Sunday, February 1, 2015

Arizona Army National Guard Sergeant posted link to white supremacist site, "likes" burning mosques

 Sgt. Berry, on the right, uses a poster to harass a videographer (Ray Stern/Phoenix New Times)

Arizona Army National Guard Sgt. Van Berry, of the 856th Military Police Company, found himself in some hot water last month after he was captured on video menacing and assaulting a videographer at a pro-police rally in Scottsdale.  Berry, along with Ken Harris, a former cop and  member of the Blue Knights MC, harassed videographer Dennis Gilman in an incident captured by Phoenix New Times reporter Ray Stern.

The thuggish behavior of Van Berry, Ken Harris, and others occurred under the watch of the Scottsdale police chief, the mayor of Scottsdale, a Scottsdale city council member, and dozens of current and former police officers who were present.  This pro-cop rally, far from being an organic display of appreciation for the institution of policing, was instead a gathering of those on the extreme right. Anti-immigrant organizer Barb Heller was present, and organizer Nohl Rosen has counter-demonstrated against a May Day rally and considers himself a "second amendment advocate."


Felipe Hemming, a writer at Photography Is Not A Crime, followed up on the New Times story with an article that identified Van Berry as a sergeant in the Arizona Army National Guard's military police unit.  Hemming was able to identify Sgt. Berry through Facebook after noticing that he was wearing his Arizona Air National Guard sweater which had his first initial and last name printed on the front.  Hemming was able to confirm with the Arizona Army National Guard that Sgt. Berry remains active in the 856th Military Police Company, he also reported that Berry's chain of command was aware of his actions at the protest and that Berry would be disciplined.

Berry had posted photos from the pro-cop rally on the event's Facebook page, in which he bragged that the counter protesters were "unarmed and very undangerous [sic]," he also took a shot at the Phoenix New Times, calling it the "Pravda Phoenix Times," Pravda being the news organ of the Russian Communist Party. Despite his position as a sergeant in a military policing unit, Berry was comfortable posting his extremist opinions for public view on his personal Facebook page. Browsing through his timeline there are frequent posts about the perceived threat from radical Islamists, undocumented immigrants, the "communist" Obama administration, and the "anti-white and anti-police thuggery" of the Ferguson demonstrators.

While Sgt. Berry is entitled to his opinions, there was one post on the page which stood out from the others. It was a link to, a white supremacist website that claims to fight against the "large anti-White agenda going on in the United States and globally." The article Berry posted celebrates the burning of a mosque in Sweden, which the author describes as a "rape chamber," and declares that mosques have no place in "Western European Society."

We have posted a screen shot from Berry's page of the article, notable is the comment from Charlene Fossett, who commented "Burn them all!" The comment received one "like," it came from Sgt. Berry.

Berry also posted photos from Nevada, and claimed that he "couldn't find the Bundy Ranch."  These photos were posted in late April of last year, during the armed standoff between rancher Cliven Bundy and the small army of armed militiamen who came to challenge the federal government.  Sgt. Berry seems unconcerned with publicly endorsing acts of terrorism against Muslims and supporting armed confrontations with federal agencies.

In an article by David Sterman published in The Atlantic last year on the danger of right-wing extremists with military training, former Department of Homeland Security domestic terror analyst Daryl Johnson cited a "government survey of 17,080 soldiers found that 3.5 percent of them had been contacted in order to recruit them into an extremist organization and that 7.1 percent said they knew another soldier who they believed to be part of an extremist organization."  While there is no public knowledge of Berry's involvement in any far right-wing extremist organization, he is an active member of the US military with no qualms about posting content from far right-wing outlets on his public Facebook profile or participating in aggressive protest activity.

The only terrorism being discussed in relation to the rally in Scottsdale had to do with some anti-police graffiti reading "Cops Kill so Kill Cops" that was found in a park the week before. Scottsdale mayor Jim Lane described the graffiti as a "terrorist act" in an interview with KTAR. Lane continued: "It was done in order to intimidate or bully the police department from doing their job. Somebody who makes those kinds of threats is completely outside the realm of the law."  Yet, Lane was comfortable standing alongside anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim extremists like Berry who shared a white supremacist article, or Barb Heller who would wear surgical masks at anti-immigrant protests mocking immigrant demonstrators with "No TB please" written across the front.

Heller has her anti-Muslim credentials as well, in a public post to her Facebook wall in 2013 she wrote "WE WILL DIP OUR BULLETS IN PIGS BLOOD & URINE!!" in response to a news article about a wall with "jihad" written across it in Florida. And Heller wasn't the only one on the far right with such anti-Muslim sentiment.  A group of "patriots" from Idaho were selling boxes of "Jihawg Ammo," with individual bullets dipped in pig blood in an effort to force Muslims shot with that ammunition to be Haraam, or unclean, upon entering the afterlife. 

And it was Scottsdale Police Chief Alan Rodbell, and his officers, who shook hands and thanked these supporters of the police. The pro-cop demonstrators who had intimidated, threatened, or assaulted anti-cop counter-protesters had the support of the establishment.  This overlap between police, military, and far right extremists must be of concern to anyone who believes that people should be able to freely organize and assemble to challenge the actions of the government without coercion from state sanctioned vigilantes.