Saturday in Boise was clear and not too cold, a lovely, sunny day for a Thanksgiving parade, followed by a big rally at the Idaho Capitol for what-could-be-more-appropriate: refugees. Before they shifted into full Manifest Destiny conquering mode, many of the first white immigrants to this country were refugees of various sorts, and often in need of help from the natives. Our Thanksgiving lore is about getting along with strangers, sharing what we have, and working together.
My motivation for attending was to bear witness in support for policies based on enlightened self-interest, global cooperation, and not on fear, first of all, and secondly to see what the opposition was going to say and do.
The rally on the Capitol steps. The big blue spruce is in the center of the steps, so this is a bit more than half the crowd. Some official-ish "police report" was picked up by the media, saying there were 700 supporters for the rally and 300 counterprotest. The photographic record divides the 1,000+ turnout quite differently; there were at least four or five times as many supporters as detractors.
Arriving a bit after the gathering was pretty much complete, and just before the speeches got underway, I parked on the south side of the park in front of the Capitol and jaywalked across Bannock, limping with a cane to help my strained right calf. The first person I saw in the park, walking by himself with a sort of "creepy patrol" vibe, had on a dark jacket, dark sunglasses, pistol on his hip, and a Doberman on a short leash.
I'm not a dog person, but I like dogs well enough. This did not look to be a friendly dog, nor a friendly person. Our paths were interesecting just then though, and my cane trumped whatever was going on in his head, and he pulled the dog back just enough to let me pass in my chosen line, at my slow speed. I might have thanked him if my internal alarm bells had not been dominating my attention just then.
I made my slow way across the Capitol Park and to the sidewalk along Jefferson, which was crowded with the mostly black-leather "III% ers," with their flags and pistols and what-not, and the various people milling around taking pictures of them and the rest of the scene. (While "Illers" would also fit, I understand they use Roman numerals to show their disdain for all things Arabic. The 3% concept is that's the fraction of the colonists who actually fought in the Revolutionary War, and so by slightly insane inference, if they just get 3% of the population, a mere 9 million or so, they can be revolting once again.)
I hobbled through their group the length of the sidewalk just to get the feel of it, which was simmering, but not hostile to me in my anonymity and apparent harmlessness. They deferred to my need for extra space, but we didn't interact. Unlike most all of them, I had no identifying marks and maybe I was just an unlucky gimp headed for 8th Street. At the far side, I stopped, took in the scene, and shot a few pictures of the crowd on both sides of the street, noting a young man I knew and some of his friends parading for the benefit of the protestors, one hand-made sign with "WELCOME" on it in many languages, another saying "WHY ARE REPUBLICANS SO MEAN?"
The counterprotest, big on big flags
Somewhere in the crowd of more than a thousand people, mostly crowded on and around the Capitol steps, and the fewer than 200 3%ers, Jeanette was making the rounds, and—literally—taking notes. Her first informant was the Gadsden flag bearer, who had waded into the enemy camp on the Capitol side. Someone was telling him he shouldn't be there, and he said "I was told the public was invited." "Well, you are Public," Jeanette said, amused, and asked him to explain himself. He told her his flag is an emblem for Christianity.
"It gives us safety and security. If Muslims come, they will go by the Koran. In thirty places in the Koran it says they must kill infidels, Christians. It says they must rape women in order to cleanse them. The Koran tells them to deceive us and lie to promote their takeover."
That was as far as he got before a police officer arrived and told him that this space was reserved for those rallying in support of refugees and he had to move across the street.
Jeanette followed suit and crossed the street herself, had one exceedingly angry woman tell her she had nothing to say to her, and she should speak to their spokesman. She did talk to Chris McIntire a bit who told her he represented the 3%ers, a constitutional advocacy group for protecting the first and second amendments, property rights and safety. Chris, and then Brandon Curtiss addressed their side and encouraged them to behave themselves and stick with the program.
The anti-rally crowd was not good at following instructions, generally, and when one person would raise a cry it quickly became a minute or more chant. The first: "VETERANS FIRST!" McIntire took the bullhorn and asked for a moment of prayer. Jeanette writes:
"I obediently stopped scribbling. Then Chris called for a salute to the flags, which were suddenly everywhere (I counted 17 large ones). Pen still in hand, I joined that, conscious that several large males had moved up close enough to warm my neck with their breath as they attempted to read my scribbles. Good luck; I can barely read them myself. I resisted the impulse to swivel quickly and greet them with a firm handshake and my usual introduction to possibly hostile forces: “Hello, I’m from Montana.”
As Chris called for the Pledge of Allegiance, one voice from the back called out, “They don’t know it.” Brandon Curtiss now took the bullhorn and spoke of how the police notified the crowd that they have been physically threatened and asked rhetorically, “Who comes first for us? Americans!” He then responded to signs across the street: “Are we racists? Do we hate?” virtually all the loud “NOs” were male vocal range. Chris took back the horn. “We aren’t against refugees already here. We are for catching individuals at the Mexican border with fake passports. They (now speaking of the refugee supporters) resort to personal attacks. How many American flags are over there? We want to protect Americans first.”
Calls are heard from the rally: “Idaho too great for HATE” and there is angry muttering on the rebel side; Chris on the horn calls to his people, “Don’t buy into this baiting,” and that holds his team down, just for now. Two young men parade enticingly close to the rebel side, silently, holding signs: one with the word “peace” in multiple languages on improvised cardboard; another “Why are Republicans so mean?” Chris shows photocopies of soldiers working rocket launchers and tells his people that these are proven to have slipped across borders with refugees. A new chant springs out: “No Paris in America!” “No Terrorists in America!” Chris has returned to the need for a better vetting process and his backers call “US First” as the rally microphone went live and the speeches from the top of the steps started.
Intermittent chants arose seeking to interrupt the speeches; "U.S. FIRST" then "U.S. FIRST / VETS FIRST" and "IDAHO FIRST." The least convincing of the lot was "SAFETY FIRST, THEN COMPASSION." It did not feel as if compassion would ever come. While they were chanting that, a fellow next to me on the Capitol side started shouting back, angrily, incongrously, "COMPASSION FIRST!" I wanted to interrupt him and say I don't think it works to shout that, but it was too absurd for me to intervene.
Chanting "U.S. FIRST," but might as well have just been NO! Note the nice lady in the blue at left, holding a Statue of Liberty sign, and about to be blocked by a counterprosters hot pink something or other.
For much of the speechifying, I waded into the crowd, worked my way up to the top of the stairs, greeting friends along the way as I went, and eventually sitting near the podium, but off to the side to save my ears. In retrospect, my impulse was both to join with "my side," and also to maximize my separation from the gang across the street. Eventually I made my way back down, the more challenging direction for my bum leg, and absorbed what all was going on from a more separate vantage, noted the good work the police were doing in maintaining order without much intervention, and started back to my car as the "O Holy Night" singalong started. Nice choice I thought, who can resist that melody rolling and splashing like waves upon the beach of Christmas past? I sang along, away from both pro and con and Doberman Patrol Guy (now hoverying by the PortaPotty), and it seemed the dismal 3%ers rested from their shouting a while. I thanked a few of the police for the work they were doing, and satisfied my primal urge to escape from pointless, dangerous confrontation.
As a result, I missed the opportunity for reconciliation suggested by the emcee, encouraging refugee supporters wanted to cross the street and share a friendly greeting with the protesters. That's very much Jeanette's kind of thing, and she sought out one of the bigger fellows, in full and beautifully presented camouflage with a cap, many buttons, embroidered USMC.
He held one of the enormous US flags in his gloved left hand, a bullhorn in the right. I extended my right hand toward his and he momentarily shifted the bullhorn. “US Marine, I see,” I said. “We aren’t opposed to refugees per se,” he said. I nodded. “I know. I’m the southern Idaho president of Church Women United. Many local churches are privately supportive of area refugees. I don’t believe this is just a job for the government.” I paused. “I don’t trust the government to do anything,” he said. “I can’t speak for all the government,” I said. “It’s a bureaucracy, and all bureaucracies at some point are focused on their own preservation. It’s no longer person to person.”
He wasn’t expecting that. He shifted to what he felt to be familiar territory. “Have you ever been to Belgium? To France?” “I’ve been to both,” I said, truthfully. His move—“What if someone handed you a hundred M&Ms and you knew one of them was poisoned?” “If I were in Brussels I’d walk down the street to a chocolatier and get a box of GOOD chocolates. Then I’d share,” I said, my hand out—to him. This was such a surprise that he threw back his head and laughed.
She shared some details too personal for the blog, as did he. They introduced themselves and shook hands, she said “Thanks for talking to me,” and he said “Good.”
That was probably the friendliest of the post-rally gaggle, judging by video that David Neiwert collected on the way to reporting the event for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
One very angry woman said "We don't want to shake hands with people who are selling America out! Don't you get it?" with a bullhorn, talking to someone less than ten feet away from her. The angriest of the bunch, who was very professionally dialed back by one of the Boise Police Department who did a great job keeping things under control, was bent out of shape by the very idea that the rally goers would interact directly with his side.
"Hey, don't take my picture," he says, jabbing his whole arm past the face of the rally-goer next to him, after the cop had already told him to chill, for jabbing at someone else.
"Go back to your Kumbaya world! Go back to your Kumbaya world!"
"YOU GUYS BELIVE IN UNICORN, KUMBAYA, CANDY COTTON CLOWNS. YOU PEOPLE ARE IGNORANT" jabbing, jabbing on the beat.
Tom von Alten, November 23, 2015