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by Kendra Atleework
Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2009 at 5:40 AM
Those interested in opposing the NSM and other racist groups can contact
At 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, September 27th, a thin blonde girl with braces stands under the blaze of the Riverside sky. Grimacing in the building heat, she raises a sunburned arm in a salute above her head. The flag she wields in the other hand is a patriotic hybrid: red, black and blue. A swastika festers in the center.
Seven men and women stand by her, brandishing megaphones and flags. Swastikas flap beside grizzly bears, stars and stripes. T-shirts boast “Skinhead,” “Supreme Empire,” and “We’re Back.”
This is the National Socialist Movement. White supremacists. Neo-Nazis. “Their goals are that only white people have the right to be citizens of the United States,” explains Al Gray, an organizer of counter-protests against the group, who asked that his real name not be used.
Today the NSM has staked out a grassy bank in front of Home Depot in Casa Blanca, a predominantly Latino barrio of Riverside. They target day laborers waiting for work, in a demonstration against illegal immigration. Although they have permission to be here until 12:30 p.m., a group of 50-100 counter-demonstrators drive them away by 10:45.
Nearby at Riverside City Hall, 150-200 people gather in a peaceful rally against racism, featuring music and speakers. Casa Blanca hosts a different scene. Police linger in the shade, sweating in their riot gear, tear gas canisters glinting under their arms.
Then the crowd arrives. Counter-demonstrators flood the sidewalk in front of Home Depot to face off with the Nazis. This is confrontation. Unlike the peaceful rally occurring simultaneously at City Hall, counter-demonstrators in Casa Blanca have chosen direct action.
“The idea is to deny the NSM a platform that they would otherwise use to spread their message of hate,” says Gray.
“Nazis go home! Nazis go home!”
The cry rises over baking pavement as bodies pulse to the beat of drums made from buckets and cans. Some counter-demonstrators gather directly in front of the NSM. Others stand with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network across the street. Several day laborers watch from the shade. The NSM will not prevent them from seeking work.
Participants in the counter-demonstration range from college students to Anarchists to Brown Berets, a Chicano organization that began in the 60s to fight police brutality and work as security for the barrios.
“Claremont students were very, very heavily involved,” Gray reports.
According to Gray, the demonstration’s goal is to ruin the NSM’s stated plans of establishing a local headquarters and recruiting new members. “The NSM has identified the Inland Empire as fertile ground for organizing,” says Gray. “They target disaffected, uneducated white youth, who may be dealing with unemployment or feel marginalized. We would like to show them that there are a lot of positive things going on in the community, and they’re welcome to be a part of that if they can let go of their hate.”
Tensions in the crowd in front of Home Depot are rising.
“White power!” NSM members bellow into megaphones. Their words are drowned out.
“We don’t want no Nazis, we don’t want no hate, we don’t want no part of your fascist state!” The crowd closes in while their opponents hail Hitler with desperation.
Gray explains that many Neo-Nazis deny that the Holocaust ever occurred. “They revere Hitler as a powerful white figure.” A banner on the NSM website reads “Juden free America and Europe by 2033”.
Israeli and rainbow flags are unfurled in the crowd, as well as the red and black banner of anarchism. A giant poster reading “Anti-FA”, which signifies anti-Fascist Action, rises above fists and cardboard signs.
A scuffle ensues. NSM members shove protestors; punches fly. Soon several counter-demonstrators brandish a tattered Nazi flag. They flick a lighter beneath it and the nylon curls into stinking black smoke.
One demonstrator is repelled by the violence around him. “The actions of a few radicals within the group stained the message [of peace and love],” says Andy Perez*, a student of San Antonio City College. “I will not participate in another political protest of this nature.”
Gray agrees that radical behavior may alienate potential supporters. “When the NSM can cast the protesters as violent, it tends to make the general public a little less sympathetic to us than it otherwise might be.”
Perez, who has worked as a day laborer, argues that radical political behavior is only plausible for those who are economically and socially privileged. “There is a role that privilege plays in taking more risky stands,” Gray concedes. “But I think it’s incumbent upon the people that do have that privilege to take that stand, since there are others who can’t.”
Some counter-demonstrators support any tactics that rid the community of racial hate. “As for driving the Nazis out of the streets, mild violence was an effective technique,” says Trent Argyros*, a student at Pitzer College. “Granted, most of us would prefer to hang them from the nearest tree or burn down their houses.”
Although Gray affirms that non-violence is the best tactic, he recognizes where the situation becomes unclear. “When you’re taking a Nazi flag into a Latino community and targeting day laborers, that’s an attack. A potent symbol can be a weapon. Anything you do against that is self-defense.”
Finally the NSM has had enough. Riot police keep a seething crowd at bay while the Nazis retreat to their cars. A young man climbs inside with a final defiant salute to Hitler.
“Chicano power!” A Brown Beret cries over a bullhorn. Spit flies and middle fingers wave as the cars edge out of the parking lot.
When they disappear, the crowd explodes. Strangers embrace. Los Jornaleros del Norte, a cumbia band made up of day laborers and activists, begins to play across the street. Counter-demonstrators have disbanded the NSM protest one hour and 45 minutes ahead of schedule.
“The day labor community is extremely grateful for the support,” Gray says. “Any time you see that kind of hatred in your community, it’s damaging, it’s hurtful, it’s painful… that community is so strong, they would have been able to take it in stride, but it hurts.”
Many see today’s events as a victory, but the NSM will be back. Gray stresses that despite conflicting ideologies, there is a place for everyone who wants to resist the NSM.
“Our best weapon is our creativity, our ingenuity, our intellect. Everyone can fight from their own trench. It doesn’t matter if you’re a pacifist or an anarchist. It’s going to take everybody in this struggle against hatred.”
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