Filed under: Anti-fascist, Interviews, US
From Antifa International
Many people are familiar with the Good Night White Pride logo – a silhouette image of an anti-racist kicking a neo-nazi in the head. But few people know that the image comes from a photo taken at a 1998 counterprotest of a KKK rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Last year, we ran an article detailing the history of the GNWP photo, but we weren’t able to find out who the anti-racist in the famous photo was.
Then a few weeks ago, when we were contacted by the gentleman introducing his foot to a KKK supporter’s head in the photo. Here is what Harlon Jones told us:
Antifa International: Who were you in ‘98?
Harlon Jones: In 1998, I was 18, and was working at this store on-campus. Two years before some people I went to school with had shut down the Klan when they tried to do the same thing. One of my good friends was arrested at that event. So then, in ‘98, I would see the posters all around campus “come out on Saturday, we’re going to fight against the KKK.” So naturally I was telling all my friends that we needed to get down there and get into it and see what’s going on. Everyone was always sitting around talking about how they feel about stuff and we’d always say that we could sit around and be as conscious or informed as we want to about a situation but as long as it was just us sitting here, then that’s going absolutely nowhere.
AI: So you saw a disconnect between being conscious and taking action?
HJ: Absolutely. Especially now, when it’s so easy for people to just post something and then forget about the whole issue. Back then it was more imperative to be out there physically. To me, it just seemed like something that I had to be a part of.
AI: Had you ever been at anything like that counter-protest before?
HJ: I used to do non-profit work with my uncle in California. And we used to do different stuff in the city, where my father and my aunties used to try to make sure that we were aware of what was going on around us. But as far as that kind of confrontation – that was kind of new to me. But when I saw the posters, I said to myself “I gotta be there!”
The beautiful thing about the demo was all the different faces and different races that came out. I’ll always remember this really small college girl – I think she was Latina maybe – screaming at the top of her lungs with her fist in the air. And that’s what it was – people who really believed in what they were doing were right there, all together!
So I go down to the union building on-campus and they’re handing out blue bandanas and lawyers are handing out their cards, telling us they’ll defend us for free if we’re arrested. From there, we all starting marching downtown. I remember us chanting “KKK! COME TO OUR TOWN? WHAT DO WE DO? SHUT ‘EM DOWN!” Then we got to city hall there was all the riot police with their shields, and fences with barbed wire on top all set up. This was the first time I had seen that level of police activity.
Then there were these people called the “peace keepers.” They had yellow jackets and they wanted us to calm down and go somewhere else and sing “Kumbaya” and shit.
AI: How’d that go over with people?
HJ: Really not well. People were shunning them, telling them to get the hell out of there. But at this time, there’s really nothing going on. People are standing around. And I’m like “where’s the action?” And people are trying to figure out where the KKK are at.
Then all of a sudden, I saw people running in the other direction, so I ran that way and there’s like five people chasing the guy you see in the picture, his friend, and one of their girlfriends. One of them had been approached and asked if they were KKK and he said yes. So we were kinda chasing them and the smaller guy and his girl got away but the other, bigger guy – it just felt like everybody backed up for one millisecond and I just came in and kicked him.
And I’ll never forget that right after that someone came up to me and said “Yo! They’re taking pictures of you man! Change hats with me!” So for the rest of the day, I didn’t even have the same hat.
But to me that was a small incidental part of the day. Even though the image is what it is. After that, we all went back to the thing and it was amazing how the crowd just starting communicating with each other. The crowd was like “we’re going to get up to the gate and we’re going to take it down!” So you just saw people moving in small groups towards the gate and we attempted to take the gate down. And the peace keepers were literally on their hands and knees under the gates, trying to keep us from taking the gate down.
And then, just like before, the crowd started talking, saying that there was a second, smaller gate behind city hall. So we started moving over there in small groups of twos and threes. The police tried to come from the inside but it was a much smaller gate. There was a rock garden across the street. Everybody just went over there and grabbed rocks and hurled them at the cops. It was the best scene I’ve ever seen in my life – the cops retreating! I swear to God, I’ve never seen anything more fulfilling than the cops running away like that.
So we rip down the gate and we’re passing it through the crowd and cheering and then the cops come back shooting tear gas, but shooting them at people. Like my boy Michael took one right in the chest. When it was all over, we marched back down the street, kind of in victory, you know? So me and Michael and a couple of people hung out and had some beers and talked about the day – everybody’s adrenaline was so high, you know? The goal was to have the KKK never come back to Ann Arbor again. And we achieved that.
I didn’t even think about that one incident until the next day, when people started calling me about the photo. I was getting ready for work when a friend of mine from work called me and said “yeah, you’re on the front page of the paper!” And I was like “get the hell out of here!” but she said “I’m dead serious, bro!” So I rushed down to work and get there I see that I am on the front page. So instantly I grab one of the razors off the shelf and head down to the bathroom and shave all the hair off my face and stuff. Because all the police used to come in the store every day and they all knew me. They knew that was me, everyone knew it was me! And the crazy part about that was that they were so scared to prosecute me and have all this negative press on the university itself, they didn’t even pursue me. Not at all.
AI: That’s weird, because the cops went after people pretty hard after the fact.
HJ: But they saw me on a daily basis and didn’t pursue me. You gotta understand, at the time the university had a real problem with race relations and I feel like arresting me was a war they didn’t want to fight. I was literally the easiest person to find and they did nothing.
AI: How did other people react to the photo?
HJ: I mean, everybody loves me, you know? To this day, I have friends that are so proud of that whole situation that they have me come over and tell the story to their kids at dinner, just so they know that they don’t have to be scared to go out there and do something.
AI: What do you think about people that would say you were wrong for doing what you did that day?
HJ: You have to be very comfortable with the decisions that you make. So for someone to tell me what I did was wrong, I would ask them, whatever they believe in, when was the last time they did anything besides have a conversation about it?
In the community, people sit around and talk about the hot topic, and I’m always like, “well, if you’re not going to do anything about it, how can you claim to be so passionate about it, something you’re not even willing to sacrifice something for?”
So I’m willing to take that! If I’m the bad guy for standing fighting against ignorance and racism and all that shit, hell yeah, fuck it – I’ll be the bad guy for that!
AI: Did you see our post last year about the Good Night White Pride image & its history?
HJ: This came to my attention when a friend saw some post about which U.S. state hates blacks the most, and the illustration was a photo of this nazi with three patches on his back. One of the patches was that Good Night Left Side logo.
So my homeboy took a screen shot and sent me the photo and was like “Yo! What the fuck is this? Nazis is rocking your shit?” And he posted it on facebook and he was like “Tell me that’s not Harlon kicking a nazi in the teeth!” Everyone was tripping out about this. So when I got it I had to google it to find out what this was about. And finding out that they were using it to try to counteract antifa, that’s how I came to find out about you guys and stuff.”
AI: So you didn’t know about GNWP until you saw the photo of the nazi with the logo on his back?
HJ: Absolutely. My best friend was like “you should really reach out to these people and tell them your story because there’s a lot of people out there that do the work that went behind that image, you know!” And I was hella humbled, you know, like you never expect anything like that. I mean, from a situation that I thought was so isolated in my eyes, and it’s going on twenty years now. So I was just so humbled. It felt so amazing.
AI: You weren’t aware that the photo had been turned into one of the most famous anti-racist logos out there?
HJ: Absolutely not.
AI: Now you’ve seen the neo-nazis’ version. What did you think about that?
HJ: I thought it was hilarious. Just the irony of it – you can’t make that up. We actually checked out some hate forums and people were actually bringing up that maybe they should know where the photo comes from. And they don’t give a shit – you know, ignorance is bliss. But I thought it was crazy how somebody could be promoting this image and be so ignorant about where it came from. And they wear it with pride! But I was really glad to know that it originated from the right place, from people doing the right thing.
HJ: Not really, no. I do a lot of non-profit work with young men and sometimes I use it to talk about focusing anger people might have over things or to give someone the confidence to know that no matter what goes on, if you’re fighting for right, you go out and do that shit!
AI: A lot of people around the world have been really inspired by that image to take up the fight against fascism and racism where they live. Is there anything that you’d want to say to them?
HJ: It makes me feel so humbled. It almost brings me to tears just thinking about it! More than any dream I could ever have in my life, it would be to have that kind of impact – not just on one person, but on a group of people worldwide! That’s so humbling because I’m just like them! No matter where we are or if we speak the same language – I’m just like them. And if seeing that is what it takes to get them to be ready to fight, physically or mentally, for the right thing?
Man, I salute everybody that’s out there rocking it; everybody that’s out there going and doing something behind that. I salute that and I support that and I will physically come and support that, any organization that’s out there fighting for right!