More than 100 community members spent Sunday afternoon voicing opposition to the ideology of a small group of neo-Nazis who deny the Holocaust happened, want Mexican illegal immigrants deported and demand legal protections so the white race doesn't become extinct.
PHOENIX — More than 100 community members spent Sunday afternoon voicing opposition to the ideology of a small group of neo-Nazis who deny the Holocaust happened, want Mexican illegal immigrants deported and demand legal protections so the white race doesn't become extinct.
From a Jewish Holocaust survivor to a band of punk rock fans to a small group of children who began chanting "We love everybody," the demonstrators sent a message to 29-year-old National Socialist Movement leader Andrew Lee Patterson and his followers — we reject your message of bias and hate, said demonstration organizer Nicole Strykowski, a Southern Oregon University Theater graduate and actress.
"I'm very happy with the turnout," Strykowski said. "The love, support and diversity is amazing."
Strykowski, whose own heritage includes Polish and Cherokee, accompanied Pauline Killough — who fled Poland with her Jewish family after the Nazis bombed her home in 1939 — across Main Street to the neo-Nazi group.
The red-headed 76-year-old said she wanted to "go meet the gentlemen" who were flying the red and black flags with the swastika symbols. Killough approached the small group of five or six NSM supporters, and reached out to shake the hand of Bret Murphy. Murphy, who also uses the last name Court, is a deputy leader of the movement in Grants Pass.
"I'm here because I hear you don't think the Holocaust happened," Killough said. "But I wanted to assure you it did happen. And I was there."
Murphy argued that he didn't believe the genocidal events happened "in the sense that America does."
Murphy, 33, claims to have been involved in the movement since childhood. He has prior convictions for car theft, identity theft and driving under the influence.
Patterson, who remains on post-prison supervision until 2011 after being convicted of racially motivated assaults in 2003, was repeatedly asked by some demonstrators to justify his "white pride" position. At one point, Patterson said he was tired of talking and tired of being verbally attacked.
"The best thing for me is to not say anything," Patterson said.
Medford resident Albert Reynosa wondered why a group that claims to represent itself as ultra-American was flying Nazi-themed flags.
"If he's not a racist, allow me, a Mexican American, to join his club," Reynosa said.
The group's Web site states "the party combats the Jewish-materialistic spirit within and without us," and says no Jew or homosexual can be a member of the nation, said Strykowski.
"If that's not hate, I don't know what is," she said.
Patterson said in an article in Wednesday's Mail Tribune that he has been a part of what he calls the "white racialist movement" for 14 years.
"I really feel like these are people who made bad choices, and now they're making more bad choices," Strykowski said. "They say they calling for unification. I think it's really a cry for help. And they probably feel even more isolated now. That's sad."
Patterson became a member of the NSM as a teen for the shock value, "like a satanist or a punk," he was quoted as saying in the earlier article.
That statement angered local punk rock supporters. The afternoon's biggest cheer came when a black-clad member of the Pyrate Punx carried a huge sign stating "I'm not with stupid," and stood with the arrow pointing towards Patterson's group.
"They (the NSM) are not representing anything I believe," said Bill Chaplin, a Pyrate Punx member.
Phoenix police stood by on both sides of Main Street. They described the gathering as peaceful, barring a few verbal altercations.
Demonstrators' signs ranged from simple hearts and calls for love and unity to "Is this how we honor World War II veterans?" There also were angry messages calling group members the "scum of the city" and "Nazi trash." One woman advised them to follow Hitler's lead and commit suicide.
Chris Heinze, an SOU student studying anthropology and a member of Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, said his initial reaction to hearing about the neo-Nazi group was anger, then sadness. Heinze decried the NSM's ideology.
"This isn't even a feasible concept," he said. "Hate is not OK."
But Heinze and Strykowski voiced disappointment there was any overt hostility expressed between the groups.
"Hate versus hate isn't going to teach them anything," he said.
Strykowski said her plan for the five-hour demonstration was to have people gather along the sidewalks at the intersection of Fern Valley Road and Main Street from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., bearing heart signs, music and cookies. But the NSM group's ideology, and the Nazi-symbols they wear, bring out powerful emotions in people, she said.
"My sign is just a heart," said Strykowski. "It was not my intent to call these people names. If you want to unite, use love. Nobody ever used the symbol of love to kill six million people."