fresh voices from the front lines of change







The racist outrages are coming so thick and fast out of Arizona these days that was probably only a matter of time before some Nazi group took advantage of the situation to put itself on the media map.

And — whaddaya know! — here they come, right on schedule. According to Stephen Lemon of the Phoenix New Times (which had done courageous coverage of that state’s wingnut movements for decades), armed vigilantes — including active duty military members — from the National Socialist Movement have announced that they’ll be coming in from all over the country this Saturday to patrol Arizona’s Vekol Valley against drug runners and undocumented aliens. Lemon writes:

Ready has announced a “Border Ops” alert for this Saturday via his profile on the white supremacist New Saxon site, inviting participants to “bring plenty of firearms and ammo.”
“Camouflage or earth tone clothing [is] preferred,” according to the announcement. “Bandanas, balaclavas, or other identity concealing items are permissible and encouraged.”
Ready’s statement promises that, “This is the Minuteman Project on steroids! THE INVASION STOPS HERE!”

What does the local constabulary think of this? They’re not pleased. Ready told Lemon that he had a “law enforcement liaison flying in,” and hoped the local cops would back them “with choppers and SWAT teams and so on.” But Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu told them not to hold their breath: “I do not ask or encourage them to come here.”

And for good reason. Lemon points out that, like most right-wing vigilantes, Ready isn’t someone you really want running around the desert with a gun:

Ready has a criminal record. He was twice court-martialed and drummed out of the Marines. And he has swallowed whole and fully digested the rhetoric of the right-wing lunatic fringe. The idea of him running around the desert with a high-powered rifle on the hunt for “narco-terrorists” is not a comforting one, to say the least.

Usually, this kind of small-potatoes wingnut uprising isn’t worthy of much attention. But I’m pointing it out for two reasons.

First: this a perfect example of how right-wing violence, once permitted, quickly escalates. The Minutemen weren’t uniformed, only casually armed, and careful to cloak their deep racism — though it tended to leak out at inopportune moments anyway. Now, because we enabled and tolerated that, we’ve got self-proclaimed Nazis down there in full battle dress, carrying military weapons and telling us quite openly that they’re on a mission to cleanse the country of the brown scourge. If Arizona officials — already overwhelmed by a situation that they’re getting no federal help in resolving — don’t find a way to stop these guys, they’re creating the conditions for the paramilitary right-wing scene on their border to become the national breeding ground for a full-on armed militia movement — a movement that could, in time, endanger the whole country.

Second: This is also the next step down the road for the state of Arizona as a whole. They’ve put the country on notice that they’re just fine, thank you, with being the State of Hate — and in doing so, opened the door to the whole national circus of haters. Ready and his National Socialists are out front of that parade, but you can bet that there’s a long line of acts queuing up to come out to the desert and follow them. (Note to Gov. Jan Brewer: be careful what you wish for, for you will surely get it.)

The thing about far-right radicals is that they only get to take up as much space as we’ll allow them to have. Arizona’s governor and legislature have consciously chosen to make their state a free-fire zone for every flavor of right-wing crazy. But the good news is that other places are making other choices. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s latest Intelligence Report, two small towns — one in Oregon, the other in Missouri — have made that other choice, and then made it stick:

When self-described Aryan Nations national director Paul Mullet went looking in February for a place to establish a new headquarters, he headed west to Grants County, Ore. Rugged, rural and about 95% white, it must have seemed an ideal place to resuscitate the remnants of a once-leading neo-Nazi group.

Mullet, 36, showed up in the town of John Day, population 1,850, wearing a blue shirt with a swastika patch and accompanied by three other men. They spent the night at a local motel, where they displayed a swastika banner for the benefit of a black and a Hispanic motel worker. Then they toured the town a second day. “John Day is the perfect place for us,” Mullet told a reporter.

Local residents vehemently disagreed. They turned out in such large numbers for two community meetings organized by the local newspaper that some were turned away. Dozens of folks took to the streets, carrying signs with slogans like “No room 4 hate.” Everybody from the mayor and the police chief to ranchers and business owners voiced their opposition to the racist group coming to their town. Ironically, Mullet left spewing threats to sue the town for discrimination….

In a related matter, Charles Juba, a former Aryan Nations official, showed up in Odessa, Mo., in February, saying he planned to open a new, under-21 nightclub called the Black Flag. He was met with a reception similar to that given Mullet, with townspeople decrying his club and ideology, and he soon abandoned his plans.

This is what we know about hate groups: they are an evil that can only flourish where good people do nothing. The State of Arizona is now issuing what amount to official engraved invitations to the country’s far-right vigilantes, sovereign citizens, would-be fascists, self-styled “patriots” (we need to take that word back, seriously), and paranoid race warriors. They cannot be surprised when people like J.T. Ready and his New Saxons take them up on the offer.

And their choice demands a response from everybody in the other forty-nine as well. No American state has voluntarily chosen to go down this path since the KKK takeover of Indiana and Oregon in the 1920s. And when hate is operating at that high level, the only way it stops is when the voters of Arizona decide they’ve had enough, and vote the bastards out of office. That won’t happen until they realize that their rage is costing them far more than it’s worth — which is why the boycotts matter. My own Unitarian Universalist Church is currently debating whether to reverse its commitment to hold its 2012 national convention in Phoenix. The decision will carry high-six-figure costs to the church; but as UUs have so often affirmed in the past, there are principles on the line here that are far more important than mere money.

As John Day, OR and Odessa, MO can tell you: it’s so much easier to put a stop to this absurdity before it even starts. We know, for absolute certain, that a hard, fast public pushback against the first sprouting signs of hate is all it takes to keep its toxic weeds from taking over our towns. The recipe is so simple: Aggressive enforcement and prosecution, followed by rallies and store signs (“Not in our town”); uncompromising op-eds in the local paper; and a strong unified stance from religious and civic leaders — and it all ends right there. But if good people let that first instance slide, and keep looking away through the next and the next, before very long you’ve got racists running your state and the Nazis guarding your borders.

This is, as I’ve so often warned, how fascism infiltrates a democracy. Arizona is as far down that road as any American state has ever gotten, and shows no signs of even wanting to turn back. But the rest of us still have the choice — and because the people of Arizona are no longer with us, we’re going to have to be that much more watchful, and work that much harder to keep the festering wound from spreading.

You get what you allow. It’s that simple. And that hard.

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