Ron Paul supporters and Occupiers make for strange bedfellows: While Paul’s supporters and Occupiers agree that this country is in big trouble, they advocate wildly different solutions. On a recent afternoon, a Paul supporter hanging outside the Ron Paul tent on the Northwest corner of Dilworth Plaza explained the ideological rift. “[Occupiers] basically want the government to help them,” says a 56-year-old man who didn’t want to give his name. “[For Ron Paul supporters], the view is [the government has] helped plenty . They helped so much that it’s destroyed us financially.”
Differences between the camps don’t stop with fiscal policy. Lots of liberals who want to “end the Fed” can’t get behind Paul’s anti-choice rhetoric and conservative stance on issues such as gay rights and immigration.
The presence of the Ron Paul tent has kept some would-be Occupiers away. These are posts from the Democratic Underground message board: “Frankly, that Ron Paul tent and message is a huge turn-off to me and antithetical to what I thought the ‘Occupy’ movement was about.”
“I really wish the Ron Paul group would start their own gig and just stay away from OWS,” posted a user named Zorra. “If they threw a party, hardly anyone would go to it. So they have parasitically attached themselves to our ultra-progressive revolutionary movement because we are what’s real and what’s happening, in order to push their junk without doing any heavy lifting.”
The tension played out on the Plaza. Throughout October, the Ron Paul group heard rumors about other Occupiers’ efforts to have them banned from the Plaza. While Occupy spokespeople say they’ve never heard of any such efforts, other Occupiers say they have.
“Some [Occupiers] have tried to get [the Ron Paul supporters] banned,” says 33-year-old Melanie Bartlett, a Philadelphia school district administrator. “My husband’s an immigrant, and Ron Paul people, and Ron Paul, have very different ideas about immigrant policy.”
“I don’t trust him to be an anti-racism ally and this movement is built on that,” adds Bartlett. “I can’t stress enough that they don’t represent the views of most people here.”
Then there’s the matter of the gun. Some Occupiers have kept their distance from the Ron Paul tent because Fernando Antonio Salguero, who runs a sideline business teaching people off-the-grid survivalist techniques, regularly carries a Colt .45 slung on his hip. He has a permit to open carry, and has unapologetically and consistently worn the weapon every day he’s been on the Plaza.
“The 2nd amendment protects the 1st Amendment,” he likes to say. “I have the right to protect my DNA,” he says, which is his way of saying he has the right to defend himself from harm if necessary.
Though Salguero sees the gun as a peacekeeping tool (“An armed society is a polite society”), it freaks out other Occupiers.
“You’d really catch a lot less attention if you were naked than with a .45 on your hip,” say Chris Goldstein, spokesman for Occupy Philly.
A few weeks ago, the tension between the Ron Paul tent and other Occupiers reached a tipping point. Salguero says that in the middle of the night on Oct. 19, a stealthy intruder broke into the empty Ron Paul booth as the overnight staff snoozed in a tent set up next door. “They took 100 percent of our literature and DVDs, then stole all the flashlights, propane tanks and two-thirds of food and water supplies,” says Salguero, sitting beneath a sign tacked to the wall that lists “George Washington’s Rules of Civility.”
“Then they took a hot steaming shit right here,” says Salguero. He leans over and slaps the cold concrete floor in the center of the booth with his gloved hand.
Asked if he knows who did it, Salguero says it doesn’t matter in a way that implies he does. Perhaps, he offers, it’s the same person who tore down the Rosa Parks tent last week.
But rather than be pissed off, Salguero’s grateful. The shit backfired. “Up at the General Assembly, they said, ‘Look, we don’t agree with Ron Paul, but we’re sorry that that happened.’” Salguero says the attack didn’t just ingratiate Ron Paul people with the rest of Occupy, it also galvanized his own camp. “The fact is we only had a small Ron Paul sign in the beginning,” says Salguero. “[After the incident] I put a call out to our group, and people dug into their basements.” Supporters found old Paul campaign placards, taped “2012” over “2008” and hung them on the tent. “Someone taking a … dump could’ve been the best thing that happened to us,” says Salguero.
The strange thing about all the prominent Ron Paul signage is that after talking for a while, it becomes clear that Salguero disagrees with Paul on the same points many of his critics do, like abortion and gay rights. Stranger still, the so-called Ron Paul tent isn’t a Ron Paul tent at all. Though a pedestrian or fellow Occupier wouldn’t know it from the signage, Salguero and company are actually representing the group “Truth, Freedom, Prosperity.” According to its meet-up page, TFP “strongly support[s] the principles of truth, individual liberty, personal success, self defense, nonaggression, and true free trade.”
While hanging giant Ron Paul signs created a rift between the group and the rest of the Occupiers, the intended message was one of diversity. “To me, every other tent out here is basically the same,” says assistant organizer Jerry Hartman. “[We are] not protesting the protesters, but showing the other side of it. Though we’re not here just for Ron Paul, it shows there is a more 3-D nature to this whole conceit—its not just the homeless or the kids at class right now.”
Last weekend, the group decided to take a different path. “We are softening our image,” says Salguero. “We don’t want to be known as the Ron Paul tent.” Last Friday, Salguero revealed he’s been working on a new bigger, better, winter-ready structure—without the Ron Paul signs. “We’re not eliminating Ron Paul, but we’re not going to hang the giant 8-foot Ron Paul signs. It’s not going to be glaring or in your face. We want to have [the new structure] open to everybody.”
They erected the new 18-foot structure over the weekend. They're calling it the “Occupy Philly warming station.” Using a combination of his survivalist know-how and experience as a firefighter, the new modular temporary structure is impressive, huge by tent standards and meets fire code. It cost $800 in materials and took a week to build.
Years ago, the survivalist, or the man carrying the banner reading, “THE END IS NIGH,” might have been dismissed as an eccentric. But what is surprising is the increasing number of Philadelphians who’ve come to share such fears. In December 2008, Fernando Salguero set up the survivalist meet-up group Survive and Thrive, which, as it proudly boasts on its website, is “open to all faiths, beliefs and lifestyles. BAR NONE.”
You may agree with Occupy Philly’s (albeit unclear at times) mission and goals. You may not. It doesn’t matter. Their anger is not going away. Which is why we think it’s time to reflect on the movement, one month in.