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Author Jon Mertz
To the Editor:
A few weeks ago, I wrote you a letter concerning the removal of Confederate statues. As I am both passionate about this subject AND given to verbosity, it was, I guess, too long to print. I assumed the subject would quickly lose its currency and my thoughts would no longer be pertinent. The horrific events which subsequently unfolded and continue to unfold in the lucid nightmare of our national unraveling urge me to revisit my letter; since many of my points have been proven right by events.
Statuary pre-dates written history. Its significance, symbolism and sociological nature are well established. Statues are made of gods, idealized figures of leaders, and cult images. In our shared human history, statues were often objects of worship. In ancient Rome, when emperors changed, the heads of statues in public places often did too. (I would point out that replacing the heads of statues did NOT lead to any emperors being forgotten by history.) More recently, we might think of the US Army pushing over a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad in 2003. Would you prefer Saddam’s statues remain in place to protect history? Why or why not?
Statues on municipal property have political significance, and always have. But that’s not the only ground on which statues are displayed.They are also placed on significant pieces of land, often made sacred by bloodshed, usually battlefields. THOSE are the places to remember Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Although still symbolic, they are also historically appropriate there, with additional historical context available nearby. In my opinion, and the majority opinion of history, the purposes of these two types of statuary are starkly different.
Many, if not most, of the Confederate statues whose removals have sparked controversy (and now murder) were erected during the Jim Crow era. They do NOT represent the complex and often admirable characters of Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson, both of whom I’ve studied to the point of obsession. They represent the Lost Cause, the Reconstruction era whitewash of history which led to the virtual continuance of slavery. They were put there specifically to remind black people who REALLY won, and how nothing much had changed. They are symbols of white supremacy.
Now YOU might not know or believe that, but the Nazis and White Supremacists who converged on Charlottesville absolutely do. That was the overt purpose for the “assembly” they got a permit for. Not because they care much about the 4 years that the historical Confederate States existed, but because they share the fundamental, underlying lie which forms the philosophies of both Nazis and Neo-Confederates - the cancerous lie of White Supremacy.
As I write, our weak, embarrassing reality-show “President” is saying that there was violence on both sides at Charlottesville. There was. The KKK were there. Violence follows them. They thrive in it. They came expecting it, equipped for it, and hoping for it. For as long as I can recall, anytime the Klan shows up, angry people show up to counter-protest. Lately the most extreme edge of anti-Klan protest has morphed into an entity known as Antifa, or “Anti-Fascists. They are anarchists who side with no particular theory of government, but who also thrive on violence and see themselves (like the Klan do) as heroes gloriously taking the Fight to the Street. Actually, the two most violent elements of both sides are very close - they both hate government and love a fight. However, rather than hating everyone else who’s not white, like the Klan, they reserve their civil disobedience and activist violence for ONE target - fascists.
There is NO equivalency. Antifa, who may well have thrown the first bottle of urine (a favorite weapon of both sides), are a swarm of flies around the stinking re-animateding corpses of long-rejected hateful un-American ideologies which now march in our streets like a REAL Zombie Apocalypse. I denounce ALL violence, but unlike the President, I can see the difference between a large violent movement with a long and horrifying history (both KKK and Nazi) and a tiny group of violent extremists who sprang up to oppose them. They are antibodies automatically produced by Democracies to spontaneously fight the cancer of Nazism. I would be concerned if they weren't there, honestly.
Get rid of the fascists and there will be no Antifa. If we don’t get rid of the fascists, there will be no America.

For What It’s Worth

There’s something happening here
What it Is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it’s time we Stop!
Hey, what’s that sound

The sound that besieged my ears, and everyone’s, was the rasp of a car horn, a constant background din that grew louder as the car sat at the red light, and fainter as it circled the block. It was Rose, of course, who has been spoken of more than she deserves in everyone’s accounts of the day. Her circuit around the block , honking her horn and flipping everyone the gig, was like the buzzing of an enormous blowfly, and each conversation she drowned out was restarted after her interruption with a comment about how obnoxious “that person” was. The first lap she made interrupted my conversation with the militia men. I shook my head. They said something about her first amendment rights. By her third lap I was back at the bench. People had started greeting her with chants of “OK, Karen”. I started shouting “we love you!” And “thank you!” to her while making the heart sign with my fingers against my RATM t-shirt.

As the noise level escalated - Rose’s dying car horn, the Lee Greenwood (or whoever) CD blaring from the confederate truck, punctuated regularly by motorcycles and shitty cars squealing their tires and gunning their engines, and everyone’s voices created a Babel of sound. It was getting confusing, rapidly.

Rose was finally stopped on what seemed like her 100th time around the block by two unmarked state police cars , and the crowd erupted into cheers and applause. One of the cops talked to Rose for awhile. She wasn’t asked to get out of the car. When he walked away I approached him and said “She was making terroristic threats.” “What exactly did she say?” he asked. “The militia guys tried to talk some sense into her, and she said ‘I’m gonna go put on my cowboy boots and I’ll kick any three of their asses!!!’ “So…she didn’t specify which three…” “No sir, just three of us at random, I guess.” I could tell there weren’t going to be any charges. “And…I’m PRETTY sure she’s DRUNK.” I walked up the other side of the street. I saw my friend Amber, rooting for the counter protest and live-streaming the action. “And here’s one of the best musicians I know, Mr Jon Mertz, a fine man. Hello Jon.” I greeted Amber warmly, and when I realized she was introducing me to her “audience” I removed my mask and said “Jon Mertz, liberal Democrat,” and did a little bow. “And a proud libtard.” Then I recrossed the street.

Suddenly I got an idea. I limped back over to where the lead Confederate truck was parked. The two passenger doors were open. In the front seat was an angry-looking older gentleman wearing jeans and a t-shirt with a red white and blue skull on it. (It’s a “III%” militia ensignia or something.) He was bald, had a long Duck Dynasty beard, and his nose was swollen and red. It looked sore. In the back seat was, I assumed, his wife. Jerry and his wife were still there, talking with them and some other counter demonstrators. I gestured toward the flag - the real one - and said “HEY! Let’s all say The Pledge of Allegiance.” And I put my hand over my heart and started reciting it. I momentarily flashed back to 8th grade homeroom, where I refused to say the Pledge as a protest against the Vietnam War, and was grudgingly allowed to because I knew the Constitution protected me and so did the teacher. But now I had no trouble recalling it. “I pledge allegiance, to the flag, of the United States of America,” I said in the jerky rhythms of rote recitation. I paused to gesture toward the flag. No one was reciting the Pledge with me but everyone had stopped yelling for a moment. “And to the Republic, for which it stands” - here, finally, someone chimed in with me. It was the lady in the back seat. I feel pretty certain she thought I was going to leave out “Under God”, but that wasn’t my ploy. Together we bellowed “ONE NATION, UNDER GOD, INDIVISIBLE, WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL.” Then everyone stopped again. After a theatrical pause I said “Then, what’s that OTHER flag you’re flying?”

Immediately the old man lunged from his seat toward me, swearing and spitting. “You Motherfucker!!! I oughta bark bark bark” he barked, then stopped like a junkyard dog at the end of his chain. It was frightening. I backed up involuntarily, like I would from a rattlesnake. I looked at Jerry. Still pointing at the Confederate rag, I said “ONE Nation. ONE!” “Well. Yes,” he said, trying to place himself between me and the snake. I couldn’t stop, though…being righteously right often leads to overstating your case. “Under GOD.” I pointed upward. “INDIVISIBLE.” I gestured toward the angry old man and rolled my eyes. “Well, Jon, he’s not from around here…” “Oh! I said. “An OUTSIDE AGITATOR?”

I brought that up because I had noticed the arrival of a handful of out-of-town activists who had been scheduled to speak. They were from a Lancaster activist group called Green Dream, so named because they clean up neighborhoods . They were invited guests but I knew they would be labelled outside agitators. There were a few POC among them and I immediately feared that their mere presence would be enough to light the fuse.

Exhausted by my prolonged patriotic squawk, I sat down on the bench a safe distance away from the hornet’s nest I’d stirred up. Another militia man sat down beside me and engaged me in conversation. He had the same basic getup on as the other guys - khaki pants and dark t-shirt - but no camouflage gear strapped on. He had a pistol strapped to his belt. “Are you with Bob and those guys?” I asked. He said he was. “I wondered. You don’t have the exact same uniform on.” “Do you know what a uniform IS?” He asked. I said yes, it’s when you all wear the same get-up. He shook his head. “That’s not it at all.” I wasn’t particularly interested in pursuing this line of chat, so I said “When you guys started this militia stuff, it was because you thought Obama was coming for your guns, right? But he never got around to it. So…who’s coming for your guns now?” “YOU are, “ he said, and even though I burst into laughter, he didn’t crack a smile. “I assure you I’m not,” I said. After a pause I said “So…do you think there are any Antifa folks here?” “Yeah, that girl right there admitted she was one.” He pointed at Shay. I laughed again. I’d seen her post where she’d said that anyone who’s against fascism is antifa. I said “She’s anti-fascism. So am I. So was my Old Man. He dropped bombs on the fucking fascists in WW2.” He grumbled a disagreement. “Antifa isn’t an organized group,” I continued. “It’s anyone who wears black clothes to a demonstration. I don’t see anyone like that here.” He mentioned that my camouflague shorts might make people think I was with the militia. “Yes,” I said, standing up. “Hard to know who’s who.” I moved down the sidewalk.

Immediately the blonde militia man I’d met first, who seemed to be looking out for me, appeared at my side. “Jon, I saw you talking to that guy. He’s not with us.” “What? He said he was!” “He is NOT with us. He was, but…he’s too radical. Don’t trust him. He doesn’t represent what we do.”

“How the hell am I supposed to know that?” I asked. I was surprised at how pissed off I sounded.

I started talking to someone else, but was confronted by a really angry looking guy in his 30s wearing wraparound shades. “You better get back on YOUR side,” he growled. I gave him a “WTF” gesture with my arms, and two other angry guys leaned in behind him. “YEAH. Get back on YOUR side.” I was kinda dumbstruck by the hatred which had boiled up when I wasn’t looking. As I looked at their faces, disfigured by hatred, I was swept backwards by two militia guys and placed safely on “MY side”. I sat back down. A blonde girl with a Green Dream t-shirt came over to me immediately with a bottle of water. “I’m sorry they laid hands on you,” she said earnestly. “Are you okay?” “I’m fine,” I said, smiling because she was so sweet and concerned. “Thank you for the water.” I took in the situation. While I was talking, the militia had formed up in the middle of the block, separating the two sides, and I hadn’t noticed. I went a few feet back onto the courthouse lawn and removed my mask. I poured some water down my neck. A guy with khaki pants and a dark t-shirt was standing next to me with a pistol strapped on. I said “Is it OK if I sit HERE, or am I on the wrong side?” He looked at me funny and said “I don’t care where you sit.” “Aren’t you with the militia?” “No. I just came out to see what was going on.” “And you brought a GUN.” “Yep.” I shook my head. The fucking world’s gone nuts. The guy said “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” I said “And you probably didn’t like me then either.” He started laughing. “What? No! I’m Vicki’s brother. I know you from playing with that guy over in Mifflin.” “Oh. Yeah, that’s me. Sorry. The guns are just kinda freaking me out.”

It was starting to get really heated. Both temperature wise - it was in the upper 80s all day - and emotionally. The pro-hate people had brought their A game. They pressed against the militia, shouting over them and around them. “Go HOME! You don’t belong here!” Yelled one viking-looking dude at a guy who looked hispanic. “Sorry, bro,” came the answer. “Graduated Juniata in ’07.” “MY PAP…you don’t…my pap’s been here 40 years!!!” the viking blustered. “Shit, my family’s been here over 100 years,” I thought, but didn’t say it. “YOU KIDS ARE TOO YOUNG TO KNOW WHAT THE FUCK YOU’RE SAYING!!!” Yelled another angry voice. This time I did speak up.” “I’M 63 YEARS OLD!!!” I said. Someone answered “Yeah, but you never grew up.” Fair enough, I thought. Can’t argue with that.

Having been at a few demonstrations before, the Green Dream folks organized things so that rather than dividing into a hundred individual arguments, the demonstrators chanted simple slogans. When communication breaks down it’s the only option. Repetition. “BLACK LIVES MATTER!!!” was met invariably with calls of “ALL lives matter, motherfuckers!!!” But they might as well have been screaming “NO THEY DON’T!!!” Three people from the Sheriff’s office had joined the militia forming an armed wall of flesh. They stood out from the others because they all had masks on. Off to the side, 4 or 5 gray-uniformed PSP officers stood observing. Rose had rejoined the throng on foot, and was now doing a vulgar dance on the bed of the lead truck. She had obviously been drunk and disorderly all day, but no charges were brought against her. (Of course videos of her went viral, including one on Tik Tok which may or may not have led to Trump shutting the platform down.) In fact the downtown now resembled a big block party gone wrong. Just like America, there were more guns than people, half the people were drunk, and they were looking for an excuse to kick things up a notch. Soon enough they did.

I didn’t have a clear view of what happened, but one of the rednecks dropped the N-bomb and one of the POC from Lancaster took offense to it. I saw it later on Amber’s broadcast, narrated by her braying “Here we go! Here we go! I thought you were non-violent!” There appeared to be a tussle over an American flag, then both combatants were pulled back by their prospective homies. The militia placed themselves between antagonists. I noticed that Bob was wearing a helmet with some sort of attachment on the top. I asked my blonde militia buddy if that was a bad sign. “It’s not good,” he said. “Hey,” I said, “do you guys have tear gas?” “I WISH!” he said.

I noticed that Red was standing in the street videotaping the goings-on. His AR was suspended over his belly. I limped over into his frame and said “Hey Red! Let’s get a selfie!” He jerked the I-phone up into the air to avoid that possibility. For a moment I kept trying to get into the shot with him, and he went to more hilarious lengths to keep that from happening. “Aw,” I said in mock dejection, “how come?”

“Well, Jonathan,” he said, “in order to do that, I’d have to like you.” I said “No you don’t!” but he ignored it. “And I don’t like you at all. Now, your brother Mike is a great guy,” “Yes, he sure is!” I agreed. I laughed, because a friend had recently overheard Red saying at a local auction that Mike was a good guy but Jonathan was a damned communist. “Tell me, Red,” I said, “Is it because I’m a communist?” “I don’t know what the hell you are!” He said.

I was glad, because this was neither the time or the place to explain that I wasn’t a communist. People like Red use the words “liberal” and “communist” interchangeably. I am aware of NO examples of anything identifying itself as communist which has been successful. Most “communist” countries are actually military autocracies. And it’s only a thing if EVERYONE is a communist. How sad and lonely a fate - being the only communist in a bohunk little town. No thanks! I prefer America, with our modest voices allowed in the national discourse, if only by ballot and peaceful public demonstrations.

Turning away from Red, I banged my shin into a truck hitch. That put me in a bad mood. Red followed me to the sidewalk to rejoin his buddies. "This is RIDICULOUS," I said, gesturing to take in everything. "Who's ridiculous? I'm ridiculous??" said Red defensively. I pointed to his gun. "No. THAT'S ridiculous."

Using “peaceful” to describe the closing minutes of the demonstration would be bad journalism. The hate boiled, slogans and covid germs and beer breath were hurled like weapons into the breach. Expecting a charge, we got into groups of four, our arms linked, forming a defensive line. Then, as it approached 8:00, one of the cops came and asked Shay if we were done. The Green Dream guy hopped up on the bench and said a few words. He apologized for losing his cool, thanked the militia for doing exactly what they said they would do, and commented on how particularly virulent and hateful our local racists are. “I feel for you guys,” he said. “And I want you to know - we have your back! We can’t believe how many good people there are here, and if you gather again, we’ll be here!”

Of course these final words were seen as a threat of race warfare to the pro-hate contingent.

The militia HAD kept their word. They had prevented the "hillbillies" from hurting anyone for peacefully expressing their wishes for the things promised in our flag salute. Liberty and Jutice, FOR ALL. But I shudder to think what would've happened if someone had set off a firecracker.

By a few minutes after 8, it was all over. I made my way up the street to my car, through a crowd which had spilled out of the local bar to watch the fun. I went home and drank a cold Guinness. And then another one. It wasn’t until then that a very obvious question occurred to me: What kind of people show up to counter protest an ANTI-HATE RALLY?

The next day a list of people who had agreed with Shay about anything on FB was circulated. My wife was on the list - which bothered me - but I was NOT, which also bothered me. I had no regrets about taking part in this movement. It was a cosmic coincidence that I read the last words of John Lewis before the demonstration. It reinforced what I’ve always known. He had written:

“Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.

You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, though decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time. Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.

Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.

When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide. “
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Date last edited
08/24/2022 09:29 AM