Photo by Anthony Caciopo
“Go to hell,” yelled congressional candidate Arthur Jones as the crowd chanted “Nazis go home” at Monday’s Palos Township Board of Trustees meeting. Jones, running on the Republican ballot for the Third Congressional District seat currently held by Democrat Dan Lipinski, has decades-long ties to the white nationalist movement. He attended the meeting “just to say my piece” about the First Amendment and the protests seeking to force Trustee Sharon Brannigan to resign. Jones left without making his prepared comments.
By Anthony Caciopo
The heat was turned dramatically up at Palos Township headquarters Monday as protestors gathered to confront Arthur Jones, a candidate for Congress with long ties to white nationalist movements, who planned to speak there.
“Nazis go home! Nazis go home!” chanted the crowd of at least 70 people who spilled out of the packed meeting room, many of whom craned their necks and held cellphone cameras aloft for a view of the proceedings inside.
For more than a year, monthly meetings for the Palos Township Board of Trustees have been the scene of rallies, protests and demonstrations calling for the resignation of Trustee Sharon Brannigan.
She had posted comments on social media directed toward Muslims and Middle Eastern people that many people have found offensive. The comments have long since been deleted.
Monday’s meeting, however, saw protests return to levels that haven’t been seen since the earliest meetings of summer, 2017.
“The disruption, the anger, the unrest, (it’s) everything they started with a year ago,” said Township Supervisor Colleen Schumann, who convened the meeting at 7 p.m. and adjourned it only eight minutes later after completing a hurried agenda of township business.
The lightning rod for Monday’s stepped-up protests was Arthur Jones, who is running against incumbent Dan Lipinski for the Third Congressional District seat.
Jones is running as a Republican. Lipinski is a Democrat. Jones won the Republican nomination when the GOP fielded no other candidate to run in the primary. Some Republican leaders have expressed regret, and even embarrassment, about Jones’ candidacy.
He was on hand, he said of the Palos Township meeting, to speak up for First Amendment rights and the voting process, which he said are being ignored in the push to oust Brannigan from her position.
“I read a story in your Reporter newspaper about Sharon Brannigan and I thought ‘What? They’ve (the protestors) been at this since last July?’” he said.
“They’re psychos,” said Jones. “They took a stinking little comment on Facebook and they’re going absolutely nuts, demanding a duly elected official should step down from office because they don’t like what she said.”
“That’s absurd and that’s not the way we do it in this country.”
Brannigan’s comments have been reported in detail by The Reporter many times over the year since the protests began. She had questioned the influx of Muslims into the southwest suburbs, their documentation status for local schools and other topics.
She clarified her position and then apologized. The apology has not been accepted by her opponents, who are demanding she step down from her elected position. Brannigan has stated unequivocally she will not resign, and that the only way for an elected official to be removed from office is via the voting process.
Her term expires in 2021.
Jones was prepared to deliver prepared comments to the board, but he didn’t come close to speaking his piece.
Amidst near-constant chants of “Nazis go home!” Jones briefly battled verbally with the crowd, eventually matching the cadence with his own chant of “Go to hell!” before leaving the room with his campaign sign held high.
As the chanting continued at a high volume even after his departure, two Palos Hills police officers entered the room.
Brannigan and Schumann, the township supervisor, were quick to say that they had nothing to do with Jones’ attendance at the meeting and that they want nothing to do with him.
“I reject and condemn Arthur Jones and his candidacy for any office in any state in our United States of America. He and his repulsive blather is such that it is nonsensical for me to waste words or breath on a person so low in character,” said Brannigan in an email exchange with The Reporter.
“The Township Board completely denounces anything that Arthur Jones stands for,” said Schumann after the meeting. “He was not there for any reason other than his own political reasons. He has nothing to do with Palos Township.”
After his departure, Jones stood across the street with his wife and three other supporters who held large cardboard signs and a vinyl banner criticizing Lipinski, Sharia law and “mass murdering anti-Christ Israel.”
“U.S. Constitution equals free speech, Muslim Sharia law equals no speech,” read the sign that Jones held up with a supporter to passing traffic on Roberts Road and to his opponents on the other side of the street.
At least one person in the meeting was there in support of Brannigan, with perhaps others. They did not speak publicly.
Outside after the meeting, Omar (who preferred not to provide his last name) said it was disturbing to see Art Jones there.
Mike Wolf, who sat next to Jones in the meeting room, asked Jones questions about prejudice and the Holocaust. He said his wife’s family came to the U.S. from Ukraine and Belarus not long before Nazi domination began.
“I had no interest in engaging him at all, I was just hoping because he was here I could make a little impact,” Wolf said.
“He’s a clown, he’s not going to do anything (politically) but he represents something going on in our society and country today, which is more open racism,” said Wolf.
Basem Kawar, the national coordinator of the National Network of Arab American Communities, said “Jones and five of his supporters were here today. Look at the signs across the street. It’s disgusting. We will not allow a Nazi to be in the same room with us.”
Schumann, reacting to the higher level of disruption at Monday’s meeting, said future instances won’t be tolerated.
“Moving forward, if that’s how they’re going to operate then the police will be called. We will wait for the room to be cleared and we will conduct the business of the township.
“All of a sudden, they (the protestors) went back to the early days of these disruptions,” Schumann said.
“The anger and the hatred is what’s so alarming to me. I thought we had made enough headway that we at least respected each other’s space and understood what needs to go on. I was so shocked to see this is what it had come back to,” she said.
Palos Township covers all or parts of Palos Heights, Palos Hills, Palos Park, Orland Park, Willow Springs, Worth, Bridgeview and Hickory Hills.
Following the meeting, Brannigan presented Kawar of the National Network of Arab American Communities with a bouquet of flowers.
An enclosed note read “Come on…Let’s stop the hate and work for a better and stronger community.”
Kawar told The Reporter “When I asked her what she thought the solution was, and if she acknowledges that her comments were racist, she got stuck.
“I asked her if she is willing to abandon her office and she said ‘no.’ She isn’t looking for real solutions. I’m not sure that flowers are the sort of accountability that will deliver justice,” he said.