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About 40 young people, most armed to the teeth and some wearing red bandanas over their faces, marched in formation on a Phoenix street near a rally for President Donald Trump.
While people showing up at Trump rallies with guns is nothing new, there was something markedly different about these guys: They were marching in opposition to Trump and his policies, not in support of the president, as Stephen Lemons, a columnist for the Phoenix New Times, who filmed the Facebook Live video two weeks ago, discovered.
The headline for the column that accompanied the video: “Gun-Totin’ Left-Wingers Demonstrate at the Arizona Capitol: Is Bloodshed on the Horizon?”
“Hey, Lefties with guns, that’s cool,” the column opens. But it closes with a prediction:
I’m reminded of the 1979 shootout in Greensboro, North Carolina, when a “Death to the Klan” rally held by the Communist Workers Party was crashed by Klan and Nazi members.
Five people lost their lives, four of them CWP members.
It may be just a matter of time before history repeats itself.
The armed protesters Lemons filmed in Phoenix are part of the “Redneck Revolt,” a group that claims it is composed of, and fighting for, the white working class, and that is “putting the ‘red’ back in ‘redneck,’” according to its website.
Lemons followed up on his video (which went viral, getting 800,000 views) this week with an interview with one of the “gun-totin’ Lefties,” Beth Payne. Payne said that her group, the Phoenix John Brown Gun Club (named after a white man who advocated in the mid-1800s for an armed takeover of the government in order to end slavery), has members from all walks of society and all political leanings.
But she acknowledged that the group – which unfurled a banner outside the Arizona Capitol declaring that they seek liberty for all working people, including trans and queer people, refugees, migrants, people of color, and Muslims and Jews – is viewed as left-wing.
And the Redneck Revolt website lays out clear principles that are distinctly left-of-center: A stand against white supremacy, a belief in liberty for all people (regardless or race, gender, sexual orientation or religious practice) and a broadly anti-capitalist agenda.
Most of all, however, the group calls for revolution and militant resistance. “We are not pacifists,” it states.
Groups like the Redneck Revolt are also uniting under a broader banner known as the anti-fascist movement. The concept of “anti-fascism” originated in Europe in the 1920s, and in modern America, groups and individuals who identify with anti-fascism have commonly abbreviated it to “Antifa.” Anti-fascists are generally anti-racism and anti-authoritarian, and self-described Antifa groups have been set up in several U.S. cities, including New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco.
Trump’s nationalist agenda and fiery rhetoric has given left-wing militia groups a new focus, said Daryl Johnson, a security expert and former senior analyst with the Department of Homeland Security.
“They’re definitely re-energized,” Johnson said.
And when leftist protesters start showing up to Trump rallies armed, that’s cause for concern, Johnson said.
“You know some of those Trump guys are packing heat too,” he said.
Some counter-protests have already turned violent. In June, protesters crashed a neo-Nazi march in Sacramento, California, leading to seven people being stabbed. Months earlier, three people got stabbed when counter-protesters confronted a KKK rally in Anaheim, California.
Others have been destructive. Demonstrators have recently rioted through Berkeley, California, to protest a speech at UC Berkeley by far-right personality Milo Yiannopoulos. Similar protests have happened in Seattle, Washington, D.C., and other cities across America in recent weeks.
There’s potential for another big showdown on April 15, again in Berkeley. That’s when, according to IndyBay.org, a local news blog, the far right will hold a “free speech rally.”
IndyBay and numerous other websites are calling on supporters to show up and disrupt the protest.
“To help protect yourself from the alt-right and the state, bring a mask or other way to conceal your identity and bring your friends to have each other’s backs,” reads an announcement on IndyBay.org.
A quiet week for hate crimes
Relatively speaking, the past week was a quiet one for hate crimes and incidents. Since we launched the Hate Report in February, this has been the most tranquil seven days, with no deaths or serious injuries from hate crimes that we heard about. (If we missed something, please get in touch.)
Nevertheless, there were a few notable hate-related incidents across the country:
- Albany High School, which is in an affluent, liberal neighborhood of the San Francisco Bay Area, organized a rally late last week to counter reports of racist Instagram posts being shared by students, as well as students reportedly greeting each other with Nazi salutes, the East Bay Times reported over the weekend:
The shocking Instagram posts included several side-by-side photos of girls at Albany High and apes and targeted 11 female students, most of them African-American, and the school’s African-American girls basketball coach.
- In Jacksonville, Florida, a white man allegedly pointed a pistol at his Muslim neighbor’s head and pointed a rifle at the neighbor’s family, while shouting racial epithets, the Florida Times-Union reported Wednesday. Robert Anthony Ruetting, 52, has been charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
- In Chappaqua, New York, anti-Semitic graffiti was found scrawled on a bathroom wall in a middle school, a local paper reported over the weekend.
- In Indio, California, a man was charged with a hate crime because he allegedly showed up at the auto parts store where he used to work and announced he was there to kill a black man, using a racial slur.
- In Virginia, a white man was attacked at a gas station by a black woman wielding a hammer. The woman allegedly attacked the man and his wife because she was “sick of fancy white people.” The couple was towing a boat behind a Porsche. The alleged attacker has been charged with a hate crime.
- On Thursday, four juveniles were arrested and accused of writing white power and swastika on the wall of a high school auditorium in northwest Phoenix. The suspects claimed they wrote the graffiti as a joke.
- And in Benton County, Minnesota, 23-year-old Zachary Todd Degraw was charged with “bias motivated assault” on Thursday after an attack on a taxi driver of Somali origin. Degraw allegedly choked the driver while he was transporting him and a fellow passenger to a bar. “Well, he is Muslim,” Degraw, who denies choking the driver, told police, according to the St. Cloud Times. “You tell me, do you not know what these Muslims will do with a white American girl?” the complaint quotes him as saying.
Jewish center threats abate
Two weeks after an Israeli-American teen was arrested on suspicion of making hundreds of threats to Jewish organizations across America, the threats seem to have stopped.
While a Jewish Community Center in Dallas reported a threat and was briefly evacuated hours after the arrests, we haven’t seen any reports of threats to Jewish centers in the last week. (Again, please let us know if we’re wrong.)
On Tuesday, the father of the jailed teenager apologized to American Jews in an interview with an Israeli television station:
To all the Jews in the United States, I want to convey an unequivocal message: We are very sorry from the bottom of our hearts. We are good Jews, we do not hate you.
But stats show hate crimes are still on the rise
America’s two most populous cities, New York and Los Angeles, both reported new statistics this week showing sharp increases in hate crimes.
In New York, hate crimes and incidents on the city’s subways were up 100 percent in the first three months of 2017, AM New York reported.
Hate crimes are up across the city with 144 incidents through April 2, compared to only 72 for the same period last year. Most of those are anti-Semitic crimes, said Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce, with an uptick in anti-black incidents as well.
(It’s worth noting that this increase would include any “fake” hate threats made to New York City Jewish organizations by the Jewish teenager who was arrested. At least four New York City Jewish organizations were sent threats, according to a list compiled by Haaretz in late February.)
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, reported hate crimes increased 15 percent in 2016 from the year before, led by an increase in reported crimes against the LGBTQ community, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.
LGBTQ people were targeted in 61 reported hate crimes in 2016, compared with 49 the year before. Transgender individuals saw a significant climb from two to eight reported attacks during that period.
Across L.A., the number of reported aggravated assaults in which hate was the motivating factor increased from 22 to 36 last year.
Longreads on hate
The mainstreaming of white separatist hate in America began in the Ozark mountains. That’s the premise of a story published in Slate on Monday that profiles Thomas Robb, the leader of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Robb was wearing sharp suits and speaking in moderate, carefully planned terms long before any of the high-profile white separatists who have risen to prominence since Trump’s election, the piece claims. Here’s a snippet:
Despite the terror the letters “KKK” can invoke, Robb makes white supremacist ideology sound almost bland. For example: “I’m a white person, my family is white,” he says. “I want to preserve their culture, their heritage. I want to have a future for my children and my grandchildren.”
Despite Robb’s polished façade, his websites and marketing materials contain plenty of raw hate. On his web radio station, for example, lyrics to a heavy metal song invoked an old chestnut of KKK dogma: smears against minorities as sexually violent (particularly toward white women) followed by the call “these migrants must be enslaved.”
White nationalists have been more active than ever this year in putting up posters and distributing fliers to fuel recruitment to their cause.
The Guardian recently interviewed one of those white nationalists and confronted him with a few tough questions and some home truths about the propaganda he has been spreading. This story, published on Wednesday, contains a few zingers like this one:
Under cover of darkness, the groups put up posters with slogans like “America is a white nation”, “Let’s Become Great Again”, “Serve Your People”, or “Our Destiny is Ours”. One group, which asks members to affirm their “non-semitic heritage”, splashes its slogans over black-and-white photos of marble icons, such as Michelangelo’s David, who is, of course, a famous Jewish hero.
And this one:
A young Identity Evropa member in Washington DC could not even identify all the marble faces of the “great white men” on the propaganda posters he was helping to disseminate. But white nationalist posters on liberal college campuses spark outrage and widespread media coverage – delivering outsized returns on a flimsy investment.
Correction: Redneck Revolt has not called on supporters to show up and disrupt the protest on April 15 in Berkeley, California, as an earlier version of this story reported. We regret the error.