When I crashed the “Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America” meeting at St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church three weeks ago I was handed a strand of pearls by a feisty mom as I signed in. “The NRA mocks us. They say we’re clutching our pearls. Wear them proudly.”
That night more than 40 Tucsonans in their red “Moms Demand Action” T-shirts, and pearls, showed up to wade through their agenda:
- Fighting Arizona House Bill 2693
- Carpools to Phoenix
- Survivor Story
- March for Our Lives
- County gun show sales
Patricia Maisch was there. She’d wrestled the ammo magazine from the man who shot Gabby Giffords and The Blessed Others on Jan. 8, 2011. Maisch’s feisty partner in post-Jan. 8 gun control activism, Pam Simon, was at another event that night. The shooter’s bullet had pierced Pam’s wrist and her chest, missed her heart and remains in her hip. Never mess with a former middle school teacher with a cause.
A mom stood and gave a tutorial on how to speak at a legislative hearing on House Bill 2693, which would allow guns in school parking lots.
Every head shook and tsk-tsked. “Insane.” “What are they thinking?” “More guns, guns, guns.”
Survivor Rene stood to share her story. “I could see right through the hole in my brother. I had to mop up the blood.” Another Tucsonan recalled an eighth-grade classmate killed in a drive-by. The meeting room winced. In the back a fussy baby cried. A mom leaned over. “We never saw the Sandy Hook pictures. Grapefruit-sized holes in those babies.”
Days later a new mass shooting captivated the news cycle, this time the monster was an angry white racist who massacred 50 Muslim men, women and children in their houses of worship in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Last Sunday, as I arrived at Beth Shalom synagogue in Green Valley to speak to the congregation, I thought of those mosques and how New Zealand swiftly enacted prudent gun safety laws banning combat weapons. Unlike this nation, New Zealand is not cursed with a history of extremists pushing a “government-is-coming-to-take-away-your-guns” mythology, a fantasy promoted vigorously by militia groups and fanatically by white power terrorists to incite lone wolves to massacre innocents in places like Pittsburgh, Christchurch and Charleston.
The “government-is-coming-to-take-away-your-guns” mythology is the chief trope the Moms have encountered whenever they have demanded common sense gun regulation from our political leaders in Arizona.
Before I spoke to the congregants of Beth Shalom a woman reintroduced herself to me. I recalled meeting Wanda and her fellow Holocaust survivors at Jewish Children and Family Services decades ago.
I asked about our mutual friend, Rosa. She was a young girl when Dr. Josef Mengele separated her from her parents at Auschwitz, with the flick of his riding crop. Rosa never forgot the raw seething hatred she saw in his eyes. Ten years old and wished dead by a white stranger burning with irrational hatred.
I heard resilient Rosa was well.
The insanity of white nationalism is surging. Highest in 20 years. Our nation is cursed with the stain of racial hatred and white supremacy. America’s first epic silent film, “Birth of a Nation,” glorified the Klan. Hitler admired radical American ideas about race, eugenics and restricting immigration. He admired the anti-Semitic rantings of the great American inventor Henry Ford so much the Nazis gave Ford an award.
Nursed by self-pity, fueled by resentment, feeling themselves to be our racial masters, today’s tiki-torch extremists seek a Caucasian caliphate. And our politicians hand them the ideal lethal combat weaponry for the task, telling us there are good people on both sides. Like the good people who believe abortion is a plot to kill white babies so “They” can take over? Like the good people who believe a wall is only the start to cleansing our nation of “Them”? Like the good people who believe the only good America is a white America?
A warming world beset with climate change refugees will aggravate our worst tribal instincts. In chat rooms white nationalists rail against “filthy diseased immigrants.” They joke about gas chambers. And they admire the man who winks at them and downplays their threat. Why not? The man in the Oval Office of the United States of America, freely elected by 63 million Americans who think that moral leadership doesn’t matter, apparently has their back.