Sunday, March 21, 2004

Ratcheting the violence

The scene in Fresno this weekend may well have given us a preview of the shape of this summer's presidential campaign:
Arrest mars Fresno anti-war rally: Organizer is accused of interfering with a police officer

What the headline doesn't explain -- nor does the story until you get down deep into it -- was that the rally was targeted by members of the Free Republic (whose role as far-right "transmitters" I have discussed previously), which is based in Fresno.

And cops, instead of properly dealing with the instigators, arrested the rally's organizer on the thinnest of pretexts.

At least one Freeper showed up early for the rally and began trying to provoke arguments with members of Peace Fresno, the organizers of the event. Ken Hudson, the group's secretary and a teacher at local elementary school, approached the Freeper and warned him he would call police if he tried disrupting the rally. The Freeper, evidently, persisted, and local sheriff's deputies were called.

Not that Peace Fresno is on any great terms with the sheriff's office. In fact, an undercover deputy infiltrated the group last year, creating quite a local row when this was revealed. The group has filed a civil-liberties claim against the office.

The Fresno Bee story describes Saturday's situation thus:
Hudson called sheriff's deputies to the park and asked them to talk with the unidentified Free Republic representative.

Hudson said he twice asked deputies to move away from a Peace Fresno banner beside the rally stage to talk with the man because the rally was about to start. He denied a statement by deputies that he asked them to leave.

Sheriff's Sgt. Mark Bray said the unidentified man was accused by protesters of trying to incite them and that Hudson's actions kept them from talking with the man about his behavior. Deputy Eric Garringer ordered the arrest because of Hudson's alleged interference.

There are more details at the Peace Fresno Web site:
Ken had this to say about his arrest earlier today: Ken says that he was at Courthouse Park preparing for the arrival of the marchers when he noticed a Freeper who goes by the name of "At Bay." At Bay was going up to event participants and engaging them in hostile conversations. Ken said that At Bay appeared to be attempting to provoke people and he (Ken) called the sheriff. Ken was concerned that At Bay was going to get into a violent confrontation with someone.

The Sheriff arrived and talked to Ken for about 10 minutes. During that time At Bay tried to intervene in the conversation several times. Each time he (At Bay) was told to back off by the sheriff's deputy. Deputy Garringer then went to talk with At Bay. They were standing in front of the Peace Fresno banner, just to the side of the main stage.

It was at this time that the anti-war marchers began to arrive for the rally. Ken says he went over to Deputy Garringer and At Bay and suggested they move from the stage area so the "permitted" rally could begin. Garringer told Ken to back off. Ken took several steps back. He held the permit in his hand and said again that Peace Fresno had a permit to hold a rally here today and asked them to move from in front of the stage area. That is when Ken was arrested.

Accompanying this account was an interesting photo, especially for those of us schooled in police body language:

As the account describes:
This is a picture of At Bay talking with the deputy sheriffs about 15 minutes after the arrest. When they were done talking they shook hands and At Large returned to his work of disrupting the crowd. He told one peace activist that he was there to monitor and photograph the criminals and anti-American scum that attend these events.

At Bay himself later chimed in on the comments on this board, claiming he was just there participating in his First Amendment rights. His account -- since deleted -- conveniently omitted his apparent provocations and attempts at disruption.

But most noteworthy, in my view, was the Freeper sewage that came spilling over onto the comments of the board:
Fuckin Leftist traitors break the law and think they should get away with it?! FUCK YOU YA GODDAMN LEFTIST PUKES AND DON'T EVEN THINK OF FUCKING WITH FREE REPUBLIC MOTHERFUCKERS!


The same commenter later promised:
If I see you or any of your comrades from Dem Underground I will kick the living shit out of you you filthy faggotcunt traitor


These comments were later deleted from the board, along with several responding to the threats.

But I've preserved them here because they encapsulate the right-wing mentality that's floating about out there, stirred up by two years' worth of drum-beating about liberals being traitors and not real Americans, an "evil," as Sean Hannity describes it, on an equal footing with terrorism. The product is a growing eliminationism directed at liberals. The campaign I saw getting its test run in Montana is all primed and ready to go for this summer's presidential campaign.

Last year, in the runup to the invasion of Iraq, we saw an early version of this strategy: Not content merely to hold their own pro-war demonstrations, right-wing radio hosts began inviting their listeners to invade peace rallies, disrupt them, and shout them down. They succeeded in doing so on several occasions. At other times, they did not. Accompanying the campaign was a steady patter of eliminationism and death threats directed at war protesters.

So expect to see a lot more of these kinds of open provocations this coming year: Bush supporters invading and disrupting Kerry rallies; threats of violence directed at anyone supporting the "traitors" and "appeasers"; and eventually, the eruption of actual violence. It's hard to say which side will shoot first (the right-wingers are more likely, since they have the guns, but you never know how these things will play out), but it's looking increasingly like someone's going to get hurt.

Worst of all, it's also looking like law enforcement is going to be part of the problem.

[Thanks to Julius for the Peace Fresno link.]

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