that time is when they cut the lights and the Michael Israel stage-show began, followed by the singing of a hymn to the constitution entitled "The Fortress Stone," a brief address by Gilbert Mayor Steve Berman, and a butt-load of fireworks. Over by a fake Arlington-style cemetery for the fallen with cut-out tombstones, I chatted with event organizer Bill Norton, and inquired about the controversy of past Constitution Weeks where those pesky Democrats were reportedly made to feel unwelcome.
"The first two years we had the event, all three parties were represented here," he related. "We’ve always wanted to show a great variety of opinions and the political process in action. So we never really were excluding one side or the other. The reason why it got to be that way a little bit more in the last couple of years is that Gilbert is 64% Republican, so it’s going to seem more Republican."
Complaints about it being way too Republican got Mayor Berman critical. As a result, event organizers included Dems in the planning this year, with the representation in the "town square" area being about 50-50, liberal-to-conservative, ideology-wise. Well, that's just dandy. The American process and all that jazz. Personally, I'm just happy I got to observe Birchers in the wild. Now if next year they could rope in some Lyndon LaRouche followers, I'd be one helluva happy nutbar-hunter.
Where have you gone Joe Dimaggio? Er, I mean, George Washington...