As white supremacists go, Joey Gibson makes for a lousy one. For starters, he’s half Japanese. “I don’t feel like I’m Caucasian at all,” he says. Not to be a stickler for the rules, but this kind of talk could get you sent to Master Race remedial school.
And it gets worse. The founder of Patriot Prayer—a Vancouver, Wash.-based operation that sponsors rallies and marches promoting freedom and First Amendment rights along with all-purpose unity—also spews hippie-dippie rhetoric like “moderates have to come together” and “love and peace [are] the only way to heal this country.” Joey tends to sound less like an alt-right bully boy than a conflict-resolution facilitator or a Unitarian Sunday school teacher
My phone rings, showing Joey’s number, but it’s Tiny, telling me Joey’s been taken to the hospital. Tiny’s about to be released from police custody. He’ll pick me up on a side street behind the station, so as not to attract more antifa attention. When I get into the Toyota, I suggest that Tiny maybe ought to change out of his American flag shirt if he wants to be stealthy. A red-white-and-blue 6′6″ Samoan doesn’t exactly whisper, “Ignore me.” But Tiny is obstinate: “They wanna rip off this shirt? Kill me. Because it ain’t comin’ off.”
We head to the hospital. Joey is discharged, wearing doctor scrubs and socks, holding his clothes and shoes in a plastic bag, completely saturated with bear and pepper spray. They had to scrub him down in the shower for an hour to get it off, his skin burning all the while. I’ve taken the wheel of the Toyota, with Tiny sleeping in the cramped back seat after injuring his ribs. He insists they’re not broken, but his forehead is clammy, and he’s cold sweating.
I tell my battle-weary subjects I’ll treat them to dinner and drinks after their ordeal, but we’re getting the hell out of Berkeley, as I honestly don’t trust that they won’t be attacked again, here in the cradle of the Free Speech Movement, if somebody spots them. As we drive over the San Mateo Bridge, I ask Joey how he feels about what happened today. “I’m starting to love this town,” he deadpans. “It’s starting to be my playground.”
Then he gets serious. “We can’t just shut up, just be quiet, and let this evil continue. The darkness continues to get bigger and bigger in our country, and it will be gone. The country will burn, I’m telling you, if we don’t do things to stand up against it. We all take it for granted. We take for granted everything that we have. That’s why we have to wake up and understand. Goddamn, we have too much to lose.” His eyes well as he takes a long pause, looking out on the shimmering San Francisco Bay. “We can’t stand by, we’ve gotta stand up. And we’ve got to do it together, or it’s gonna be gone.”