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Eugene Weekly : Commentary : 1.21.10

 

Exit, Stage Right

Pacifica Forum protest grows chaotic

by Joseph A. Lieberman

Tumultuous interruptions by an enhanced legion of student protestors at the Jan. 15 meeting of Pacifica Forum (PF) sent self-proclaimed neo-Nazi Jimmy Marr scampering out the door with his sporran between his legs. As Marr beat a hasty exit, stage right, he straight-armed the audience with a string of his signature “Sieg Heils” — a predictable tactic which, while offensive, is growing less effective from tedious overuse.

Last week’s event in Agate Hall at the UO had been billed as a “debate” between Marr and fellow PF member Billy Rojas, an expert on the benign historical nature of swastikas prior to their adoption by German Nazis under Hitler. The venue was a last-minute switch instigated by the UO not because of sensitivity issues brought up by students opposed to PF’s use of the Erb Memorial Union (EMU), but by a realization that opposition to the PF on campus had ballooned by several hundred new members since last week.

Agate Hall is a far more “controllable” space than the EMU, and seating was limited to 200. However, while around three dozen demonstrators had shown up to protest PF on Jan. 8, this time their ranks had swollen to nearly 10 times that number. 

While every seat inside was filled (including roughly 10 PF supporters and half a dozen media reporters), a long line of demonstrators stretched around the block hoping to get in, making it one of the largest student protest movements in recent memory.

The students’ original strategy was to hold a silent protest, and many arrived with mouths taped or covered with kerchiefs or masks. However, the UO’s change in venue also included an admonition for all to remain seated, backed up by a contingent of armed Eugene police officers rather than the usual campus security staff who kept watch over previous meetings. This meant the demonstrators could not stand and turn their backs toward PF in a nonviolent gesture of defiance as planned.

Student Cimmeron Gillespie, one of several organizers of the protests, called the use of gun-toting EPD officers on UO grounds “a severe escalation by the university to defend those who would use our campus to recruit for hate organizations. After Pacifica Forum invited the National Socialist Movement here, we’ve also seen an upswing in groups such as Volksfront, which has been known to post photos of students who oppose them on their website, implying a threat of violence.”

On the morning of Jan. 15, Gillespie had secured an appointment with UO President Richard Lariviere, but when he arrived was told, “Sorry, the president called in sick today.” Instead, he was greeted by an aid who informed Gillespie that the UO has no intention to alter its policies and will continue to be a bastion of “free speech.”

The result of that policy, for now, is a level of chaos. Dusty Miller, director of the EMU, stepped in at the start of last Friday’s Forum meeting to list the rules of engagement and try to calm the waters, but with little effect. Some students assumed he was a PF pawn and shouted him down several times before any semblance of order was reached. Rojas tried to speak and was treated likewise until he made it clear he was strongly antifascist and was there to challenge Marr’s white-supremacist principles. When students’ anti-Nazi heckling rose to top volume and the heavy pounding of their feet caused the wooden-floored building to shudder with thunderous echoes, Marr departed.

A hearty cry of triumph arose, in the wake of which Rojas was actually able to carry on, with occasional testy questions and interruptions, in his one-sided “debate.”

The continued access of PF on the UO campus is still an issue. On Jan. 20 a meeting was scheduled between President Lariviere and several vice presidents and deans, ASUO officers and various religious and community leaders under the auspices of the Eugene Anti-Hate Task Force. Whatever the outcome of that meeting, if unrestricted PF meetings continue on campus as planned, with or without Marr’s presence, more protestors are expected to show up until this matter is resolved.