A U.S. congressman and the chairwoman of the Arizona Republican Party are both listed as speakers at an event that will also be attended by multiple hate groups.
Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Arizona, and state GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward, who lost her bid for U.S. Senate last year, are both on the bill for the “Patriotism Over Socialism” rally on Monday, April 15, in Gilbert, Arizona.
The event has drawn the support of the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim hate group Patriot Movement AZ (PMAZ) as well as the Arizona chapter of American Guard, a nationwide hate group led by former racist skinheads who have taken up hardcore nationalism as their new cause and whose members were present at a 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a counterprotester was murdered. PMAZ has heavily promoted the event online. Both groups have posted messages indicating that they are planning to attend.
Other speakers advertised for the event include anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer, anti-LGBT figure Sharon Slater and Republican mega-donor Foster Friess.
The event’s Facebook page shows that about 130 people have marked themselves as planning to go with another 410 saying they’re interested.
Here’s a few things you should know about the “Patriotism Over Socialism” rally:
1. Conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer returns home to Arizona
She’s been arrested in California, struck out looking for Muslim “no go zones” in Minnesota and handcuffed herself to the doors of Twitter corporate offices in New York City after being banned from the platform. Now, anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer is on the lineup to speak in her home state of Arizona.
Loomer has pitched herself as a far-right martyr in recent months after violating Twitter’s terms of service often enough to get booted from the social media site last year. Although shrugged off by many mainstream conservatives for her bizarre attempts to grab media attention, she’s found some defenders in places like the conspiracy theory website Infowars, which recently crowned her America’s “most censored woman.” (The website’s founder, Alex Jones, was deemed by his own site to be the nation’s “most censored man.”)
A 2017 profile in The Forward said Loomer was raised in Arizona and identified as “ethnically, culturally and politically Jewish.” But she had also reached what the author of the piece described as a “détente” with figures on the racist and antisemitic “alt-right.”
“You can have your Jewish Question, and you don’t have to like the Jews,” she told The Forward. “I don’t care. You have a right to not like whoever you don’t like. I don’t like Islam, they don’t have to like the Jews. We can all choose what we don’t want to like.”
2. Multiple hate and extremist groups plan to attend the rally
Tea Party Community, the group organizing the rally, has offered booths and table spaces for groups attending. Multiple hate and extremist groups have said online they plan to take advantage of the opportunity.
• Patriot Movement AZ: This hate group based in the Phoenix suburb of Litchfield Park earned a spot on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s 2018 hate group map thanks in large part to the words and actions of its founder, Lesa Antone. The 50-year-old grandmother has become a frequent livestreamer on Facebook, where she has driven through mosque parking lots while spitting anti-Muslim slurs and harassed volunteers and clergy helping shelter migrants at local churches. Antone has described herself as “pretty hateful” and engaged in fearmongering and conspiracy theories about undocumented immigrants.
• AZ Patriots: Not to be confused with the original Arizona Patriots, this group is made up of former PMAZ members who split off in February. Led by 42-year-old real estate agent Jennifer Harrison, the group has engaged in many of the same tactics as PMAZ, including harassing churches that shelter migrants. Its members have also traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border to take part in border-watch efforts.
• American Guard (Arizona chapter): This nationwide hate group was founded in Indiana by Brien James, a longtime white supremacist who previously helped found the violent racist skinhead hate group Vinlanders Social Club (VSC). James says he is no longer a white supremacist and that American Guard welcomes members of any race, but some members maintain relationships with individuals connected to racist hate groups, like VSC. In the Midwest, the group has organized closely with the Proud Boys, with some American Guard members even attesting to low-level membership in the hate group. In summer 2017, James posted a Facebook video encouraging all factions of the alt-right to support one another at public rallies, with the exception of neo-Nazis. Members of the group, including James, attended “Unite the Right” in August 2017. American Guard now has chapters in at least 17 states, including the Arizona chapter, which has said on Facebook it will attend the “Patriotism Over Socialism” rally. PMAZ plans to share a table with the group.
• ACT for America (Arizona chapter): Founded in 2007 in Virginia, this nationwide hate group is run by Brigitte Gabriel, one of the most extreme anti-Muslim voices on the far right. The group pushes wild conspiracy theories about Islam in America and lobbies to pass anti-Muslim legislation throughout the country. PMAZ has said online it will also share a table with ACT for America’s Arizona chapter, and PMAZ’s founder, Lesa Antone, led an ACT for America rally in 2017 where she declared, “Islam is our enemy.”
3. Anti-immigrant politician Russell Pearce – who befriended a neo-Nazi – will speak
Russell Pearce may be best known as the man who helped father Arizona’s notorious anti-immigrant Senate Bill 1070 into law in 2010, during his time in the Arizona legislature. But he’s had a hard time shaking an even darker part of his past: He was once described as a “father figure” by J.T. Ready, a border vigilante who would go on to become a neo-Nazi and later murder four people – including a 15-month-old baby girl – before killing himself.
Pearce renounced his relationship with Ready at least four years before the 2012 murder-suicide, which also took place in Gilbert where Monday’s “Patriotism Over Socialism” rally is scheduled. But prior to the repudiation, the two men had shared anti-immigrant views and a friendship, and Pearce had helped baptize Ready into the Church of Latter-Day Saints, according to the Phoenix New Times newspaper. After the killings, Pearce released a statement blaming the media for questioning their relationship.
“It has been several years since I have had reason to speak with J.T.,” Pearce said at the time. “In the past several years the local media has worked hard to try to tie me to the J.T. Ready that preached hate, and that is nothing more than a lie.” He went on to describe the media’s “behavior” as “the most reprehensible that I have ever witnessed.”
4. Anti-LGBT speaker Sharon Slater recently rallied alongside the hard right in Italy
The “Patriotism Over Socialism” rally is also a homecoming of sorts for Sharon Slater, who heads the anti-LGBT hate group Family Watch International, which is headquartered in Gilbert. Last month, Slater was a speaker at the annual gathering of the World Congress of Families (WCF) in Verona, Italy, where she railed against comprehensive sexuality education, which she claimed is “sexualizing children.”
At least one speaker at the WCF gathering used the Mussolini-era fascist slogan, “Dio, Patria, Famiglia,” which translates to “God, Country, Family,” during the summit. Other speakers bemoaned low birthrates among Europeans — a trend described as demographic winter.
Slater is largely known for spreading junk science, particularly about the LGBT community, and promoting conversion therapy, a dangerous and discredited practice that seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation.
Photo illustration by SPLC