THE UNARMED MAN
Like many young photographers starting out I shot for the newspapers. (I will be using the term ‘shot’ when I mean ‘photographed’ because that’s the term we used when I started out in the 1970s using film. The modern, digital-era term used today is ‘captured’ which is a stupid term. On the job, the only time I avoid the term ‘shot’ is when photographing Presidents or dignitaries with bodyguards and when among 2nd amendment ‘enthusiasts’ who are armed.) I shot for my high school newspaper which led to shooting for local/regional weeklies. Later I shot for my college paper and was a stringer for the wire services. I shot everything from sports to features. Eventually I shot for the magazines.
In college I was exposed (pun intended) to many other types of photography and eventually gravitated to the more set-up and controlled style of shooting prevalent in advertising. In photojournalism photo-manipulation is verboten so transitioning to advertising and fine-art allowed me to manipulate images in post-production without any negative ethical ramifications.
Since ‘turning pro’ I haven’t done much photojournalistic photography and I’ve only worked on two documentary projects and both featured inanimate subjects. I’m not a people-shooter, although I do it when necessary.
The world of 1974-1984, when I worked as a photojournalist, was very different from today, 2020. Photographers used to get a modicum of respect, people would get out of our way when shooting, and nobody called us ‘fake news.’ Today things are much more polarized, aggressive, cynical, and some of our subjects are much less cooperative than they once were. I had to consider these things, as well as my own personal safety, when briefly re-entering the world of photojournalism in September of 2020. I can’t run as fast at 60 as I could at 20.
Here in the United States, in September of 2020, it is a truly horrible time. We have an aggressively incompetent and racist President in Donald Trump. Most of the West Coast forests are on fire, police murder unarmed black men with impunity, and there’s the Covid-19 viral pandemic --which has been made worse by Presidential and Republican Party incompetence and malfeasance.
The small town where I live, Prescott, Arizona, is a majority Republican place. In 2020 ‘Republican’ is synonymous with ‘racist’ and this is where the trouble starts. Add racism to the mix of rabid 2nd amendment gun-nut types and it gets even uglier.
I’m told there are less than 200 African-Americans living in Prescott, Arizona. The place is so white that in my 25 years of living here I know exactly one Black family. There really aren’t that many Mexicans or other ethnicities living here either. Prescott is really, really white –and old!
It is weird going out to lunch and seeing elderly people carrying Pro-Trump, anti-Liberal signs. Trump is President and the liberals are out of power, so I don’t really know what’s to protest when you’ve won. Mainly, they just want to ‘stick it to the liberals,’ they hate them that much. Every time I see these silly elderly activists I think I should shoot them (with a camera) but I just don’t seem to ever get around to it. Until the shit hit the small-town fan one weekend….
Checking FaceBook on the morning of Saturday September 5th I see a cel-phone video shot by a friend’s wife. She’s narrating, in tears, a very disturbing video. She’s a good, modern Mom who does her best to expose her children to diversity and various points-of-view and took her two girls to spectate a Black Lives Matter march. Again, around here a Black person is like a unicorn and there have been no incidents of White cops killing any Black men –yet. So, a BLM march in a mostly White community is more a show of Solidarity than a rally, riot or other conflagration. It was all peaceful until the Republican Racists showed up, then it got ugly. Her daughters were grabbed, spit on, and screamed at by Trump-supporting men (many of whom were drunk). They were verbally accosted and physically assaulted. Some men brandished weapons. In the end she and her daughters fled, shocked and frightened by fellow Americans who’d decided they were some kind of enemy (children!).
Prescott is advertised as “everybody’s hometown” but they were made to feel very unwelcome in their own hometown by belligerent, militant men who did not know them. Grown men, screaming at children they don’t know at an event showing support for black victims of police-violence. This is nothing more than an expression of ignorance and hatred taken to the extreme. It’s beyond stupid to watch an adult man stick his middle finger in a kid’s face and scream “fuck you, loser!” Why does he think that’s a good idea and what does he think it accomplishes?
I commented on her video: “Maybe you should reconsider taking children to potentially violent events?” And she replied by informing me that it was a peaceful event that only turned ugly when the angry white Republicans showed up. Typical. Violent opportunists looking for an excuse for violence. ‘The Right’ is very angry, very hateful, and in your face. ‘The Right’ doesn’t want a conversation, they just want to yell.
I wish I’d been there with a camera. The camera (and the photograph) is a weapon for social change.
The next thing I did was to join a local FaceBook group dedicated to political activism. This way I could find out about these ‘marches’ and things before they happened and think about ‘covering’ them with a camera. Within 24 hours the FaceBook group began warning people about a ‘hoax on Friday’ and ‘don’t go to the town square on Friday, armed counter protesters will be there.’ Seems the word was out that the BLM people would be out again, marching on Friday 9/11.
9/11 – the ‘sacred’ day of celebration of death and failure.
No, BLM would not be out on the town square. They never had any plans to.
But the ‘counter protesters,’ the so-called ‘patriots’ didn’t care, they were going to co-opt the 9/11 ‘celebration’ with an armed ‘show of force.’ Somehow, with their guns, they were going to protect some Americans from other Americans.
BECOMING A PHOTOJOURNALIST AGAIN
So, come Friday, the gun-nut ‘patriots’ were going to be out on the town square, armed to the max, ready to ‘protect’ …something. Now that I knew about this in advance, I planned to shoot it –which displeased my wife immensely! Since the Covid-19 pandemic is just as virulent in September as it was in April I wore a mask. I know that the Trumpers/Republicans believe Covid is a hoax and few, if any, would be wearing masks and the mask might label me as a liberal/enemy, but no picture is worth endangering my health and I had other reasons to mask-up that I’ll get to later. I dressed neutrally. Blue jeans, blue shirt, no hat, no logos and plain. I’m a civilized person and I do not carry a weapon. I decided I’d carry one of my less expensive cameras in case I got attacked and lost the camera. The camera used to be a protective ‘shield’ that said ‘don’t harm the photographer’ but those days are long in the past; now ‘the Media’ is the enemy of the right-wing. Usually for these type of ‘events’ I carry two cameras; one with a telephoto zoom lens and a second camera with a wide-angle zoom lens. I opted to leave the wide-angle at home so I would not be tempted to get too close to people who are potentially violent. I would shoot the event safely from the periphery with long lens. I planned on parking a few blocks away and enter the event from an alley which would allow a hasty escape if things took a turn for the truly dangerous.
None of these precautions allayed my wife’s fears.
I arrived at the ‘gun rally’ at about 3:00 pm. From the sidewalk, with the alley behind me for quick escape, I saw… nothing. Further observation showed a very large police and sheriff presence, those guys were ready for… something. I decided to walk up the block, scope out the situation, and if it looked safe, cross over to the courthouse square. As I walked southbound up Montezuma Street (AKA, Whiskey Row) I saw some closed businesses and some with inventory moved away from the glass windows. Looter-prep from the look of it (there has been no looting here, ever). When I crossed to the Courthouse lawn all I saw was one homeless Veteran with a sign and a whole lot of cops standing around. I stopped to talk to an elderly Jewish woman who was very talkative and appalled at the goings-on in an otherwise peaceful small town. “It’s shit like this that made me move out of New York.” She said.
The gun-guys were gathered on the Northeast corner of the lawn. Many were wearing cammo, but I could still see them. The BLM people were nowhere to be found because they did not come! It seemed the gun-guys came for a war but found no counter-combatants. There were a lot of American flags, Trump flags and other anti-Democrat banners. Yes, Democrats, AKA Americans, are the perceived enemy of the modern Trumper/Republican!
WHAT I SAW & PHOTOGRAPHED
In the middle of the gathering of gun-guys was a 9/11 celebration/memorial. Someone was making a speech which was mostly drowned out but the chattering of the gun-guys. The gun-gathering had co-opted the 9/11 thing except they had no enemies to ‘protect’ us from. It devolved into a group of a hundred or so overweight men, all dressed-up like cosplay soldiers, carrying rifles, handguns and knives. I’m told by those who know, that most of their guns are cheap-shit Chinese and Russian knockoffs. Yep, the ‘patriots’ don’t even carry American weapons!
I slipped into Harry Callahan stealth mode and walked around and shot about 1100 photos. I saw one Black man in the crowd. He was unarmed. I don’t know if he is the bravest man in town, or the dumbest; but I know the crowd would have turned on him if provoked.
I didn’t talk to anyone (except a couple of other photographers) and I did not ask anyone permission to photograph them since they were all in a public space. I mostly kept my distance shooting with the 90-400mm lens (equivalent). I witnessed no crime. I saw no harassment. The heavily-armed Bubbas were mostly behaving themselves –despite their display of scary weapons. Since there were no BLM or Liberal ‘enemies’ present the whole darn thing was really kind of sad and pointless. It reminded me of some of the camera shows I’ve been to with ‘equipment fiends’ wearing their big-glass 500mm lenses like an expensive necklace. Equipment geeks. I doubt that any of the fat-assed ‘patriots’ could chase down a ‘terrorist.’ And I wonder about their marksmanship (how accurate are those stamped-metal Russian firearms anyway?). Oddly, I felt no fear or trepidation from any of them. They didn’t scare me at all. I know they meant to intimidate but their abject silliness exceeded any fear they meant to project.
I heard the buzzing of a drone circling the courthouse. There was a Sheriff’s Deputy nearby so I asked him: “Is that one of yours, or the police.” He sort of chuckled and said, “That’s ours.” As if the Prescott Police couldn’t afford drones. Then I asked, “You running facial recognition tech on that?” “No,” he answered, “just an eye in the sky.” His facial recognition denial probably means they are using the tech in some manner, either creating a database or running comparisons. When the drone came back over I pointed my 400mm zoom lens at it and it stopped and hovered. Yep, I thought, it’s probably trying to ID me. But I was wearing my Covid mask (which defeats facial recognition tech) and I had a black camera covering the rest of my face. All they learned about me is that I was using an Olympus OM-D camera and have a bald spot! Rest assured, the next generation of law-enforcement drones will be weaponized.
I saw no conflicts, no clashes or discord, and after a few hours I left. I got the photos I’d come for, dumb Bubbas, and a few Mrs. Bubbas, with guns and, thankfully, did not have to document any fights or murders. I did post three, one-minute, videos from the scene on FaceBook and got a lot of “you be careful” comments.
THE ONLINE BACKLASH
Having no client for my pictures I did the ‘citizen journalist’ thing and posted some photos on social-media, meaning FaceBook. The day after the ‘wacky gun party’ I edited the take and then edited the edit down to three groups of six pictures to post online. I shared the first six photos on Saturday, the day after I shot them. Most all the comments were in the vein of “whoa, that’s some crazy shit” and other humorous remarks. I posted six more photos the next day and that’s when the trolls, conservatives, and other assholes began commenting. They made things ugly in a hurry. I got the usual insults, general meanness, and a couple of threats of physical violence. I spent a lot of time unfriending, blocking and reporting people. My ‘blocked’ list of FaceBook is as long as your arm! Then I deleted all the negative and threatening comments. Aside from a few snarky comments I merely shared photos of the gun-people doing with gun-people do. The gun-people don’t like that.
Ironically, one of the major gripes of the gun-people is when you mis-identify their guns. Oh boy! If you mistakenly call a weapon ‘large-caliber’ and they don’t think it is, they let you know in the most insulting way possible. Same thing if you use the word ‘automatic’ when you should have written ‘semi-automatic.’ This is the realm of ‘specialized knowledge.’ If you don’t know guns all you really know is to be afraid if one is pointed at you (and that is the point). I suspect this nomenclature hair-splitting is because they’re treading a fine line between legal and illegal with their weaponry. I’ll also bet some of them have illegal guns in their personal arsenals.
So if you’re going to call me a dumbass libtard because I can’t identify an automatic from a semi-automatic at a distance, then I’m going to call you a dumbass trumptard if you don’t know the difference between an APS-C camera and an M4/3. Yeah, fuck you, Billy-Bob and your nine millimeter penis!
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR SOCIETY?
The gun-boys are much braver online than in-person. Ah, yes, the safe anonymity of the internet! They were quite nasty, insulting, threatening and confrontational online but out there on the town square among them no one bothered me. On online troll sarcastically asked me, “Why are you afraid of the 2nd amendment?” Of course the second amendment is simply an idea, a concept, and is not a thing to ‘fear.’ What I do fear are angry mental-dwarves like the troll thinking that it’s a good idea to murder me for some reason that only makes sense to him and his right-wing buddies. I’m not his enemy and I’m not a threat to him. I’m the unarmed man, what’s he afraid of?
Nobody needs a military-style weapon while walking around a small-town courthouse square. These men are pussies. They’re too fat and frightened to join the actual military so they hide behind the questionable legality of the second amendment to carry around Russian-made penis extenders in an attempt to intimidate the fellow Americans they’ve decided are their enemies.
Remember, the original Black Lives Matter march was peaceful until the right-wing-nuts arrived. Also remember that BLM is not an organization but a movement. It’s people protesting the all-too-frequent murder of unarmed Black Men by racist White police. To break it down for the truly stupid: If you have a problem with people who want to protect the lives of innocent Black men from murderous cops, then you’re the problem and you’re the racist. If you say, “All lives matter,” then it shows you have a problem with the word ‘black.’
Ah, but ‘protecting property from looters,’ is their quasi-legal excuse. Of course that’s a false claim because there has been no looting here. And since when has property been more valuable than human life? See where the conservative values lie?
And ‘Antifa’ isn’t a thing either. There are no ‘Antifa Terrorists.’ They don’t exist. And again, if you’re against Anti-Fascism that means you’re Pro-Fascism, and an asshole and a moron.
So it’s just a lame, and legal, excuse to pretend to be a ‘tough guy.’ A fake ‘military man’ out with his gun, intimidating citizens under the false-flag of ‘protection.’ They call themselves ‘Patriots’ when they’re simply gun-fetishists. None of their silly weaponized activities is helpful.
This is a photography blog so I’ll bring this back around to photography. Since I don’t work for any wire-service or news outlet, I didn’t have a client to publish my photos. But this is the age of ‘citizen journalism’ (made possible by the hi-res still and video cameras built into the cel-phones we all carry) so I posted my photos on FaceBook with encouragement for viewers to share. Forty-eight hours later I was sorry I did considering I received actual threats to my person from the ‘patriots.’ I don’t think I’ll do this again, the right-wing is so angry and intolerant I won’t take the risk. The 2nd amendment people have taken away my 1st amendment with threats of violence to me and my family. If I should publish again I will only do so under the ‘protection’ of a news-media client.
That we now have a ‘president’ (quotes and no caps) who decrees that the media is fake news and an “enemy of the people” it puts me in danger. This has not happened since Nazi Germany of the 1930s. I’m going to leave the photojournalism to full-time, paid, photojournalists. I’m too old for this shit!
If I’d taken that wide-angle lens camera I’d of used it, so I’m glad I left it at the studio. Getting ‘in the thick of things’ is for younger, braver, photographers. The 90-400mm lens I used (the only one I had with me) kept me out of the crowd and away from potential danger. And my new Olympus OM-D mirrorless camera was perfect for the job. Small, lightweight, stealthy, with a fast motordrive and speedy processor made my job easy. With its fold-out live-view screen I could act like I was fooling around with the camera while actually shooting people looking directly at me.
I have a greater appreciation for photojournalists now more than ever. I want to witness history (and all its horrors) but I doubt I’ll do this again.
Hate has a loud voice, even more so online.
It’s backwards, but the people with guns seem very fearful of the people without guns.
If you live in a predominantly White town, you don’t need to march for Black Lives Matter because….…there’s no Black folk around. Most of your neighbors are racists. And they’re packin’.
Black Lives Matter is a movement not an organization. If BLM is a problem for you then you’re OK with police killing unarmed Black men, and you’re a racist.
Antifa is not a thing. It is not an organization. Antifa means, Anti-Fascism. If you have a problem with that then you’re pro-fascism.
There is no looting here. We’ve had no riots. No violence has come from the Left. We don’t need ‘protection’ from 2nd amendment fetishists.
All the Hate I’ve seen has come from the Right.
The police are not your friends. The FBI says most police departments have been infiltrated by right-wing racists. Keep this in mind to keep yourself alive (especially if you’re not white).
The cops are now using drones. Wear a Covid mask to defeat facial-recognition tech. Beware that the drones will likely soon be weaponized.
The ‘right’ always needs an enemy and if you’re a Democrat, Liberal, Progressive, etc. YOU are their enemy. They cannot be reasoned with, facts don’t matter to them, and they are fake Christians and consumed with hate for you.
September 11, 2020
THESE ARE YOUR NEIGHBORS, CO-WORKERS, PARISHIONERS, ETC.