So, in case you weren't paying attention, elections happened this week. I got a call a couple hours before polls closed from a frantic editor at NPR asking if I could go down and do some interviews. Sure thing, I said, no problem. I love covering elections, and Carlos was going down there too so I caught a ride with him. I also love covering stuff with Carlos, and elections feel like a sort of tradition - we haven't missed them together since 2004.
Carlos works in San Diego's South Bay, which is part of Congressional District 51. This has been represented by Bob Filner for the last, like, million years. Filner is a Democrat and a Jewish boy from Pittsburgh who won his first election by learning Spanish in his heavily Mexican district, and going door to door to talk to people in their native language, something not even the politicians of Mexican descent had bothered to do, thus gaining the affection and respect of a lot of voters for life.
This year, his seat was challenged by a guy named Nick Popaditch. Popaditch's claim to fame before now was that he was the "Cigar Marine" back in 2003, when Baghdad fell and the statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled.
He had his right eye and hearing on his right side blown out by a grenade in 2004. He now wears a glass eye bearing the Marine insignia, but usually it is covered with an eyepatch.
Popaditch, or "Gunny Pop" as his fans called him, was running ostensibly on the Republican platform, but positioned himself as a Tea Party favorite, campaigning in the 51st. Carlos interviewed him a couple times, and said he was nice enough, personable, said all the right things.
So this week, Carlos and I headed to Golden Hall in San Diego, which is always a lot of fun on election night, especially if you're a political nerd. Freaks, geeks, hacks, drunks, reporters, and sometimes even some political candidates parade themselves all over and vie with each other to get a few seconds on a local television show.
This time, however, the vibe was a little bit different. There was something in the air. I had to interview Darryl Issa, so I ventured into a nearby hotel where I knew he was staying, which was officially Republican territory. As soon as people heard I was representing NPR, somebody gasped and heads started to turn toward me. I got out of there as quickly as I could and went back to the hall, where people were at least friendlier.
I struck up a conversation with a Prop 19 supporter who seemed anxious to educate me about it. As I spoke to him, I noticed a woman eyeing me up and down, hands on her hips, looking like she wanted to start trouble. She had red, white, and blue pompoms in her hand.
I pointed at her pompoms as she glared at me. "Are you gonna do a cheer for us?" I asked, and smiled at her. She looked at me and the guy I was talking to turned around. "Hey baby," he said, grinning, "I don't know about this girl here, but I'd sure love to see you do a dance for me!" She rolled her eyes and walked away. I watched her join the crowd of people holding signs that said "Popaditch."
"Kind of nasty, huh?" I said to the Prop 19 guy. Another woman joined us. "Yeah," she said, "it's been a little bit nasty." She smiled at me. "I'm Carmen." "Brooke," I said, shaking her hand. "I'm a reporter, but I'm off the clock, so if I ask too many questions just bear with me."
Her reply was interrupted by a loud shout from inside. I went in to see the numbers. Popaditch was losing by 20 points, and Bob Filner had just arrived to do a victory walk. The crowd holding Popaditch signs started to cheer and headed for Filner. Bemused, I followed them.
Suddenly, the crowd broke and started to run. Popaditch himself had walked out and pointed at Filner. "There he is!" he cried. They pressed in around Filner and jeered, waving their signs. I elbowed my way in and saw Filner's grin turn to a grimace as the crowd pressed in on him. Carlos raced by me with his videocamera.
I ran into Carmen a few minutes later. She was shaking from head to toe. I figured out this morning that she was one of Filner's staffers, so I called her and asked if she was okay. She said she was, and thanked me, but I know that kind of stuff is especially uncool when you are a small woman.
It wasn't until watching the whole thing later as Carlos edited it that I saw something. Some of Popaditch's supporters seemed to be screaming "Jew, Jew, Jew."
This morning, a few local blogs seemed to have been doing their homework.http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/4690http://obrag.org/?p=27025http://www.stormfront.org/forum/t754055/
Popaditch has not commented since then, unless you count his attempts to bully Carlos via email and Youtube comments into pulling the videos, saying they were edited in a misleading way and calling his paper a "liberal rag."
I am very interested in what this says about the kind of people who have entered southern California politics. San Diego in particular has a very nasty underbelly of racism and hatred - a late 1970s predecessor of the Minute Men, the guys who watch the border for illegal immigration, was called Klan Border Patrol, and this is also the home of White Aryan Resistance, or WAR. I think that the proximity to the border and its issues as well as the social inequalities that plague California, as well as the meth use that runs rampant over southeastern California, all contribute to a seething hotbed of racism.
When I was a freshman in high school, I fell in with a group of dirtheads for a few months. They were almost all long haired metalheads, juniors and seniors while I was a freshman. They encouraged me to talk a lot of shit and gave me weed and beer whenever I wanted it. Soon, however, the racist ideology started to pop up.
White separatism seemed to be a big topic. Stomping black people and Mexicans seemed to be another one. I laughed a lot, listening to them, because I didn't think they could possibly be serious. In fact, I knew most of them were total poseurs. There was even a black guy, Jason, who self-identified as a white supremacist. Today, I try hard to imagine the layers of self-loathing and confusion that must have gone into that, but then again, he did a lot of crystal meth.
I became familiar with White Aryan Resistance, got to know the guys who were part of it, and eventually phased them out, because they were kind of repetitive and annoying, despite the free drugs and booze. I learned enough, however, to be able to pick them out in a crowd.
This group at Golden Hall was rotten with them. I would have known it even if there hadn't been hard-faced drunken slobs calling Bob Filner a "Jew." I would have known it even if that guy hadn't posted that video to stormfront.org. It's the bad moustaches, the True Believer zealotry, the naked aggression and hostility to anybody who is friendly to a "lesser race."
Most of all, though, I feel it's important to make sure this behavior is spotlighted so that the Republicans and Tea Party can distance themselves from it. It isn't a Republican and Tea Party thing - White Aryan Resistance and the assorted Metzgers always ran on a Democratic ticket in the 1980s. I think they are attracted to any party that has tightening border security on its agenda because of their separatist stance.
I knew one of the Metzger kids, by the way. I just now found out he died in Afghanistan this year. There's a quote from someone who was on his team:
"He was someone you could count on. He was someone you'd want there in the heat of battle. You always knew he was watching your back."
That quote was from Master Sargeant Javier F. Martinez.