Knife aficionados would find Bryan Bates’ blades pretty cool even without the Arabic word stamped into them.
He acid-etches the blades of one model, revealing the layers in the Damascus steel.
But with the word stamped there, Bates is selling the knives as fast as he can make them at his west side home.
The word is “infidel.”
That’s the word local extremists used to refer to Bates and his fellow U.S. Marines when he was fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, he said. Many Marines and soldiers adopted the label as their own.
“Guys who go over pride themselves on being infidels,” he said.
But Bates doesn’t leave the provocative details at that. After forging each blade, he said, he cools it in water or oil mixed with some pig’s blood, which he buys at a local Asian supermarket. The idea is to make the knives’ “haram,” or sinful, because Muslims are forbidden to eat pork.
As Bates states on his Web page, batesknives.com, these knives “are not for the politically correct.”
It’s a bit of a puzzling statement coming from Bates, 28, who articulately took on Sen. John McCain at the senator’s town hall in Tucson Sept. 5.
That day, he stood up, introduced himself as a former Marine and forcefully told McCain he opposed U.S. military intervention in Syria because “I do not believe we can differentiate between the good and the bad guys” there.
He went on: “I’ve lived amongst the people in that region. I have sat and ate dinner with many people and have been in many houses over there. I can tell you that although there are many good people in the region, the cultural, religious and ideological differences with us Americans are too great for us to understand the relationships between the rebels and extremists. We need to stay out of there.”
When we met Thursday, the thin, rangy Bates explained that being in Iraq and Afghanistan gave him “the best and worst experiences of my life.”
“Surviving a firefight is a pretty good feeling,” he said.
It also allowed him the opportunity to meet local people he considered wonderfully gracious along with local people whose graciousness covered up the fact that they had been shooting at his unit days before.
Bates, a Catalina Magnet High School graduate, said he was inspired to start making tactical knives while watching hot metal turn soft in a bonfire. He started toying with making knives in 2010, building a forge out of a discarded dishwasher and firing it with mesquite charcoal.
Now he uses a propane-fired forge that he bought, and thanks to an article in the Marine Corps Times this week he has more orders than he can handle. Making them is his full-time job, and he’s taken on an apprentice.
Along with the word infidel stamped at the base of the blade, he also stamps the brand from his grandfather’s ranch on the other side.
Asked what he would think of the pig’s-blood detail being considered offensive to Muslims, Bates said he simply did it because many warriors are superstitious.
“It’s more of a psychological thing for the guy carrying it,” he said. “Mainly, it’s a message to the enemy, the kind of guys who’ll blow themselves up.”
The attraction of “infidel” I find pretty easy to grasp. But the pig’s blood detail, not so much. Maybe it’s because I am not a combat vet.
Most of his customers are veterans and active-duty military members, along with security contractors oversees, he said. He worked as a security contractor protecting Army Corps of Engineers’ teams in Afghanistan in 2010, he said.
“I was worried when I first started doing it that it would come off as gimmicky,” he said, “but the ‘infidel’ and the pig’s blood is just a bonus.”