The First Amendment gets a workout as anti-immigration zealots, neo-Nazis, anarchists, black nationalists and Marine cadets collide.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Shivering in their short-sleeved dress uniforms, a squad of the Marines' Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps attending a mid-February National Young Leaders Conference stood on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and stared in bewilderment at the four-ring, free-speech circus under way on the west lawn of Capitol Hill.
Standing at a podium was a silver-haired, red-faced man howling into a microphone about "criminal invaders" and "politically correct mind control." He addressed a cheering throng of about 50 anti-immigration hardliners, one of whom was dressed as Uncle Sam and wore a sign around his neck that read, "Kick me, I'm an American." Nearby was a band of young, scraggly counter-demonstrators with bandanas across their faces and a sign: "Change your name, you're still the KKK."
Behind the counter-demonstrators, two men in Nazi outfits--shiny jackboots, black ties, swastika armbands, and brown shirts stretched tight over body armor -- thrust their right arms skyward in sieg-heil salutes. They chanted, "Deport all non-whites, legal or illegal!" Meanwhile, a group of about 20 African-American men and women wearing black berets, black turtlenecks and leather jackets marched toward the neo-Nazis, raising closed fists and shouting, "Black Power!" Scattered throughout this tableau were police, journalists and highly amused tourists.
One of the Marine cadets approached a reporter scribbling notes. "Excuse me, sir," he said. "Do you know what the hell's going on?"
The reporter identified the man at the podium as Jim Gilchrist, co-founder of the Minuteman Project, and, along with Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, the star speaker at the rally. The reporter then explained that the counter-protesters, who were now chanting, "Immigrants are welcome here," were mostly anarchists and open-borders activists who'd come to protest the Minutemen, but were also anti-Nazi. The cadet turned to look at the jackbooted duo.
"Who're those assholes?"
They were from the National Socialist Movement, the journalist said. He explained how the NSM had crashed Gilchrist's party about 15 minutes after it started, how they trotted up and started ranting about Jews controlling the U.S. Congress and how the Minutemen should come out of the closet as racists. He pointed out Bill White, the NSM's national spokesman, who by this time was yelling, "Go back to Africa!" at the bereted marchers, whom the reporter explained were members of the New Black Panther Party.
"Let me see if I've got this straight," the Marine cadet said. "The Minutemen are protesting Mexican immigrants, the anarchists are protesting the Minutemen and the Nazis, the Nazis are protesting the Minutemen and the anarchists, and the Black Panthers are protesting the Nazis, who are American, but also Nazis, like 'We love Hitler' Nazis?"
The reporter confirmed that was indeed correct.
The blond-haired, crew-cut officer-in-training thought for a second, and then marched straight across 1st Street, stood at attention behind White, and shouted, "Wiener schnitzel!" every time the NSM leader opened his mouth.
Misreading the JROTC cadet's intentions, one of the anarchists yelled across the street at him, "That's right, junior fascist, get over there with the other fascists where you belong."
"What's up with that?" the cadet yelled back. "I'm over here protesting the Nazis!"
"Well, I'm protesting you," the anarchist called back. "If anybody gave you an order to torture an Iraqi, you know you'd follow it like a good little fascist." Back at the Minuteman mini-rally, Mothers Against Illegal Immigration founder Michelle Dallacroce warned of Mexicans taking over America by "outbreeding our mothers." Gilchrist's towering, pony-tailed bodyguard shoved a news photographer who got too close. Meanwhile, a group of high-school boys in business suits with National Young Leaders Conference name tags made their way over to the neo-Nazis, where they stood next to Bill White and sieg-heiled while their giggling girlfriends snapped souvenir photos.
"This is the best trip to D.C. ever!" one of them said.
The JROTC officer was disgusted. "I'm going to make sure your mom sees those," he said.
"Freedom of speech, dude," said one of the Young Leaders before pocketing a Nazi pamphlet White's minion handed him. "Freedom of assembly and shit. The First Amendment's a beautiful thing."