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Robert Norse Repeats Mock Nazi Salute at City Council Meeting

by Alex Darocy (alex [at]
At the November 8, 2011 meeting of the Santa Cruz City Council, Homeless Activist and Occupy Santa Cruz participant Robert Norse repeated the mock Nazi salute gesture that first garnered him attention nearly a decade ago when he used it in a city council meeting at that time.
Norse's display of the gesture came after the 5pm public commentary period was closed at the council meeting. A wide variety of comments during the evening were made by the public in relation to camp sanity at the San Lorenzo Park location of Occupy Santa Cruz. Mayor Ryan Coonerty threatened Norse with removal from council chambers for exclaiming, "open the bathrooms," shortly after Vice-Mayor Don Lane decided to respond to the public about the Occupy Santa Cruz camp. After a second person yelled out "open the bathrooms," Coonerty replied, "I will ask the police to try and figure out who it was who yelled out, they are warned, if you can figure out who they are, and um....". This comment by Coonerty prompted the salute from Norse.

Alex Darocy

All photos copyright by Alex Darocy. Re-use is by permission only.
by Alex Darocy
Listen now:
Copy the code below to embed this audio into a web page:
Complete audio of the evening.
At 39:35 on the audio, several members of the public can be heard reacting and laughing as Norse gives the salute.
by Alex Darocy
Coonerty and Lane's immediate reaction to the salute.
by Alex Darocy
Norse spoke earlier in the evening as well.
by Alex Darocy
by Alex Darocy
by Alex Darocy
The public was excited after the last speaker spoke during the commentary period. The mood changed once Vice Mayor Don Lane began to speak on the issue. Former Santa Cruz Mayor Celia Scott (pictured) also spoke, and was counted among the Occupy Santa Cruz Supporters at the council meeting.
by Alex Darocy (alex [at]
Three of the four officers present that evening.
§Once Again
by Robert Norse
Mayor Coonerty's direction to police to remove a member of the audience who called the Vice-Mayor Lane on his false statement was what motivated my "you're acting like a fascist; stop it or be called one" mock-Nazi salute. It's a strong serious silent political statement about abusive conduct by a sitting Mayor, who has institutionalized repressive procedures at City Council and needed to be challenged.

If we do not assert our rights, we lose them, however indecorous or unpopular that may be with some.

After Coonerty in a mean-spirited and begrudging extension of Oral Communications, cut off the former Mayor Celia Scott and allowed only one minute per speaker, Don Lane launched into a rambling six minute speech. It seemed particularly noxious that Councilmembers can drone on while those whose "Oral Communications" period it is are shut down to 1 or 2 minutes. which included numerous false and defamatory statements about the phony sanitation issue the City will attempt to use tomorrow in court to shut down the protest.

It is particularly hypocritical for the City to complain about poopoo and peepee when it locks up its own park bathrooms at night. To claim "misuse of the park" as an excuse to shut down, limit, or criticize the protest (as Lane was doing) seemed a deliberate attempt to mislead the public. It upset numerous people in the audience.

Lane pulled the same gambit the day before at the city council office when stonewalled before a group of protesters (See ). He claimed he'd received "many complaints", but then declined to pass them on for verification (as is required of communications to Councilmembers on public issues under the Public Records Act). This raised serious doubts about Lane's credibility on this issue, and a voice or two was heard from the audience.

In response to those brief expressions of disbelief, Coonerty called on his quadrupled police presence to 'find and remove" the culprit. Here we have the special "only if I don't like it" exception to the First Amendment that Coonerty has been raising with some regularity.

Coonerty, however, has passed the bar and taught constitutional law (!?) at Cabrillo and UCSC. He's surely read the most recent 9th Circuit en banc decision in Norse v. City of Santa Cruz. Yet he insists on struggling to maintain his power to repress--even in the face of unanimous court decision. (See my editorial on this at

The City Council has spent over $125,000 in defense of a false arrest for daring to make a mock-Nazi salute 9 years ago. Coonerty knows that behavior he finds offensive cannot be the basis of a lawful arrest (or exclusion from city council via the threat of arrest) unless it's actually disruptive. A disruption is something that materially stops the meeting, not something he finds offensive.

Channel 8 has its own less-slanted-than-usual news coverage of the event. .

It would all be doubly hypocritical if Lane knew about the proposed Injunction reportedly going to the courts tomorrow to eliminate the protest as a "public nuisance." See . The scuttlebutt has it that city shysters will be heading to the courthouse tomorrow at 1 PM to beat the protest out of the park using an Injunction as a club.

Folks might want to pack the courts tomorrow around that time to keep an eye on this latest repressive move. Pleich's memo lacks documentation and seems to have familiar "run for your life, the authorities are coming" twist to it. Hopefully there'll be more specific info soon. Ultimately, however, it is the protesters and the public--not the authorities who will decide this issue.

I've asked Councilmember Beiers to clarify if this issue was agendaized in closed session of City Council or brought up anywhere before being pushed in court. Beiers showed up at OSC today in the midst of the HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom) meeting and agreed to provide back e-mails around OSC. Any member of the public should be able to get them, but it would be easier if a Councilmember directed a staff member to make them available. This should show us the extent (or absence) of public criticism or support for OSC--at least as it's reached the Council.

Some Councilmembers, however, reserve the right to conceal or destroy their e-mails. Obviously public servants shouldn't be allowed to do this, since we have a right to know who's lobbying who for what. That's the price for being voted into these powerful positions.

Still no action from City Council on opening the public bathrooms in the park at night, though. Hold your water everyone.
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Comments (Hide Comments)
by Jewish transplant in SC
I must be missing something. Why is this man using a Nazi salute at the city council meeting? This seems very disrespectful. Is he really a Nazi sympathizer, or does he not understand what the salute means?

I find this disturbing.
by Alex Darocy (alex [at]
9th Circuit Mandates New Trial in Free Speech "Nazi Salute" Lawsuit Against City
by Aoccupier
It's also probably worth noting the four SCPD stationed in the back of the city council chamber for this meeting. I believe there is typically only one... What's up with this? A fine reminder of the City's assertion of power over our assembly. The occupiers are a pretty non-threatening crowd, as seen in these photos...
It's another example, in my opinion, of the increasing tone-deafness of the Occupy Santa Cruz community. They're driving the Main-Streeters away, not bringing them in with this sort of thing.
by New Jew
Okay, so I understand more about the background of this. I'm still not clear on why this Nirse feels that Nazi symbolism is a trifling matter. It is very hurtful to many people in the community. If he is saying that his disagreements with the community about his issues (homelessness, toilet facilities, sleeping on the lawns) are the moral equivalent of what the Jewish people suffered in Nazi times, he is a very bad and thoughtless person. I'm still very disturbed by this.
by amigo
I think the Nazi salute was more about mocking the authoritarian nature of Ryan Coonerty's decision to try and expel whomever spoke out of turn at the city council meeting. Ironically, Ryan Coonerty teaches constitutional law at UCSC but has been very quick during election season to stifle free expression towards the less financially (i.e. politically connected) endowed (homeless drummers, anarchists, immigrant rights activists, and as of late, occupy SC folks).

But for the record, the Nazis didn't invent the salute - it goes way back to the days of Caesar (indeed, it was the Roman Empire the German fascists were claiming heir to), and let's not forget that up until the late 1930s, the U.S. pledge of allegiance looked exactly the same (seriously, look it up).
by Gil
Nazis didn't invent the swastika either, but that doesn't make it any more socially acceptable to display it. While Norse may have a right to such actions, it doesn't make it any more appropriate.
by amigo
a swastika is not universally held as a contemptible image either. I have a few American Buddhist friends (one of whom might I add has a Jewish girlfriend) who don't view it as such. and yeah, the Nazis in less than 15 years (give or take) made a sacred image that's been around for thousands of years reprehensible to most of the Western world. But before your very eyes, the Western world is changing. What "we" see as a symbol of a political theory that's deader than fried chicken (almost 60 years since last time i checked), is seen by Hindus and Buddhists as sacred - And the question is, what's the shelf life on allowing the said political theory (fascism) to define these things?

The same idea here could apply just as easily to a pentagram - What the Judeo-Christian world views as a symbol of their perception of evil, remains sacred to many people.

That being said, Norse's Roman-Empire-Nazi-Authoritarian salute can certainly be viewed as insensitive, whether or not he should be arrested for it, or kicked out of a public meeting is a whole other matter.
But it is clear what message Robert wanted to send with it. You stated it yourself in your first post. Unless you meant that Robert was trying to make a Roman point. Nazi salutes are by their very nature offensive and Robert was way out of line this time.
by Causal observer
Does this latest act by Mr. Norse help or harm the OSC movement? Is it likely to engender more support from the community at large, or does this alienate potential allies?

Speaking for myself...while I support the entire Occupy Movement (locally and nationally), I'm far less likely to provide material support (food, etc.) to the local group as long as Mr. Norse and company continue to try to co-opt the OSC venue for their own agenda. Simply put, I'd like to support OSC, but not Mr. Norse.

I'm not anti-homeless; I regularly volunteer and contribute to agencies and organizations who help those who need the community's help the most. I am worried, though, that the combination of Mr. Norse's ever-increasing petulant and obnoxious tactics and the "compassion fatigue" that so many people are beginning to feel under the pressure of our withering economy (thanks in no small part to the 1%) will actually lead to less community support rather than more.
by Finch
The Nazi salute in this circumstance was not a nod to Nazis, or a sympathetic gesture. As another Jew reading this thread, I don't feel Mr. Norse was acting in an antisemitic manner- he was calling the city council fascist, by making a mock 'heil' gesture. If the gesture is to be taken as antisemitic, we must assume it was meant as a sign of respect - clearly it was not, at Robert was in a conflict with the council, he wasn't complimenting them. It's like when someone nags us and we say "yes, mother"...we are making the point that they are ACTING like our mother, not that they should be commended. In the same way, if someone were to 'heil' me, I would take it as an attack on ME, but not on Jews!

As to the appropriateness of the gesture in context-that's a debate that we can have, but clearly Norse was within his rights...he won the right in a long protracted court battle. Free speech is worth defending whether or not it is admirable speech - and I am not saying this was or was not.
by Mitchell Colbert
Robert, thank you for your work with the City Council, a government body that seems to actively work against the best interests of the people of Santa Cruz, especially in regards to the criminalization of homelessness.

While I abhor Nazism and fascism in all forms, when a mayor is acting like a fascist and won't permit spoken commentary, you must fall back to your silent rights to personal expression. I'm glad you have won your court case in regard to this issue, I'm surprised the city even tried to take you to court. The US Supreme Court has made it pretty clear that we have the right to say and do many far more deplorable acts than a Nazi salute, such as burning a cross and other more deliberate hate speech. At least you are reclaiming the salute for the people and weaponizing it against the fascists.

Perhaps fascist is too strong of a word for our current mayor, but everything is in shades of gray, it is a blurry line between what is and isn't fascism sometimes.
by Mitchell Colbert
Double posting, for the win.

I do still agree with what I just posted in regards to free speech rights, and defending the right to expression.

That being said, I do feel it may have been divisive. I was not at the council meeting, and this short article is all I have read on the matter. I do not know what was said, and whether or not it was called for.

I would hardly say Robert is solely representing OSC. Occupy recognizes the rights of all individuals to act autonomously, if he wants to rail against the council to open the bathrooms, that is his choice. I am not going to stop him, and I feel he has some merits in his demand.

It was said by one above poster that "when other groups use the park they have to provide port-o-potties, I don't know why OSC want's the city to provide them." That isn't the demand, Robert is asking that the city leave the actual bathrooms in the park open. This makes sense to me because they are public bathrooms, OSC is the public, and they are not a commercial event. They are a free speech protest, and protesting isn't meant to have a price-tag, like the city's proposed permit would have mandated. Protesting, like voting, is meant to be low cost to not discriminate against the poor. In this case the poor are the homeless. Before you jump to conclusions and assume all homeless are drug-addicts with mental problems, realize that after this recession many middle class families ended up homeless too.

In the end, I worry this could hurt outreach to the greater community and mainstream. But, there are many in the greater occupy movement that *do not* care about the mainstream. I care, but I also am involved with occupy in the hopes to reform the current system. If reform fails, I am ready for a constitutional convention.
by Cyrus
This was not related to OSC. Nothing Robert does is related to anything other than himself and his own self-promotion. This is just another part of that act, where he was able to "re-enact" that "famous" salute from time immemorial (it's been like 10 years, right?). And can you believe it??? There's a photographer there to capture it, with perfect framing to capture the dramatic and offensive salute in all its glory? What a freakin' coincidence!! (actually, in all seriousness and without comment on the subject matter, it's a pretty good photograph!).

As much as Norse tries to insinuate himself into any and every movement that comes through Santa Cruz, please remember that OSC, OWS, OB, Oetc etc etc is not his protest. It is not his cause. He has made himself a professional pain in the ass with zero results for decades (as has been well-documented here). Each time a legitimately-supported movement comes along he pretends to take the reins and show how he is a wonderful, prophetic leader, but we all know the truth.

Don't fool yourselves, and please don't equate this clown's antics and incredible need for attention warp your view of the Occupy movement.
by Lower Ocean Heights
I agree with Finch and Cyrus on their points. Norse is doing what he does best, which is simply garnering attention for himself. The homeless debate in town seemed to quiet down over the last year or so, but along comes the Occupy movement and guess who's trotting out their tape recorder? Good ol' Robert Norse. I go thru San Lorenzo Park multiple times, every day of the week. Here's my overall assessment: it looks bad. OSC has signs that say NO DRUGS, NO BOOZE etc. I see it and smell it and it makes a mockery of the movement which I'd love to support with a meal. But I'm not going to now! I was at the first OSC meet up at Laurel Park and there was a great rush of enthusiasm to 'occupy something'. I feel that was a mistake. As always, Robert conflates issues from hither and yon to fit his narrative, which is devoid of any real action in improving society at large.
by Dave
Robert did not win any lengthy legal battle.

The only thing he gained, was the ability to have his case heard.

In a nutshell, he has "won" the ability to go and get his ass kicked in court.
by Robert Norse
No move from the City to open up the San Lorenzo Park bathrooms at night. Activists may have to focus protests and direct action on this matter themselves. There's already an on-line petition to sign: . But a march to the Parks and Recreation Dept. (right across from City Hall) might loosen up the lockdown. Some have talked about an occupation to restore public health and safety that the Council & City Manager refuse to do.

Nor any apologies from Mayor Coonerty or upcoming Mayor Lane around threats against non-disruptive (albeit vocal) members of the audience Tuesday night, prompting the salute. Don't expect any even as Lane becomes the new Mayor later this month; earlier this year he declared he had the right to force speakers to face the city council and not the audience when speaking.

Nor any statement that the City Council (which is responsible as a body) that it will rein in mayoral autocracy in the future--particularly behavior that could result in another lawsuit for hundreds of thousands of dollars--which the city is now throwing more money at (see "Crushing Homeless Critics at City Council & on the Streets: Coonerty to the Supreme Court" at Don't wait for permission. Speak out as you need to. Bring cameras and friends to future Council meetings to document any police or Council abuses.

Nor any move by City Council to restore and expand Oral Communications (from its absurd 2 minutes per speaker, half an hour limit--which cuts back all speakers and excludes many). Nor provide real dialogue time and real access to agendas.
Not that a new consensus process isn't forming outside the tired old regime nightly at OSC and across the country....

Nor explanation for why 4 police officers were assigned to an Oral Communications period that traditionally has one. And who gave those "public safety" orders. And how much that is costing to protect the City Council--guardian's of the City's 1% (the developers, large property owners, Downtown Association, Chamber of Commerce, Boardwalk) etc. Consider our local 1% as important and relevant targets for local protests in the days ahead.

No move to reveal the real record of the so-called "complaints" behind the bogus "permit" imposition, though Councilwoman Beiers advised me last night by phone she had none remaining. Sitting in in the offices of this reluctant bureaucrats might provide some proper motivation and respite from the rain as winter deepens.

Neither she nor Lane have provided copies of the e-mails allegedly justifying City Manager Martin bernal's permit-as-eviction-notice action of last week. Beiers explained she "deleted" e-mails regularly--apparently a scandalous practice followed by a number of city council members which evades the Public Records Act and allows special communication with constituents and lobbyists to remain out-of-sight. Demanding Council members open up their records might build public awareness of just how instransigent this privileged group of politicians is.

Nor any honesty about the secret behind-closed-doors session held on Tuesday which apparently authorized the City Attorney to go to court and move to remove the entire campground and OSC as a "public nuisance". The City Attorney's office is just down the street from Parks and Rec if folks want to do a mass visit.

The matter was apparently put on the agenda as an emergency item with no notice to the public or OSC activists in the 1:30 PM closed-door session held right before the regular 3 PM session last Tuesday (in a move that skirts or violates the Open Meetings law). The City Attorney is one of the highest paid officials (over 200 grand a year) in the city. He also holds down the job as Capitola City Attorney--recently gutting mobile home rent control there.

COME TODAY AT 1 PM TO THE COURTHOUSE TO WITNESS THIS TRAVESTY. (Advisory caution from attorney Ed Frey--who is not officially representing OSC nor authorized to speak on their behalf: if asked to identify yourself subsequently when the court starts looking for individuals to "enjoin", simply decline to talk to them.).
by Becky Johnson
I attempted to attend the 1PM court hearing before Judge Timothy Volkmann in department 4. But the doors were locked. This was NOT a hearing held in open court. What's up with that?
by Robert Norse
Steve, a volunteer legal worker and supporter of OSC (and someone whose position I've criticized a lot recently), told me yesterday that he was not advised he was a named party in the Injunction (the only named party other than OSC generally). In fact the 100+ page document was kept from OSC, its supporters, and Pleich prior to the ex parte hearing yesterday at 1 PM. So it would have been difficult to file any kind of response. Rigged deck again.

Pleich speculated that the court doors were locked because no one showed up in opposition to the ex parte motion, so it was decided in judge's chambers. The OSC General Assembly decided, on the advice of attorney Ed Frey and others, to ignore the hearing. Plecih says he will be preparing an answer before the Tuesday deadline responding to charges that he personally is responsible for the alleged "public nuisance".

A copy of the first few pages of the proposed Injunction (scheduled for 8:15 AM next Wednesday 11-16 in Dept. 4) can be found at .

I think some attention should be paid to the Injunction against the Camp (and as a volunteer legal supporter, I'm working on that as are many others). Also of concern is mobilization for tonight and subsequent nights given the 7 citations and 2 arrests I heard that happened this morning for 647e ("lodging") in front of the Courthouse.

But I'd also encourage activists to think more pro-actively in terms of marches, sit-in's, street theater, and press conferences that dramatize the closed County and City bathrooms at night, the ongoing hefty salaries of the city and county's 1%, the absurdity of a vacant Vet's hall on this day of all days.... As well as develop a strategy to use if and when the authorities use brute force to remove the camp and/or protest.

There was a lot of spirited organizing after deputies made threats to tear down the dome on Sunday. A bullhorn plan to rouse folks so they won't be caught "illegally" sleeping when the brownshirts arrive is reportedly being discussed. Lara Anderson, a local attorney, met with folks this morning to discuss 647e citations and the injunction. I spoke with her recently and as a volunteer am encouraging other attorneys to get involved.

As for those who would "negotiate" with the city, county, police, deputies, courts--that's fine. Let it be done openly through the important new process that's been developed, but not behind closed doors with "representatives." Let it be done on real documented problems, not the kind of (literal) crap that is being spewed to the media to smear the protest and encampment. It arguably also shouldn't be done "under the gun" of Injunction and citations.

Vancouver B.C. Occupy has reportedly been successful in holding off the campcrushers (See ). If the local honchos really want to reach accommodation with protesters and campers they can. If they don't, then it's a rather brutal need to establish sufficient support to continue the protests and occupation, or to resume it if it's dispersed. That's the lesson of other such protests both here and abroad.
by I Was There
This is a typically preposterous statement from you, Becky. I attended the same 1pm hearing in Volkmann's courtroom. The doors were wide open. It most certainly was an open court.

I know Sum Dim was joking, but maybe you really SHOULD have tried pulling instead of pushing those doors. I simply cannot fathom why else you would have thought they were locked.
by Gullible Traveler
How is that "another view"? It's exactly the same image posted above. It's like you're saying, "Look! Here I am, at another site! Look at me again!"
by Wilhelm Rasmussen
I applaud Indybay for removing the comment calling Norse "batshit loony" and comparing him to, of all people, Ronald Reagan. Personal insults like that have no place here. I would note however, that being able to face backwards while addressing City Council really doesn't seem like a cause worth fighting for. I find it difficult to believe that Norse feels otherwise. I invite him to clarify his position on this.
by A Reader
I too am pleased that Indybay removed that comment. I remember a time, around two years ago, when someone called Norse a "fucking douchebag" during a heated debate about something involving Ryan Coonerty and this Nazi salute business. The comment was allowed to stand for a week before it was finally removed. I'm glad Indybay is more proactive about this sort of thing these days.
by Ted Forrest
You think that's bad? I once read a post (admittedly on another site) that called Robert Norse a "fuckwad", a "dickwad" and a "dickweed", all in one sentence. That post was left up for a very long time. For all I know, it's still there.

Indybay make take time to remove such vague personal attacks, but they do get around to it. Thanks, Indybay.
by Robert Norse
I've written about this elsewhere:

"Abuse of power continues, unchecked" at

"Court's decision brings back the First Amendment to Santa Cruz" at

"City Council silencing dissenting voices" at

These Sentinel editorials outline some of the rules and arbitrary policies over the years to muffle and muzzle myself and others. If you don't resist City Council attempts to punish you for turning your back on the Council, you encourage other repressive efforts such as cutting back time, moving agenda items to the end of the session, removing entirely the normal Consent Agenda discussion process, punishing the holding up of signs, etc.
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