Well, I’ve gotten myself into some weird situations, but today’s was the first time I ever felt the implied threat of physical intimidation. There was the time Cliff Jackson and I infiltrated a Christianist Glenn Beck telecast from Jerusalem, sponsored mostly by our local Tea Party types. There was the time Sherry (my beloved) and I went to the Glory Barn (yes, that’s really its name) to see the wannabe televangelist and most assuredly reverend Dwain Miller of Eldorado, Arkansas, in the flesh. I’ve even attended a Tea Party meeting adorned in my Palestinian keffiyeh, furiously live-chatting (this was before the days of live tweeting) as people stood and testified their anti-Obama, anti-government paranoias. Everyone clapped. It felt more like an old-fashioned tent revival than politics…
But today was different. I had taken the afternoon off from work because of a short article in yesterday’s paper. Billed as a protest to Trump’s anti-immigration executive order, the article continued with the following:
Organizer Jerry Carmack will give a lecture Wednesday titled “Trump Banned Muslims are Welcomed in Hot Springs, AR” in the library’s Gordon Williams Hall from 1-4 p.m. Wednesday.
I got there a few minutes early and noticed a handful of “interesting” people hanging around the library’s entry. Sort of a mixture of biker, survivalist, militia play-army paramilitary types, partly bone-thin tweaker and partly, portly, well-fed hillbillies. Black leather Harley vests with “American by birth, but Southern by the Grace of God” on the back. T-shirts with the Confederate battle flag, loud and proud “deplorable” buttons, and most of all, Trump t-shirts sporting all manner of Trump as uber-patriot (eagles, flags, crosses, etc.) kitsch.
The library’s meeting hall was set up for maybe a hundred people, but there was only one lonely soul sitting in the back. I presume he was Jerry Carmack, but it was hard to make out his name because of his lisp and the quiet way he spoke. “JC” may be a wildly successful, brilliant billionaire rocket scientist, but my first impression was of someone who looked like the opportunities of life had largely passed him by. Desperately earnest, shy, thick glasses, you could easily imagine he had been bullied as a child and probably again in the years since. He was, in short, the sort of person Sherry (my beloved and shrewd empath) instantly feels sorry for. Had he been selling anything at all, she would have instantly bought it just to make him feel better…
No one else showed up. Just me and JC, making small talk about Islamophobia and the rise of bigotry and fascism in America. We threw in the towel after 15 minutes and started to walk out of the library. I was about 10 or 15 feet in front of him when I noticed the guy in the leather vest pass me by and confront JC. I turned around and walked back as “Guy” was telling JC he was glad no one showed up and that most everyone in Hot Springs felt the same way he did.
Guy was probably in his 40s, but his deeply etched face, perhaps from a lifetime of smoke and drink, made him look decades older. He was tall and thin, with long hair and a scraggly Buffalo Bill, “looky, looky, I’m a Civil War hero” beard and mustache. I asked Guy if he had ever met a Muslim. Sure had, he said, about 300, all the way from Hot Springs to North Carolina and Florida, and every one of them wanted to kill Americans. The only one who was different was a Muslim he met at a Trump rally, but he wasn’t a real Muslim after all (something about not knowing or following the five pillars of Islam) and he didn’t really hate Christians. Guy also bragged he had read the Qu’ran three times, once with the help of someone from Israel.
Guy then turned on JC again. Would you allow a refugee family to stay in your home? JC, clearly not ready for any of this, shrank back and mumbled in the negative. I told Guy I would gladly take in a Syrian refugee family today, right now, if I could. He responded that then I would be the first one they would kill. He went on about how Muslims are trying to infiltrate this country and destroy Christianity and our American way of life. All part of Islam’s grand scheme to take over the world.
I asked Guy if he was aware that there were Muslims right here in Hot Springs. That some are even doctors who might save your life some day. Not if I can help it, Guy responded. He then turned to JC. I’m glad no one showed up today, not that I expected them to. But you’d better not ever try to do anything like this again. And there it was, just a wisp of a hint that the next time Guy and his goons might not be so polite and genteel.
All in all, it was just another day in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Welcome to the Natural State, God bless America…
— Jacques d’Nalgar, le mercredi 8 février 2017
Image (modified): https://www.splcenter.org/issues/hate-and-extremism