On March 25th, Phoenix John Brown Gun Club sent an open carry community defense contingent to the Make America Great Again rally at the Arizona State Capitol. We carried in formation with an armed contingent of the Arizona Brown Berets, and in solidarity with Anti-Fascist Action Phoenix.
The Phoenix John Brown Gun Club is a branch of the national Redneck Revolt network. As a gun club, we train together for community defense, and offer firearms and safety education locally. Our membership consists of folks of various identities, from different cultural and political backgrounds, but we work together under common goals of resisting white supremacist recruitment within our communities, building working class unity, and building community defense networks.
On the morning of the MAGA rally, we arrived outside the capitol about 30 minutes early, forming up across the street from the anticipated rally location. We formed an open ranks formation with the Brown Berets and our branch members, while members of Phoenix AFA held ground on our left flank. We were in position before the MAGA march reached the Capitol, and as the 60-70 marchers approached the Capitol lawn, many of them attempted to engage us by yelling from across the street. We held this position for over two hours without incident, respectfully but minimally engaging with people who approached our formation, primarily through our assigned community liaison. Throughout the event we held up a large, visible banner that clearly proclaimed our message: Liberty for ALL working people.
We assembled across the street from the "Make America Great Again" March, not to try to stop their event or block it, but to show that the communities who are under attack by this administration (and those that came before it) will not silently suffer, and that we will organize to defend ourselves and each other. As made clear in the statement we handed out to the MAGA attendees (text included below), we do not view ourselves inherently as the enemies of anyone who voted for Trump. We came open carrying firearms, not to intimidate or scare anyone, but to show that other "deplorable" working folks, even those who supported Trump in the past, would not just stand by and allow continued threats to marginalized people.
The MAGA event had fewer than expected participants, and most started to vacate the Capitol by 1:30pm, earlier than they had advertised. Several media members and journalists arrived after the rally ended, shocked that they had missed the entire event. Consistent with our media procedures throughout the day, our press liaison handed them our statement and encouraged them to email us for direct quotes about the action. Our coalition had decided ahead of time to leave promptly at 2pm. We formed up and left the park in a column formation, taking the sidewalk back to our parking area. This was not intended to be a march or a protest, but an organized extraction of our participants.
During our departure from the action, a man started to follow and film us on his phone. Not knowing this person’s intentions, our press liaison offered him a flyer with our statement and contact information, and offered to answer questions via email. The man seemed friendly at first, but continued to follow us more than a block from the rally point, and his intentions were becoming more unclear. The MAGA march and rally had been over for more than 30 minutes at that point and we, like everyone else, were leaving. Our press liaison asked respectfully that he not follow us to our cars and he started to get aggressive. The man stated that he was a journalist, but would not give his name or show a press pass to back up that statement. His demeanor and antagonistic tone became comparable to some of the protesters we had encountered earlier in the day. He moved very close to our members while we were walking, and at one point pushed into the group and stepped on a member's leg. He repeatedly asserted his right to film us on public property, which we do not dispute. We expect documentation of our actions, but we do not interpret strange people following us as friendly, nor do we downplay the seriousness of any stranger pushing into us while we are open carrying.
At this point, we needed to create an extraction plan to ensure the safety of our members and those in coalition with us. We moved some members to the front of the line to intentionally distract the man while everyone else left, because he refused to identify himself or stop following us to our cars. We find it profoundly unprofessional for any journalist to engage in the manner that he did, including refusing to provide his name or press credentials. We had valid concerns for our own safety given the political climate we are in, and the level of risk that comes with our work. We do not escalate force without exhausting all other options, so we chose to distract the aggressive person and extract our members safely, which was done without any further incident.
In the days since the MAGA action, we have seen a host of reactions from people across the world, and from across the political spectrum. Some militia members have reached out looking to open dialogue with us about politics and what we stand for, while others have attacked and attempted to threaten us on social media. It is obvious that the right is feeling the reality of not being the only armed contingents in the streets. We have received hundreds of personal attacks, ranging from accusations that we threatened children by being heavily armed, to assertions that we were armed with nothing more than airsoft guns.
Overall, we see the action as extremely successful. We spent weeks training for this open carry operation, our first in formation, and we are proud of our members' conduct and restraint throughout the action. While we had participated in open carry protests before, they were nowhere near the scale and intensity that this action was. We are also proud to have stood alongside the Brown Berets, and we have nothing but respect and admiration for their discipline. As Phoenix John Brown Gun Club, we have much more work and training to do, but we will continue our main work of building community mobilIzation to defend those under attack by the Trump regime, and the reactionary elements who support their policies.
Our statement of our intent, which we handed on flyers to anyone who had questions, read as follows:
"WE STAND FOR THE LIBERTY OF ALL PEOPLE.
We are working class and poor people. We are not here today as your enemies. But Jews, Muslims, migrants, refugees, folks of color, native people, queer and trans folks, the elderly, or others who are now being targeted by the Trump administration are also not your enemies.
We have been fooled and duped for long enough by politicians on all sides. We keep on following the same politicians as they break promise after promise and sell out hard working and struggling folks. Whether Democrat or Republican, they're always the same: rich politicians who only look out for themselves at the expense of all the rest of us. No matter what lies they tell us about being champions for the "everyday citizen" or "little guy", they all end up behaving the same.
We are now watching as preparations are made to slash the budget for meals on wheels, denying tens of thousands of senior citizens the nourishment they need to survive. We look on as the new administration targets and attacks people merely for the religion they practice. We cringe in horror as the swamp is not drained, but padded by even more corrupt Wall Street swindlers. We stand in shock as the Federal government seizes land from small farmers and home owners to build a massive border wall. Every day another executive order is signed and our "little guy" president rules with the stroke of a pen, mocking whatever we thought our democratic processes stood for.
Meanwhile, we are so busy attacking each other that we don't even have the ability to resist the folks actually calling the shots. We who have been attacking the Mexican day laborer rather than the rich CEO. We who have rallied against the construction of new Mosques instead of ensuring all our city's children have clean drinking water. We who have made public calls to attack and arrest Black Lives Matter activists rather than to investigate and punish billionaires who gut our pensions and health insurance. Striking out at folks who we have much more in common with, folks who should be our natural allies, instead of at those who rig this entire system and profit from our misery.
The only people who gain from this are the politicians and the economic elite they protect. While we're busy fighting black folks, migrants, queer folks, and Muslims, our communities crumble. While we work ourselves into a frenzy about Syrian war orphans potentially moving into our cities, our own children struggle to eat. While we attack other marginalized and exploited people, the rich and politicians watch on and laugh at us.
All people who want real liberty and a better future face a choice. We can choose to continue to attack folks merely because they have a different skin color or religion or sexual preference or gender identity or country of birth than we do. Or we can choose to fight for liberty for all people. We must choose a side, and we must do it now.
We must defend these targeted communities at all costs. We will not merely watch as our co-workers, neighbors, friends, and families are stolen from us, murdered, deported, arrested without cause, disappeared, and brutalized. We have far more in common with a migrant or refugee or black co-worker than we ever will with a billionaire politician, and we will fight like hell to protect them.
Today we do not stand here as your enemies. We stand here to show you that there are other options. We stand here to show you that folks won't quietly watch their communities be destroyed. We stand here with hope for a better future, one that we must all work together to defend and protect."