Now THIS is an unpleasant shock. From the Minneapolis StarTribune:
The FBI arrested three more men Friday in connection with the violent Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, two in Minnesota and one in Iowa.
Brian Christopher Mock of Minneapolis was charged with assaulting, resisting or impeding officers; entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds without authority; disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted place; obstruction of law enforcement during civil disorder, and acts of physical violence on Capitol grounds.
For those of you who don’t know, I’m more or less from Oregon. Certainly I’m more from Oregon than I could be said to be from anyplace else, even Los Angeles, where I was born. I moved away from LA when I was 10 months old (ask me about my experience driving the U Haul, it was hellish without power steering) and landed in Oregon when I was 4. From then on, I grew up in a relentlessly white section of that relentlessly white state about 20 miles from Portland. Not much farther from Portland is the state capital, Salem. I’ve been there many times, both because I’ve had friends live in the area and because of activism I’ve done. This article brings up something that happened in Salem 38 years and 8 months ago that everyone should learn or remember.
In 1992, the Oregon Citizens’ Alliance, a theocratic group originally known for misogynistic attacks on women’s reproductive rights (most obviously in an anti abortion ballot measure which was their first success in placing new state laws before voters) had become better known for hating queers.
For that year’s election they had drafted a ballot measure and collected sufficient signatures to put it on the ballot so that if passed it would be illegal for the state to spend money in any way and on any person’s salary if doing so would contribute to portraying queerness as anything other than “abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse”. Conflict was ramping up like crazy around the state. Many people who hadn’t been out, came out that year. Others who had been out retreated to the closet.
This was a defining year for me as I, too, came out of the closet in 1992, and immediately began engaging in activism to fight the OCA. Anxiety was high for queers, but it was also high for the bigots. While in Colorado Amendment 1 was written to have a similar legal effect, it was written in dry prose, without the phrase “abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse”. In Colorado the fight was mostly about whether or not the state should “support” queers. (which I guess just means should allow queers to use state services without discrimination?) Amendment 1 passed. In Oregon the hostile language became a reason for moderates to oppose the OCA and their Measure 9. With so much attention focussed on not the legislative effect but the apparent ill will communicated by the OCA’s language, a huge number of people were feeling reflected hostility. While in the past their bigotry would go unchallenged as simply “normal”, now anti queer hatred was (modestly) condemned.
The turn of events shocked the bigots, what with how other people were questioning the morals of the bigots as much as (sometimes more than!) people were questioning the morals of people who liked boobies or occasionally gave a blowjob to someone they loved. Anxiety and anger among the bigots rose as well.
Over the course of that summer, 39 years ago, some young skinheads (ages 19 to 22) living in Salem were engaging in a long running campaign of harassment against two queer roommates a couple doors away. The roommates were one black lesbian in her twenties with a Jewish surname and one white gay man in his early 40s. Perhaps because it was a single theme that allowed them to condemn both roommates at once, their friends made it clear that insults targeting sexual orientation were at the heart of this campaign of harassment. But racism and antisemitism were present too, as you could expect from a group of racist skinhead asshats.
One day in late September, well into the campaign season, there was a physical confrontation between houseguests of the two queers and the racists, heterosexist jackholes. We’re not sure of the details of the confrontation, but the houseguests felt that they were sticking up for their hosts when they heard the skinheads being racist, as racists will do, and the racists felt that the houseguests had invaded their apartment and attacked them (and, hell, maybe they did).
In any case, after a confrontation over racism in the context of this ongoing campaign of heterosexist harassment, the racist, heterosexist bigots decided that the right way to reclaim their power was to fill bottles with gasoline, stuff the ends with rags, light them on fire, and throw these Molotov cocktails into the apartment of the hosts & houseguests.
Because of the layout of the apartment, the houseguests made it out. The hosts burned to death.
The hosts’ names were Hattie Mae Cohen & Brian Mock. They were clear victims of a campaign of racist, heterosexist terror for months and became martyrs to hatred’s white, Oregonian avatars.
While Measure 9 consistently polled badly, the margins were never huge, and there was a great deal of concern that some people would not want to admit to supporting a measure that had become associated with bigotry, but would happily vote yes in a private voting booth. Every queer I knew was tense right up to the day after the election.
I am acutely aware that the coverage of the murders of Cohen & Mock may very well have tipped the vote decisively against Measure 9. My freedom and my employment may have been affected by their deaths. For that reason, I consider it a duty to remember them, and I have ever since. I’ve never forgotten their names, nor am I ever likely too.
That’s why it was so shocking to see the name Brian Christopher Mock in a news story as a man arrested for acting out bigotry and hatred and paranoia. To be honest, it was a relief that they included the middle name, and made me wonder if someone at the Star Tribune was familiar with the events of September 26, 1992 in Salem, Oregon.
If you were not familiar with these murders and the effect they had on queer freedom in Washington, California, and especially Oregon, you can read more, or listen to a podcast about them, here.
In the meantime, I will take this coincidence as another reminder of the capacity of fascists to befoul everything that they touch, and as more motivation to prevent the spread of fascism’s stain.
May we always remember those who came before. May we always consider those who will come after.