Under the Sun

A Maricopa County Dem on Regrouping After Last Month's Firebombing

Aaron Abbott

The Maricopa County Democratic Party headquarters will never reopen, Aaron Abbott said in late July.

"It’s a mess. I just drove by on my way home from voting, and the building is destroyed. The state headquarters next door isn’t salvageable.”

The building at Central Avenue and Thomas Road was fire-bombed on July 24 at around one in the morning. A police investigation quickly determined the attack was arson.

“We were going to be moving in a couple months anyhow,” said Abbott, the events and fundraising chair of Legislative District 24. “Now we really have to.”

It was practically inevitable, Abbott thought, that he’d end up working in politics. The Arizona native grew up in Mesa and was raised by activists who set an example. “My parents are good progressives and very cool people,” he said. “They raised me as an activist, took me voting with them when I was a kid. My earliest memory of my mother is of her protesting at nuclear power sites in Las Vegas.”

He has a picture of himself as a baby with his mom, taken while she was collecting signatures to ratify the ERA in front of the Mormon temple in Mesa. “I was raised to fight,” he said. “When I lived in Tucson, I marched against the Iraq war.”

Abbott was vice president of his high school’s Young Democrats group. “There weren’t many of us,” he noted. “Sometimes only two of us at a meeting. This was Mesa, remember.” After a U of A undergrad degree, Abbott worked at a youth hostel in Berlin but returned to the Valley in 2004 and landed a job teaching photography to high schoolers. “I came back for a girl and a job,” he recalled. “I’m still doing the job, but that was two girls ago.”

Shortly after he returned, he began volunteering for the Democrats, canvassing for presidential hopeful John Kerry. He was promoted to events and fundraising chair in March. Before that, he mostly promoted candidates door to door and ran phone banks and campaign events.

Even before police arrested a former Democratic state committeeman named Matthew Egler for allegedly setting the fire, Abbott knew the attack wasn’t an organized assault. “I really thought it was someone who wanted retribution for having the federal monuments at the state capitol taken down. Maybe someone who saw us as the oppositional party who made that happen.”

He swore the assault won’t slow the Democrats’ work. “We’ve been working remotely through the pandemic, anyway. We hadn’t been canvassing because it’s not safe to be out there. So all the work we’ve done for many months is on all our home computers. We lost printers, computers, big-money items. But the grand majority of our recent work is backed up elsewhere. If anything, the fire has energized us. We’re not the backing-down type.”

Abbott agreed that firebombing seemed like an old-school kind of attack. In the 21st century, wouldn’t a terrorist cyberhack a local Democratic office instead? “My guess is this wasn’t the brightest person in the world,” he said, the day before the suspect was named. “We have cameras in the back where the firebomb was thrown through a back window. A basically smart person would know that there’d be security cameras at a political party office.”

While he waited for updates about the crime from his colleagues, he was thinking about his birthday. “It’s tomorrow, and the volunteer staff is throwing me a virtual party. It’s a Democratic party fundraiser, of course. But I’m excited. Or as excited as I can be about getting drunk alone in my apartment.”

It was a wonder, he thought, that more people weren’t drinking a lot these days.

“If I believed in an Old Testament God, I’d have the feeling we’re all being tested right now,” he said. “Every single person I know, everything they most struggle with in life, is what they’re carrying right now. It’s a scary time.”