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On February 18, the park across from Phoenix Capitol was overrun with far-right politicians, bikers, militia LARPers and Proud Boys commemorating the “Celebrate and Protect the Second Amendment” rally. The following day, the Proud Boys and other anti-LGBTQ bigots drove down to Tempe to threaten a local coffee shop hosting a drag story hour.
GUNS, GOD, GANGS AND GOVERNMENT
For the tenth year in a row, anti-immigrant hate/biker group Riders USA sponsored the relatively low energy affair. About 200 attendees, many affiliated with the event itself, could grab a snack from the Cheese E Wagon food truck and listen to 4+ hours of speakers. On stage, Turning Point Action enterprise director-turned-Arizona lawmaker Austin Smith promoted the Turning Point booth, which was recruiting future precinct committeemen. QAnon-friendly Top Shot “expert” Craig Sawyer ranted about “the globalist cabal” and “Agenda 2030” before praising General Michael Flynn.
Vendor tables scattered around the Wesley Bolin Park lawn and parking lot – from a local Sons of Confederate Veterans division to a memorial booth for LaVoy Finicum. Gun-wielding salesmen peddled unsold MAGA gear and custom 2A wears. The rally’s platinum sponsor, MMP Guns, had multiple booths, with one raffling a pistol, shotgun, and AR-15 custom-wrapped in the American flag.
The John Birch Society tabled alongside the “groyper” Arizona State University student group College Republicans United (CRU). This is at least the second time the vintage American fascist group and CRU have teamed up. John Birch Society CEO Bill Hahn also hosted an off-campus meeting with white supremacist CRU founder Richard Thomas earlier this month.
Emcee Cheryl Todd, of Gun Freedom Radio, started the hours-long event honoring the recently-passed David Kopp and Russell Pearce. Kopp, the president of Arizona Citizens Defense League and affiliate of Riders USA, died on August 24, 2022. Pearce was a far-right state legislator who infamously sponsored the racist, unconstitutional SB1070 aka the “show me your papers” law. In 2014, Pearce retired from AZ politics after he publicly advocated for the forced sterilization of women in poverty. He died on January 5.
Following a speech about the importance of gold-based monetary systems, students with the Tipping Point Academy recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Founder Jeremy Wood, who also sponsored the “junior patriot park” kid’s zone at Saturday’s rally, described his private Christian Scottsdale academy as a “Second Amendment friendly school.”
“I believe that Jesus would support the Second Amendment,” said Wood.
The Arizona Republic previously documented Wood’s anti-lockdown protests under his group, Great State Alliance. At a “re-open Arizona” rally in 2020, Wood bragged that he “dipped his toe” into QAnon.
Co-emcee Jeff Knox took the stage to thank the Department of Public Safety officers surveilling the crowd from the Capitol roof before presenting state senator Quang Nguyen.
“He’s one of those refugee people,” introduced Knox.
Nguyen often recounts fleeing Saigon as a pre-teen only days before the end of the Vietnam war and has a vocal disdain for communism. In his speech, Nguyen even fear-mongered about the incredibly minuscule Communist Party USA. For years, Nguyen has openly admitted his membership with the Oath Keepers, even displaying their logos on his work truck.
The ties between the far-right militia and the Arizona Republican Party run deep. Loudmouth white supremacist-friendly Wendy Rogers and former state legislator Mark Finchem also tout their membership with the Oath Keepers. Pinal County supervisor Jeff Serdy, who also spoke at Saturday’s 2A rally, appeared in the leaked Oath Keeper membership roles. Another speaker at the 2A rally included newly elected Eli Crane, who also has some affiliation with the Arizona Oath Keepers and their offshoot Lions of Liberty group. During his 2022 run for office, the “Bottle Breacher” inventor campaigned at their church headquarters.
On stage, Crane worried about so-called “open borders” and the Chinese balloon incident.
“Makes you want to be able to defend yourself and your family,” he said.
Crane’s fellow “Freedom Caucus” buddy, Rep. Andy Biggs, briefly took the microphone to lazily complain about funding Ukraine. The crowd’s sentiments were much more blatant with one audience member shouting “fuck Ukraine,” in response to Biggs’ comments. Another yelled out “not my problem.”
Turning Point USA ambassador Lindsay Graham aka “the Patriot Barbie” used her time slot to recount her recent attacks against a transgender school board member.
Graham, who only recently grifted her way to Arizona, has quickly inserted herself into the far-right local political scene. Back in Oregon, at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown, Graham branded herself and her Salem-area salon as a victim of government overreach. Graham raked in donations as she claimed to be struggling to feed herself and her kids. In reality, she was purchasing multiple homes in Arizona. Not long after her move to the Grand Canyon State, the Arizona Republic also exposed Graham and her husband for lying about their real estate credentials.
More recently, Graham has dedicated her time to stalking and harassing Paul Bixler, a trans woman serving as a Liberty Elementary school board member. At a November school board meeting, Graham showed up dressed as a cat to mock Bixler. Last month, Graham called the police on Bixler for using the women’s changing room at her gym. Graham filmed herself attempting to weaponize the police against Bixler but faced disappointment when they told her no crime was committed. Graham then made the far-right media rounds, painting Bixler as a “pervert,” and disparaging her late wife. She promised she would continue following Bixler to the restroom and changing room to call the cops at every opportunity. In response to the ongoing harassment, Bixler was granted a restraining order against Graham earlier this month.
During her speech at the 2A rally, Graham complained about the recent harassment injunction against her. She also tied her right to carry with the existence of transgender women.
“I’m a woman with rights to the women’s locker room,” said Graham. “As much as it seems like men using the women’s locker room has nothing to do with the Second Amendment, it does now.”
Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb was billed as the star speaker of the day. A Joe Arpaio-wannabe and far-right media darling, Lamb has a habit of appearing on QAnon podcasts and events. The “constitutional sheriff” also partnered with election grifters True the Vote during the 2022 midterm. At the Saturday 2A rally, Lamb ended his speech heavily implying an upcoming U.S. Senate run for Kyrsten Sinema’s current seat. Later on social media, he would again hint at the possible 2024 campaign.
Before leaving the stage, an audience member cried out for Lamb, asking him what he’s doing to help “the farmer at the border.” This was a reference to an elderly rancher, George Alan Kelly, who allegedly shot and killed a Mexican immigrant crossing near his farm by the US-Mexico border. Kelly was being held on a million dollar bond after being charged for first-degree murder. Only days ago, Kelly posted bond after raising funds from dedicated supporters through the self-described “Christian” crowdfunding site GiveSendGo.
Sheriff Lamb claimed he didn’t know the full details of the murder case but defended Kelly as using “self defense” while encouraging the audience to reach out to their lawmakers about the case.
The crowd began to rile themselves up. “Let’s do something about it,” a man yelled out. “Yeah, let’s do something about it,” shouted another.
Sandwiched in between far-right speakers, the president of the Liberal Gun Club of Arizona, Scott Prior, took the stage to applaud Sheriff Lamb and Oath Keeper state senator Quang Ngyuen. Organizers “praised God” for the presence of a liberal group supposedly bridging the “right, left, and center,” but the rally was explicitly far-right. Three Percenters and Oath Keepers littered the crowd. Some audience members raised up the all-black “no quarter” flag, others displayed cardboard signs referencing common Arizona election conspiracies.
Scattered throughout the 2A rally, over a dozen uniformed members of the Arizona Proud Boys also patrolled the grounds. Last year, Riders USA granted the hate group a booth to recruit new members. No booth this year, but organizers with the rally used the Proud Boys in their video ad promoting the event. Reoccuring rally sponsor Attorneys For Freedom Law Firm also used the local hate group’s image from the rally in a promotion for their business.
Sheriff Lamb and his wife were filmed hanging around a pair of Arizona Proud Boys in full colors. One, with a “vice president” hat and a rank-3 patch, carried a small banner reading “no rogue is safe.” Lamb posed for photos with the fascist gang members.
The following day members of the Arizona Proud Boys would be spotted intimidating a local coffee shop hosting a drag story hour.
BOMB THREAT AT BRICK ROAD
For weeks, the local factions of the Proud Boys had been targeting Brick Road Coffee. The coffee shop was being review-bombed online while hateful messages poured through the phone. The LGBTQ-owned space was hosting Drag Story Hour Arizona’s (DSH-AZ) first reading event of the year.
On Telegram, the AZ Proud Boys encouraged their followers to call the coffee shop and join them in protest, writing “Let these groomers know this won’t be allowed in Arizona.”
Early Sunday morning, before the book reading began, far-right agitators began to show up. California streamer, J6 attendee and domestic abuser Joshua Fulfer aka Oreo Express was quickly ejected from the coffee shop. Fulfer and Josue Felix, who streams under 1st Responder Media, filmed themselves as they were trespassed from the property by Tempe police.
Fulfer raged at local reporters as he was forced to the sidewalk. Local cop watcher of Tempe Against Police Violence, Darien Barrett, photographed a truck circling the Brick Road Coffee parking lot. On the bumper, the white vehicle was marked with stickers affiliated with the Tucson and Pinal County Proud Boys, his license plate read “1776RDY.” The driver stuck out his middle finger as he passed by.
As local drag queen Felicia “Fefe” Minor began reading children’s stories in celebration of Black History Month, a bomb threat was called in. Families were forced to evacuate. An attendee recounted the terror incident to the Arizona Republic.
“A lot of tears were shed,” they said.
LCRW previously reported on the far-right attacks against both DSH-AZ and Minor. Last year, bigots attempted to shut down a DSH-AZ Juneteenth book reading with Minor. In October, a DSH-AZ reading at the Tucson Children’s Museum was successfully shut down after a wave of threats.
Anti-LGBTQ violence, propaganda, and demonstrations has seen a growing increase over the years, according to data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project. From 2021 to 2022, anti-LGBTQ violence more than tripled. Only two months into 2023, Republican lawmakers have already introduced a staggering 340 anti-LGBTQ+ bills nationwide. In Arizona, multiple bills single out drag performers and events.
State senators Justine Wadsack, Anthony Kern, and John Kavanagh sponsored legislation seeking to criminalize drag and gender nonconformity. Under one proposal, drag performers would face up to 15 years in prison. Kern’s bills limiting when and where drag shows could be held would outlaw Drag Story Hour in Arizona. Newly-elected Governor Katie Hobbs has promised to veto any anti-LGBTQ+ bills that pass her desk, but the hateful message from the AZ GOP is clear.
In a statement addressing the bomb threat, DSH-AZ condemned the GOP lawmakers for contributing to the “terrorism campaign” through their anti-drag legislation. LGBTQ+ nonprofit advocacy group Equality Arizona called for “elected officials to drop all legislation targeting the drag community,” after the violent weekend.