Editorials | Local | Opinion | Post-Its

OP-ED: Say “No” to the Nazi Salute, Pima County. Just Say “No.”

Lynn Davis, JCRC Director

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arizona Jewish Post or its publisher, Jewish Philanthropies of Southern Arizona.

At a Pima County (Arizona) Board of Supervisors meeting in early June, an attendee made a straight-arm Nazi salute. Repeatedly. And nobody said a word.

What’s going on here?

The Jewish Community Relations Council for Tucson & Southern Arizona, which I head, works in coalition to combat identity-based hate in all its forms. JCRC work is grounded in the belief that Jews and other marginalized communities can only thrive in a robust civil society, and we have our work cut out for us: The Anti-Defamation League tallied nearly 4,000 antisemitic incidents in the U.S. last year, according to their most recent audit. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist and antigovernment groups in our county, is currently monitoring 1,225 such organizations in the United States.

Hate speech has been normalized. Extremists and hate group members now mingle freely with celebrities, and the rhetoric of white nationalist groups rolls off the tongues of major party politicians. These coordinated efforts use intimidation and other tactics to exclude countless numbers of our fellow citizens, particularly LGBTQ+ folks and people of color, from the democratic process.

I attended my first Board of Supervisors meeting earlier this week, eager to celebrate a proclamation declaring June 2023 as Pride Month in Pima County. Pride, both the month and the movement, commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan, when gay and trans people stood up to police violence and forever changed the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States. The Pima County proclamation states, in part, that “celebrating Pride Month…is an opportunity to take action and engage in dialogue to strengthen alliances, build acceptance and advance equal rights.”

As Supervisor Rex Scott made the presentation and acknowledged members of the county workers’ union, AFSCME 449, who spearheaded this recognition, the man seated in front of me raised his right arm in a Nazi salute. More than once. With impunity. As mentioned earlier, nobody said a word at the meeting.

Supervisors’ meetings have been especially contentious lately. The Board has been subjected to disrespectful, raucous behavior – even, in the case of Supervisor Matt Heinz, slanderous accusations that have no place in a community forum. In order to diffuse the “volatile and time-consuming sessions that right-wing speakers have dominated for several months.” (Arizona Daily Star, June 7, 2023), Supervisor Scott proposed reducing the amount of time granted to public comments, and that item was included on this meeting’s agenda.

The Pima County GOP has protested these changes, and Supervisors Steve Christy and Sharon Bronson voted against them. Those opposed assert that this was an assault on free speech, but the motion passed 3-2.

Even in today’s polarized world, being confronted with a Nazi salute in a public meeting with elected officials elicits a visceral response. The man in this meeting intended to intimidate, to bully others into submission and complicity with their silence. And it worked.

Although the Board has a policy requiring meeting attendees to observe rules of propriety, decorum, and good conduct, this man was allowed to remain and take his turn at the mic, sharing his vile ideologies out loud. Supervisor Grijalva eventually cut him off for being “offensive,” but neither the Daily Star nor the Tucson Sentinel reported on his Nazi salutes in their coverage of the meeting.

Have we become a community where this aberrant behavior goes unmentioned and unchallenged? Let’s put an end to this. The JCRC for Tucson & Southern Arizona applauds Supervisors Grijalva, Scott, and Heinz for their efforts to safeguard a civil, democratic forum where all citizens’ voices are heard. And we call upon Supervisors Christy and Bronson to state publicly whether the Nazi salute is really the type of speech that they are eager to protect.