Roy Warden addresses the troops, all six of 'em...
I confess, I'm drawn to the deep and abiding weirdness of the nativist movement for the same reason I watch televangelists, bird-dog neo-Nazis, and listen to on-air wackjobs like Michael Savage or Glenn Beck. Freaks are fascinating, let's be honest. Or, to cop a line from Harry Dean Stanton in Repo Man, "Ordinary fuckin' people...I hate 'em."
There's nothing ordinary about Tucson wild-man Roy Warden, known for burning the Mexican tricolor at the drop of a sombrero, and for drawing a circle 'round himself and threatening to blow the head off of anyone who dares to step inside his perimeter.
So I was a little disappointed by his sideshow near the steps of the Arizona Supreme Court Wednesday afternoon. Roy was packin' no obvious heat. There was no flag barbecue, and the dude was actually civil, telling me he admired how left-wingers stick together on issues. (Not sure that's accurate, but I'll take it.)
Whoa, careful with that American flag, there, Laura, you could put an eye out.
Okay, granted, he did have about half a dozen alter kockers with him toting signs that read, "McGregor Is a Traitor," "McGregor Supports Hispanic Bar," and "Mexico Out of U.S." Each of them took turns on the bullhorn screaming myths about undocumented migrants, that they take jobs from Americans (not true, studies show they actually create jobs), that they're responsible for all of the crime (even Sheriff Joe says only 20 percent of his jail population is illegal, and that's after he's busted many of them for being -- you guessed it, illegal), and that they enjoy free social services paid for by U.S. taxpayers (illegal immigrants can't get social services, unless you're counting emergency room care, to which all uninsured have access).
A traitor? For forwarding a letter?
The biggest myth they were peddling, of course, was that Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Ruth McGregor had banned the use of the words "illegal" and "aliens" to refer to the undocumented migrants in state courts. In reality, McGregor received a letter from the Hispanic Bar Association (Los Abogados), expressing concern over the use of what they deem to be derogatory terms towards MMPs (Mexicans Minus Papers). McGregor simply shared the letter with her colleagues. She didn't order them to do anything about it.
Still, wing-nut orgs like Judicial Watch, and local moonhowlers such as the kooks on KFYI, and conservanutty scribe Linda Bentley over at the Cave Creek wacko-report Sonoran News fanned the flames of outrage, even though there was not much of a reason to be outraged. But, hey, why let reality get in the way of a reason to raise a ruckus? And in any case, the Geritol brigade Warden brought along for the ride didn't seem like they were gonna do much harm. Though one skinny orange-haired harridan named Laura kept coming dangerously close to my head with her American flag as I tried to shoot a pic of her.
"You're a pornographer," Laura kept saying, explaining why she wouldn't talk to me. "You twist everything around and call names."
Gramps takes a load off during the demo.
"He works for the Phoenix News [sic]," railed another old-timer who could barely walk, and had to shuffle from place to place. "He's a smut-peddler. He's the enemy, don't talk to him."
Pornographer? Smut peddler? Well, I did use to write for Larry Flynt and other such esteemed publishers when I lived in La-la Land years back. But, sadly, those days are behind me. (Sniff.) Now I spend most of my time with extremists, knuckledraggers and meshuga old farts like these. Although, Laura was kinda cute for a babe her age. That age being her 60s, I'd reckon.
For the irony-deficient: Ira hides his face behind Zapata.
Oddly, not all the demonstrators sounded nuts, especially this one fella Ira, who said he was from back east originally, and that he was there at the protest to keep a friend company. Maybe that's why he couldn't explain the placard he was carrying, affixed as it was with the image of Emiliano Zapata, one of Roy Warden's heroes.
Ira, who declined to give his last name, had relatively moderate views on immigration. He didn't like people breaking the law, but he seemed to agree that there should be some way for those who'd been here for a while to legalize their status. On the subject of McGregor, he did understand that McGregor hadn't given an order making the term "illegal alien" verboten, but he felt that McGregor's forwarding of the Los Abogados letter left the issue unresolved, and not in a good way.
"In my opinion, she should clarify [the issue]," Ira told me. "Unless what was in the letter is exactly what she wants done."
Phoenix activist Martha Payan...
Another protester, Martha Payan, one of a couple of people who were from Phoenix, expressed a similar opinion, saying she was on the sidewalk expressing herself to let McGregor know that she shouldn't go as far as the Los Abogados letter suggested.
Still, it was hard to reconcile these tamer views with some of the signs others were carrying, calling McGregor a "traitor." A traitor for forwarding a piece of correspondence? Um, Okay. Also, putatively, the protest was supposed to be calling for the "impeachment" of McGregor.
Reminds me of that Woody Allen quip from Annie Hall, when Annie's brother, played by Christopher Walken, tells Allen's character that he sometimes fantasizes about driving head-on into another car.
"Right," Allen replies. "Well, I have to - I have to go now, Duane, because I, I'm due back on the planet Earth."
Not exactly. But, hey, don't let the truth get in the way of a good protest.
There was another Phoenix demonstrator there from the Patriots Border Alliance -- that's a rival Minuteman group to Chris Simcox's MCDC (Minuteman Civil Defense Corps), but the PBA-er wasn't much of a talker.
Warden, on the other hand, is most definitely a talker, and he seemed to be on his meds that afternoon, because he didn't threaten to blow my head off or anything. Actually, I think he may have been glad get some press for the event. He said no other reporters had been by, not even good ol' Linda Bentley, who had inspired his protest, in part. (Shame on you, Linda, for shirking your pals!)
The white-haired nativist struck me as an intriguing, if off-balance character. He informed me that he had protested the Vietnam War back in the day, and marched for Civil Rights for blacks. And he told me he had even lived in North Africa for a time. No way for me to know if any of this is true, but it makes for an interesting back-story. He also cited a landmark free-speech case that New Times was involved in the '70s, and said he sometimes cites it in his legal arguments. In other words, he's by no means a stupid fella, though I did get the feeling he was buttering me up.
"Let's find ways to cooperate," he suggested. "You want to see me get in the face of the McCains and the Kyles and the rich fat cat Republicans. I'm happy to do that, because they're the ones that started this. They did it for money. At least the people like Isabel Garcia, they believe in their cause."
Garcia works for the Pima County Legal Defender's Office, and is an immigrant-rights activist, sort of the metaphysical opposite in all ways of Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas. Garcia is frequently excoriated by Warden and others of his persuasion. I have to admit, I did forget for a brief sec that this is the same guy who's been arrested more than once in Tucson for assault, and is well-known down there as a mentally unstable provocateur.
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Still, compared to the bike-riding orangutans we have up here in Phoenix, Warden's practically an intellectual. He strikes me as someone who gets off on the conflict and the attention to be derived from his zany activism. However, there were a couple of times he began to go off the deep end, like when he started to talk about arming illegals returning to Mexico and when he made the following comment about senator John McCain:
"Put this down, if I had John McCain here, and I thought I'd get away with it, I'd hold him down and saw his head off right now for the camera. Because people like him sold this country out for money."
As he said this, he made the motions with his hands like he was cocking a Glock and firing it into someone's head. He also told me that I should come visit down to Tucson, because down there, they mix it up a lot with the other side, and it was much more fun that way. Unfortunately, the press down there won't cover him any more, he complained. Can't imagine why.
Soon after, Warden jumped in a red four-door Chrysler with his pals and headed back to Tucson, the tinge of insanity lost in the exhaust fumes. These Froot Loopy nativists. What would I do without 'em?