The Mill Avenue Resistance reports are written by Kyt Dotson as an extension of anthropological research on the population of Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. Since the Resistance does their protests Friday and Saturday there are two reports a week. The supporting material not related to the Resistance reports can be found on the Under the Hills blog for Saturday, January 24th 2009.
Jeff says that he’s going to be here for another week or so before returning to his preaching circuit in the UK. Going on about how he normally preaches in Glasgow, and other places. Apparently he has quite a wide ministry, and it will be interesting to hear how the Scotts take him; I think I already have some ideas how the Irish would, if the sort of reactions he inspires on Mill are any indication.
Jeff does not present himself well. The way that he plays the crowd is in a manner deliberately like 3rd graders arguing, picking up clipped phrases from those talking to him and trying to turn them over and over in his hands; he also spends time demagoguing the audience with divisive speech, designed to rile and incite violent emotions. and It’s particularly disrespectful of his audience and the listeners and makes it obvious that he’s just out there for the spectacle and the theater.
He is a powerful and passionate speaker and when he’s actually replying to people and being part of conversations he sounds intelligent. However, when it comes to his act he descends into the disrespectful, delivering what he certainly knows to be misrepresentations of his debate opponents. He also spends a lot of time pretending friendship in the fashion of one who knows Machivelli well—“To stab someone in the back, one must first get behind them.” It is hard to believe that he actually considers himself “friends” when he spends a lot of his time belittling the Resistance, misrepresenting what they said in a juvenile fashion, or simply pandering to the crowd in a sleazy car salesman tone.
Perhaps both his charge of friendship and his preaching are both acts; it’s impossible to tell when a person behaves differently to what they say.
“Put your faith in Jesus Christ,” shouts Jeff.
“Put your faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster,” replies Kazz. “Put your faith in Zeus. Put your faith in Thor.” He points out that from the perspective of the atheist outsider any of these sound bites can be switched out with any other god.
Jeff consistently misunderstands or misrepresents what’s being said to him. He plays dishonest linguistic games with cuts of the oppositions speeches such as a parody reply about gravity:
“I don’t believe in gravity;” says Cale; “it’s the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s Noodly Appendage pushing me down to the ground.”
“Atheists don’t believe in gravity! So go jump off that building and you’ll fly!”
And then there’s simple, blatant nonsense:
“Do you believe in leprechauns?” Kazz asks.
“You don’t believe in God,” he replies, “so obviously you do believe in leprechauns!” And on and on.
It is obvious for some reason that Jeff inspires an atmosphere of threat and violence, possibly from his immature invective which is polarizing to the crowd. It seems to empower rude, uncivil behavior on those who listen; this generates shouting matches, and gives expectation to would be bullies and drawing animosity from many sides of the social gem. Several near-violent incidents happened while he preached.
When everyone was in front of Urban Outfitters a black youth wearing a safari-style hat kept sneaking around to his speaker, and yanked out his microphone cable. I didn’t get a chance to speak to him, but he seemed to claim that he wanted to test the Christian non-violence sympathies. This is certainly not a good behavior and only tends to create more potential violence, and in fact it did.
After his second successful attempt to yank the cable, Jim (the man with Valerie) said, “Try that again.” He folded his arms and gave a glare. “Try it again.”
Finally the whole thing came to a head. The third time the black youth went for the cord, Vincent jumped him and struck him hard in the chest, throwing him from his feet. The black youth hit the ground hard and slid, legs splayed. That set him into an angry attitude; he dropped his backpack, and stormed back posturing. He stood up against Vincent, threatening, and others had to get between them and talk over his angry words to diffuse the situation. Certainly it seemed like soon the police would have to be called.
Later, in front of the Post Office a small group of males appeared. All in their early 20s or late teens (college age) and displaying the jock or frat brother look. Broad bodies, square faces, t-shirts, jeans, while they looked fairly fit not a one was athletic or even muscular. One in particular, a young man wearing a blue t-shirt that read “AERO” bullied and threatened others who were speaking to Jeff. He repeatedly threatened Joe,
“You should really take that over there.”
“Because I’m going to knock you out.”
And he would tell other people things like, “Walk on Spiderman.” As if looking for a fight.
While a lot of this was going on, he and his four friends formed almost a line of scrimmage next to Jeff, and facing the Resistance. Folded arms, glaring, with the alpha male posturing, calling names, bullying, and generally threatening. While Jeff called people “perverts,” “garbage,” insulted their children, the alpha threatened to punch people, dismissed them, and attempted to intimidate anyone who spoke back to Jeff himself.
They eventually left, but not after calling Kazz a “freak.” Among other behavior that created a lot of animosity in the Resistance, especially Brian who spent a bit of time posturing himself (although not in the presence of the boys) about how he was actually a lot bigger than any of them and perfectly ready to rumble if they started anything.
Jeff’s preaching seems to be designed to create this sort of mistrust and strife in his audience. The Way of the Master preachers (with the exception of Jeremiah) generally do not produce this sort of violence and polarization, even with their rude and deliberately divisive speech. So it must be something in particular about Jeff’s message that is designed to exploit an in-group and out-group experience in his audience. In fact, yesterday he faced another instance of violence against him, reasons are unknown.
A man pulled a knife on him, grabbing his bullhorn cord. Then, after threatening to cut the cord, the man put the knife against his chest. According to Jim Coleman, police arrived quickly and arrested everyone—but they quickly released most, took the knife brandisher to jail. It is told that the knife was taken away, and the brandisher would spend a night or two in jail before being released.
It has become obvious that Jeff invites a lot of this behavior with the method of his preaching. He uses deliberately immature speech that panders to the drunken and bullies-at-heart, he has an ultra-loud amp which drowns out almost all replies, and he does nothing to dismiss or disarm building animosity in those who speak against him and especially not in those who are bullying those trying to converse with him. In short, he is using demagogue techniques in order to incite and rile the crowds that he gathers.
Because Jeff is going out of his way to create this divisive atmosphere, it is doubly more important that the members of the Resistance not fall into the maw of the spiraling violence. Try to remain calmer, don’t become angry at him or passersby who want to support him by either bullying or intimidating. Try to calm down passersby who are riled and irritated by his belligerent speech; he obviously does not care about what he’s doing because he doesn’t do these things or he’s oblivious to his incivility. So it falls on you to not allow things to escalate.
Good luck out there, and please continue to leave Mill a better place than when you arrived.
Editor’s Note 02-07-2008: There has been a correction to the above. Originally it read that Jim had been the one that jumped the black kid who was pulling the speaker cord. Valerie corrected this in pointing out that it was in fact Vincent. As this actually sounds more plausible than Jim, the change has been made.