It has been three months since I've last blogged due to an overload of work and other life stresses. I'm re-activating The Crash Report for 2013 with a piece I wrote for the Portland Phoenix about masquerading as a bigot in order to gain admittance to a meeting of anti-Somali racists in Lewiston exactly ten years ago.
The sight of a couple hundred helmeted cops in full riot gear startled me. I knew security around the Maine National Guard Armory in Lewiston would be tight, but the sheer physical presence of scores of large men in black clothes, wielding clubs and shields, was still a surprise. To see a couple dozen phalanxes of heavily armed troops — juxtaposed with the winter landscape of a Maine industrial park — was surreal.
I pushed my way through the throng of several hundred anti-racists to the concrete barricades installed by the city to keep the crowd away from the Armory. The protestors were rallying against a meeting by the World Church of the Creator, a visiting group of white supremacists preaching for the expulsion of the city’s growing Somali population.
It was about quarter to one in the afternoon and the racist speech was scheduled to start in 15 minutes. A scuffle broke out near one of the barricades, about 20 feet away from me. After 30 seconds of chaos, the cops dragged away a skinhead male. (Afterward, I learned he was an anti-racist skinhead trying to make a point to the prejudiced.) A minute later, the cops escorted a group of five racists from the crowd into the armory building, about 75 yards away. One racist, a huge man in his mid-to-late-twenties with shaved head and sporting a moustache and goatee, whined to the crowd as he walked away with police protection. “Leave me alone,” he whimpered. “I’m not doing anything wrong . . . nothing violent.”
I’d learned in advance that even though this was supposed to be an
informational meeting, seating was limited to 10 members of the public. (City fire code prevents more than 40 people — including cops and media — in the room.) Was I too late to get in? A cop behind the barricade stood like a statue, eyes hidden behind sunglasses, and didn’t answer my question.
Then another policeman announced there was room for five more supporters. Several hands shot up. “Supporter?” he asked, pointing at one man with an arm raised. “Supporter?” to another. I waved at the cop. “Supporter?” he asked.
“Yes, sir!” I answered.
“This way,” he said.
We were under heavy escort as we walked to the building, one cop per racist. The crowd screamed at our backs while one of the officers politely explained what would happen when we got inside.
“You’ll go through a metal detector and be searched,” he said. “You’ll have to remove your boots.”
The room was small, maybe 25 feet wide and twice as long, and had the feel of an institutional cafeteria. Rows of folding chairs were wire-tied together in groups of five to prevent their use as weapons. On the side of the room facing the protestors, cardboard was taped to the windows to protect us from flying glass in case the chanting mob attacked.
Some of the seats were already taken by official members of the church who came from away and were snuck into the building by the police. The media was also present. A half-dozen journalists acted as a pool for the whole world.
I took a seat in the second row, next to the goateed guy, his girlfriend, and his buddy who was also goateed, but not a skinhead. They were big fellows, probably six-foot-four and weighing 250, the type that don’t go down easy in a fight. There was a lot of chatter and some laughter, though it was all fairly hushed because the TV crew was interviewing Reverend Jon Fox, the event’s featured speaker.
(Fox was the last-minute replacement for Matt Hale, the church’s almost-telegenic leader who was arrested a couple of days before the rally for allegedly conspiring to have a judge killed. Fox was not a good choice for a substitute. He’s a big, fat, white slob with a bushy beard and no moustache and a good ol’ boy accent.)
When the clock struck one, the speeches started. First up was Portlander David Stearns, the Maine coordinator for the church.
I’m not going to bore you with a play-by-play of his rhetoric of hate. First of all, I couldn’t take notes because the cops seized my pens. Secondly, Stearns is such a blubbering idiot that it wouldn’t make sense, even if I quoted him accurately.
Stearns had the oratory skills of a sixth grader who dropped his index cards for his oral report just a minute before he’s supposed to make a presentation to the class. In fact, that’s basically what happened. About 10 minutes into his speech, Stearns looked down and realized his notes were out of order.
I saw the fear on his face as he shot a look of panic to his surprisingly cute girlfriend sitting in the second row. I imagined he spent countless hours in his apartment practicing for this moment, delivering the speech over and over again for his lady, while she lay on their couch, thumbing through Christian fashion magazines and endlessly chewing gum. This was supposed to be a big moment in his career as a white supremacist and he was flubbing it, right in front of the TV camera and microphones and his fellow racists. He was losing control of the speech and he still had 20 minutes to fill.
Stearns became a caricature of a racist. Suddenly, he switched the topic from white power into a tirade against the Jews. Then someone’s cell phone rang, interrupting his stream-of-consciousness babble. “Turn that thing off,” he snarled.
His language became coarse. He began using the word “fuck” and grew more virulent in his dissing of blacks and Jews. He started to badmouth the cops, then apparently realized there were at least eight heavily armed Lewiston police officers in the room, ready to protect him against an attack of his right to free speech. “Ahhhhhh,” he stammered. “except you guys. You guys are great.”
The crowd laughed, nervously.
He droned on and on and finally, with just a couple of minutes left in his spiel, he started to issue threats to the minority groups who invade his personal space. I can’t remember the actual wording of his threat because I was focused on how terrible he looked when he was angry. Then I started thinking about how wimpy he was and how easy it would be to kick his ass if I ran into him, unarmed, in a Portland neighborhood.
I awoke from my reverie at the end of Stearns’s speech. “White power,” he screeched and lead the faithful in a Nazi-like arm-thrust of a salute, before sitting down with his girlfriend.
Next up was Brother Ron Freeman from Connecticut. He’s the most dangerous type of racist, the kind that seems almost smart, which means he spoke in nearly complete sentences and didn’t froth at the mouth. Freeman, a college graduate, works as an appliance repairman.
He’s married and clean cut and hates anybody who’s not white. Apparently, from clues he gave in his speech, he’s not religious, other than about racial purity. He kept repeating a mantra about survival of the white race for being justification for something or another. (Maybe it was an oblique reference to a race war.) I tried to commit his slogan to memory but couldn’t because I was distracted by his annoying habit of frequently saying “Anyway,” as if he was constantly wrapping up his speech.
Freeman’s appearance was troublesome because he seemed like the guy next door and not at all threatening. He had an effeminate way of tossing his head back and a cute little giggle, even when discussing the most heinous philosophical ideas.
He spoke for 30 minutes, but halfway through I grew bored and started focusing on the curiosities of my surroundings. The church flag, for instance, was duct-taped to the wall behind the speaker’s lectern. It wasn’t a regular-size piece of tape, however, but a dozen tiny torn strips of the gray stuff. It wasn’t a sensible or respectful way to hang a flag. And in front of the podium were a pair of poorly photocopied signs explaining how Somali refugees will destroy modern civilization as we know it.
Finally, Freeman finished his speech and the crowd politely applauded. I could see him getting elected to the school board in some small Connecticut town, provided he doesn’t mention in his campaign literature how he hates so many people.
It was two o’clock and time for the featured speaker, the Reverend Jon Fox. Did I mention that this guy was a slob? His beer gut and untied boots made him look especially ridiculous, considering he’s the public face of a supposedly well organized white cult.
Fox’s speaking skills fell somewhere between Freeman’s and Stearns’s. If he was using notes, it wasn’t apparent because he constantly went off topic.
Fox discussed the following subjects:
• He believes “mud people” (racist speech for non-whites) are stealing jobs, screwing with the Constitution, and bilking the United States taxpayers out of millions upon millions of dollars through benefits and welfare. This was the only part of his speech that directly dealt with the Somali situation in Lewiston.
• Fox said a Jewish-owned global cabal controls almost every aspect of our life, from the government down to the media, movie studios, and publishing houses. He also described how the crafty Jews will stop at nothing to steal from the goyim. Plus, he blamed the Jewish elite for triggering wars among countries like the US and Iraq in order to distract us from the Jews’ continued oppression of the white race.
• Fox provided many details about his personal life including how as a single father (he referred to his ex-wife as someone stupid enough to believe in the world of multiculturalism) he ended up living in government housing next door to a crack-smoking, ýrick-turning ho who paid only $87 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. Plus, Fox said, her boyfriend/pimp was living there illegally and even though Fox complained to the management, the no-good black man was able to stay. (Except Fox wasn’t polite with his description.)
• Fox also felt it necessary to explain to the crowd that black women were extremely unattractive. What more proof do you need, he asked, than the fact that all the black men want to be with white women. “Heh, heh, heh, heh,” he chuckled evilly. “Everyone wants our hot white sisters,” he said, and wiggled a pudgy hand toward one of the five girls in the audience.
• Fox also explained that he is a Mormon in addition to being a neo-Nazi. He was banned by the Mormon church, he claimed, because of his racist beliefs. He argued his case by demanding Mormon members of the Masons should also be banned. He was re-admitted, he said, as a Mormon.
• He described the conspiracy behind the imprisonment of Reverend Matt Hale, the man who was supposed to lead the Lewiston discussion. He assured us that Hale would be alright and hopefully justice would prevail. Those who wanted to donate money to the legal defense fund could do so via an address he rattled off too quickly for anyone to understand. (Or write down, since only the reporters were allowed pens.)
“Dang it, boy,” Fox said. He stopped his diatribe to talk to Stearns who was frantically pointing at his wristwatch to indicate the rally was almost over. “I told you to let me know when I had 10 minutes left.” It was a couple of minutes before three.
Fox was disappointed. He was just getting started. He had much more to say. He quickly tried to condense his message. “After we get this racial mess straightened out,” he said, “we have to focus on the environment.”
Fox continued. “We need to protect natural resources. We need clean air, clean water . . . We have to stop using nuclear power.” For another minute he talked about the importance of saving the earth from poisons. Then he thanked the crowd and stepped away from the microphone, smiling, to bask in the sweet glow and sound of 30 comrades clapping.
(Ironically, most of the core beliefs of the racists are shared by the mostly-liberal crowd protesting outside. It’s safe to say that most people at either rally were against the war in Iraq, anti-USA PATRIOT Act, pro-Palestinian, anti-globalism, pro-organic farming, and want to protect the environment. If it weren’t for the racists’ blind hatred of blacks and Jews, these groups could almost be allies.)
A uniformed Lewiston police officer came to the front of the room to describe what would happen next. The crowd of protestors outside had grown to maybe six or seven hundred. They hadn’t stopped chanting or making speeches through handheld megaphones during the two-hour meeting. (Though inside, it just sounded like a constant murmur.)
The cop explained that the 13 members of the church the police had sneaked in earlier would be snuck out on a bus parked behind the Armory and escape unseen by the crowd on the other side of the building.
The 10 of us remaining behind, the ones who came in via the front door, were a more difficult problem. The cops didn’t have a plan for our getaway. Sit tight, we were told.
This gave me some time to get familiar with my fellow meeting- goers. The guys I sat next to — with the goatees — were from Stowe, Vermont. (No one gave their names and everyone had a secretive air about them.) They had mentioned during the meeting that they weren’t Christians. They were Odinists.
I asked goatee with hair what he meant by “Odinist.” He believed in the Norse gods, he said, the white gods. Not some religion founded by a goddam Jew.
The bald goatee asked a cop if he and his girl and his buddy could get a police escort on the way back to their car. Others in the group said they were also afraid of the crowd. They all wanted police protection.
We gathered by the window to watch the mob outdoors. The multitudes continued their chants and speeches.
“Look at those stupid monkeys,” said another racist. “They should use the fire hoses on ’em.”
“I don’t hate them,” said goatee with hair. “I just hate their ignorance.”
Another racist, a fiftysomething Mainer with a salt and pepper beard, asked if anyone had ever read Turner Diaries (the white-power novel that allegedly inspired Timothy McVeigh). “It starts just like this,” he said, as he stared out the window at the crowd. “Maine is in some serious trouble . . . real trouble. This is getting out of hand.”
Finally, a cop came back in to make an announcement. “The crowd doesn’t believe that the church members have left,” he said. “So we’re going to bring in a representative of the protestors to take a look and see that they’re gone. Then the crowd’s going to leave and you’ll be able to get to your cars.” The cop asked if we wouldn’t mind sitting in the chairs in the front of the room until the anti-racist looked around.
“Sure, sure,” one of the racists said. We all sat down, silently.
The protestors’ representative came and went, apparently not noticing the group of white guys and one woman sitting quietly and acting like they weren’t there.
The cop-in-charge came back inside. “They should be leaving soon,” he predicted. “I think he was satisfied . . . should just be a little while longer.”
After about 10 minutes, the crowd had thinned by half. The racists asked if we could go outside and have a smoke.
“Sure,” a cop said. “Just stay behind the building.”
“Don’t worry about that,” said one of the goatees.
We went outside and it was bitter cold. “I can’t believe those monkeys waited out here,” said another man who claimed he was from Southern Maine. He was maybe 40, with jet black hair and a rat tail that went halfway down his back. He came to the meeting with two comrades, young men — maybe in their late teens or early twenties — and all three had booze on their breath. “Man, I’m hungry,” he said.
“There’s a McDonald’s right near the exit,” said one of his buddies.
“Yeah, but I betcha a bunch of them are going to be there,” said Rat-tail and gestured to where the crowd had been standing.
“I bet we’re going to be on TV,” said one of the goatees. “We should find a place to watch it, then head back home.”
“I wish we could stay until tomorrow so we could get the papers,” said the other goatee. “Maybe someone could mail it to us.”
(Both of them made it into the pages of the Maine Sunday Telegram and the pooled TV coverage.)
A black man approached us. I had seen him earlier. He was in his mid-fifties, with a graying beard and wearing a baseball hat and sweater of some law enforcement agency. He seemed important, perhaps he was with the federal government. “Everything okay guys?” he asked the racists.
“Yup,” answered one.
“Uh huh,” said another.
“Good,” the black man said. “See you.”
The goatee with hair waited until the man walked away, then turned to his buddy and said, in a low voice, “Nig — gahhhh.”
“Hey guys, come here. Look at this,” called the bearded Mainer from inside. “There’s a bunch of snipers.”
We gathered around the window and watched white-clad marksmen — looking like Abominable Snowmen with high-powered rifles — getting down from their perches on a nearby building that overlooked the crowd.
One of the racists asked if the snipers are federal agents.
“Nope,” answered a Lewiston cop. “They’re state police.”
The cop-in-charge returned and said a van would bring us back to our cars. A little cheer went up.
A couple of minutes later we climbed and squeezed into a 12-passenger van, driven by a cop with another officer riding shotgun.
Someone made a joke about this being the first time any of us willingly got into a van driven by a cop.
“Hahah,” the driver laughed, looking into the rearview mirror. “We want to thank you guys for cooperating with us. It made things a lot easier.”
The racists responded with a chorus of “no problems” and “thank yous.”
A minute later, we were dropped off at an access road. Luckily, my car was parked in the other direction, so I walked away, avoiding the inevitable goodbyes and white power salutes.