The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Protest

Jennifer Harrison, right

YouTube Screenshot

The extremist ”Patriot” movement is nothing if not adaptable: As a kind of pan-far-right insurgency, it has a history of attacking democracy on a broad range of fronts, from immigration to civil rights to abortion rights. That’s why you can find deranged activists like Jennifer Harrison of AZ Patriots, who made her bones harassing Latino immigrants and Muslims, showing up to a protest over the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade to do a drive-by pepper spray of participants.

Unsurprisingly, when police arrested her, Harrison claimed it was all in self-defense—a claim belied by video of the incident. Just as predictably, as David Gilbert at VICE reports, police in Tempe, Arizona, also arrested one of Harrison’s victims based on Harrison’s claims that she had been assaulted.

The incident occurred on Sunday night in Tempe, when Harrison and her frequent partner in her far-right escapades, Michael Pavlock, cruised slowly past a cluster of abortion rights protesters waiting to cross the street on the corner of Mill Avenue and University Drive with Harrison in the passenger seat.

Videos and photos show that she rolled down her window with a can of bear spray in her hand and directed it twice at the protesters. After the first blast, while the victims were crying for water, they continued to roll slowly past the crowd; a woman standing with them, later identified as activist Vivika Lofton, reached toward the bear spray with a flag in her hand as if to deflect it. Harrison can then be seen unleashing a second blast in her direction.

Harrison later claimed in a press release (subsequently deleted) that Lofton had “aggressively rushed toward the vehicle, hands raised and flying around as she entered the street and reached her hand into the open window of the vehicle.” Video indicates that this description is at best a gross exaggeration, and that Lofton had not reached inside the car at any moment.

Lofton, who was briefly hospitalized, was charged with disorderly conduct. She adamantly denies Harrison’s claims. “I’m being charged with the same charges as [Harrison], which isn’t right, because I was the one that was injured and went to the hospital,” Lofton told Gilbert.

Victims of the mace attack were treated by emergency services at the scene. Some were transported for further treatment at a local fire station, including a 9-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl. The mother of the two children set up a GoFundMe page in which she described their agony.

The pain of being maced is intense and burning, an incredibly strong stinging sensation that does not go away quickly. Additionally, mace reactivates every time it gets wet. This means that every time my children started to cry in reaction to the pain they were feeling, it only made the burning worse. Seeing my children in wailing in pain and unable to do anything about it was the most excruciating thing I've ever gone through.

Everything happened so fast and there was no time to prepare or run away for safety. We were taken away by ambulance to a near by firestation where I had to flush the mace from my children's face in a decontamination shower.

On social media, Harrison said she “didn’t expect kids” among the anti-abortion protesters Sunday night. However, as Gilbert notes, she had berated the same group of protesters on Saturday night, acknowledging in her Facebook livestream that a child was there.

Harrison has a long history of notoriously ugly far-right activism. AZ Patriots (also known as the Patriot Movement of Arizona) won notoriety in 2018 for a Facebook video posted by a leading member of the group showing her entering a Muslim mosque and removing articles, leading eventually to a felony conviction for the woman. Harrison, who was sued by several churches for harassing immigrant children by posting videos of them arriving by bus, also faced a felony identity theft charge in Maricopa County that was later dismissed when she agreed to enter a federal diversion program.

In the wake of the November 2020 presidential election—which Democrat Joe Biden surprisingly won in Arizona—Harrison was one of the leading figures protesting outside election-counting centers. Harrison also led a small delegation inside the building in the early moments of one protest, where video showed her demanding to be permitted to observe the count and being denied.

Harrison also has a history of using bear spray to attack her political opponents. In June 2020, she made a video of herself and Pavlock at a Black Lives Matter protest march through downtown Phoenix. In the video, the pair were stopped by traffic police at an intersection to allow protesters to march past.

She could be seen using her megaphone to shout, “Black rifles matter,” and “Trump 2020,” which drew about six protesters who walked toward their car. Harrison yelled, “You’re going to get sprayed,” while Pavlock chimed in: “You’re going to get shot.”

Harrison could then be seen bear-spraying a girl, after which a Phoenix police officer told the pair to leave the area.

Harrison devoted much of her energy in 2021 to harassing border crossers as they entered Arizona, but more recently has turned her focus to counterprotesting at liberal events.

"I have one comment: This was self-defense. I have an attorney, and we are confident that we'll see this through," Harrison told the Arizona Republic.

Harrison is not the first right-wing extremist to harass Arizona abortion-rights protesters. In early May, a group of white nationalists showed up to try to commit violence at a Phoenix protest.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

Violence against pro-choice protestors has been a widespread occurrence at pro-abortion demonstrations sweeping across the nation since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and tossed the issue of reproductive rights to the states.

As hundreds of thousands of Americans take to the streets to demand restoration of abortion rights, several violent incidents have sparked fears of broader attacks..

Arizona police fired teargas at protestors outside the state capitol and Los Angeles police were filmed throwing activists and members of the press to the ground at protests. Six people were arrested in South Carolina after protesters attempted to intervene when one was being arrested.

Ten protesters were arrested in Oregon after the police cracked down on a so-called “Night of Rage” supporting abortion rights.

In Cedar Rapids, Iowa the driver of a pickup truck drove into a crowd of abortion rights protestors, leaving one woman hospitalized. A Republican state senate candidate punched his female Democratic competitor in the face at a Providence, Rhode Island abortion rights demonstration. He subsequently was arrested and dropped out of the race.

Jennifer Rourke, the Democrat he assaulted, said, “This is what it is to be a Black woman running for office. I won't give up.”

Summer Of Discontent?

Los Angeles organizers from the group RiseUp4AbortionRights along with other activists have called for a “day of mass disruption. Supreme Court Justices, state capitol buildings, and leadership from both parties have also been the target of sustained protest and demands for action.

While the situation in some ways echoes the 2020 George Floyd protests that swept the nation to demand racial justice and an end to police brutality, thus far the scale of protest has remained smaller. Meanwhile law enforcement authorities have responded swiftly to protect public buildings and officials.

The National Guard set up a barricade around the Arizona state capitol; a large fence and snipers can be spotted at the Supreme Court; and police have reacted with force to protesters in other cities.

But there is no indication that protestors and organizers intend to give up. Said actor Jodie Sweetin, who made headlines for being slammed to the ground by police at an abortion rights protest in Los Angeles: “Our activism will continue until our voices are heard and action is taken. This will not deter us, we will continue fighting for our rights. We are not free until ALL of us are free.”

How Far Will They Go?

Beyond the response to protests from local authorities, there are also fears of a violent reaction by militia groups and far-right individuals.

Several protests have seen clashes and scuffles between abortion rights activists and counter-protesters. The Rhode Island incident allegedly started as a disagreement between two demonstrators.

In 2020, Black Lives Matters protesters saw a violent reaction from far-right groups, which led to the incident where teenager Kyle Rittenhouse shot three men, killing two of them.

Thirty-one white nationalists were arrested after a concerned civilian tipped off authorities to their plans. The Patriot Front group was en route to a Pride event in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, allegedly to instigate a riot with smoke grenades and shields.

The spike in white nationalist activity goes hand-in-hand with the Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn Roe, weaponizing the Christian faith to limit the rights of women. As to how far the Republican Party is willing to go, Colorado Representative Lauren Boebert told a crowd at a local church, “The church is supposed to direct the government. The government is not supposed to direct the church. I’m tired of this separation of church and state junk.”