Monday, July 15, 2013

Armed at the Trayvon Martin Rally: A Recent History of Open Carry at Phoenix Protests

Consider this a tale of two photographs from two protests.  The idiotic but entirely predictable verdict in the Zimmerman trial over the shooting of Trayvon Martin set off a wave of protests across the country over the weekend, including one in Phoenix Sunday night.  The NAACP and outraged residents came together at the federal courthouse to protest the result.

At one point, according to photographer Tim Johnson, who took the below photo Sunday, a man showed up armed with an AR15 to the rally and, under the excuse that the protest was on federal property, was told to take his rifle and remove it.  Johnson reports on his Facebook page that the man followed their instructions, stored it in his vehicle and returned to the protest unarmed.

Photo via Tim Johnson Photography

(And by the way, for those keeping score, the plainclothes officers in that picture are members of the infamous Phoenix red squad, who have been revealed in recently released documents to have engaged in a variety of very questionable acts of surveillance, disruption, infiltration and corporate collaboration against Occupy Phoenix and anti-ALEC protesters.)

Of course, despite the excuse, and given the nature of the Zimmerman case, the turning away of an armed black man from the protest raises its own red flag.  After all, Phoenix has a recent history of armed protesters.  Most famously, of course, was the case of a protester who open carried his AR15 outside a 2009 Obama speech in Phoenix, causing quite a ruckus in the media.  Other cases included anarchists carrying openly against the white supremacist National Socialist Movement, also in 2009, as part of their campaign to destroy that group, which had been trying to intervene in the state's racist politics.

But perhaps the most famous open-carry protest fanatic in recent history was infamous Nazi (literally) JT Ready.  While anti-immigrant activists in general often open carry at their own rallies, Ready was remarkable in that he and his small cadre of boneheads frequently showed up to non-right wing rallies armed, to intimidate and strut about.  Ready showed up several times armed to the teeth at immigrant movement rallies over the years, and was never turned away by the police.

Most famously, though, JT Ready and his white supremacist anti-immigrant border militia showed up at the first day of the Occupy Phoenix protest, decked out in military gear and fully armed with a variety of weapons, including AR15s (despite it being an inferior desert weapon compared to the easily-maintained AK47).  Importantly, JT Ready was infamous for his various threats of violence, which included advocating for landmines at the border, engaging in a shootout in 2006 after following several Mexican men for no apparent reason and being listed as a gang member by the Mesa Police.  Despite all this, JT never had a problem from the cops when he decided to show up somewhere armed (and by the way, cops, where are those JT Ready files?  It's been well-over a year since he offed himself.)

JT Ready at Occupy Phoenix

Indeed, JT's appearance at Occupy Phoenix caused quite a stir on the internet, as right wingers stupidly fell for the line that the militia attended to provide security for the protest.  You know, supposedly using their guns to protect the exercise of rights, and other nonsense.  Nothing could have been further from the truth, as anyone familiar with his armed antics in the past would have known.

Given this history, the special attention given to police on Sunday to the man carrying his rifle is interesting, but what's even more curious is the silence from the right.  The debate about the Zimmerman killing of Trayvon Martin has focused on two very related issues: race and guns.  While some have wondered what would have happened had Zimmerman not been armed that night, some others have wondered what the outcome would have been had Martin been armed as well.

The pro-gun right ravenously consumed the images from the open carry incident at the Obama speech because he was perceived as a "gun-grabber".  But, as of now we have seen no similar reaction to this case.  In all likelihood, all sides want to ignore this.  The armed, white reactionary right has no use for him, and it seems reasonable to assume, neither do the NAACP and other left wing groups who are busy running damage control for Obama by diverting outrage at the verdict into a series of nonviolent protests and an online petition campaign for a Justice Department review.  Basically, this is their "please don't riot" strategy.

JT again with his militia at Occupy Phoenix

White pro-gun advocates on the right have always had a very uncomfortable relationship with armed black folks to say the least (and armed indigenous people as well, while we're at it).  Their biggest problem of course, is that they are late to the dance.  That is, the pro-gun right was not on the side of armed people of color in the past and still maintains an ideological alliance to the police, who currently kill more black men -- frequently unarmed -- than the Klan did at its height.  Likewise, of course with their tokenistic appropriation of the imagery of indigenous resistance.  Armed whites were not on the side of Natives during that period.  Exactly the opposite.  The pro-gun white right is a day late and a dollar short, and their appropriation of the imagery of armed resistance by people of color is disingenuous and opportunistic.

Of course, the whole dialog on the pro-gun white right about guns and liberty has it exactly backwards.  The armed white right in US history has consistently been the civilian vanguard of tyranny, not its opposition.  They have been the informal bulwark of state power, not its enemies.

They formed the anti-Mexican militias in the Southwest (out of which some police forces formed).  They formed the slave patrols and the terroristic Klan night riders that stalked black communities (and also, in the case of the slave patrols, also served the foundation for modern day law enforcement).  And today they fill the ranks of the border militias and anti-immigrant groups calling for a massive expansion of state power and policing infrastructure for the rounding up and regulation of migrant labor.

So I'm interested very much to see the reaction to this man's actions from all parties.  The silence right now is deafening.  Has the white armed right's alliance with law enforcement and, in the Zimmerman case, with vigilantism and the racist application of "stand your ground" laws put them in an impossible position with regard to open armed carry by black people outraged by the legal murder of an unarmed black young man?  Likewise, will the liberal left, so deeply wedded to anti-gun policies, be unable to find solidarity with people fed up both with being targets and of their alleged defenders on the left arguing for their disarmament?

And haven't both left and right silently acquiesced to the most racist form of modern gun control: the disarming of millions of people of color by converting them into felons through nonviolent drug prosecutions?  As seen most recently in the fight over immigration legislation, the left remains paralyzed by the law and order demands of the always terrified white middle class.  But where is the outrage on the right over this blatant and unfair, generations-long, attack on rights they supposedly deem sacred and fundamental to the preservation of liberty?

As usual, armed people of color stand alone, perhaps to be raised as a token by the armed white right in the next generation, but abandoned for now.

No comments:

Post a Comment