Anti-Immigrant Activist Roy Warden Threatens Latinos
Brandishing insults and a gun, Roy Warden routinely threatens Latinos with death. Some observers fear the worst.
by Susy Buchanan
Photography by Jackie Mercandetti
Like many who've seen Warden in action, Matt Lowen, a human rights activist with the American Friends Service Committee, suspects that Warden may have "serious mental issues." "He reminds me of a child that doesn't get enough attention and continuously acts out and thrives on negative attention," Lowen says.
Warden's tantrums have been punished with frequent spankings in the Tucson media, plus two arrests in the past six months. Also, his website has been hacked, and Warden claims the reason he now lives out of his car is that he was evicted from his rental home in retribution for his demonstrations. He also says that gangbangers in baggy pants have followed him and that he has received many death threats from as far away as Colombia.
Whether Warden is a lunatic or just acts like one in order to raise a ruckus, he makes himself impossible to ignore, and his opponents say that he's the natural outgrowth as well as a symbol of the increasingly harsh tone of the national debate over immigration -- a debate in which mentalities and methods that were considered extreme in the past have now shifted into the mainstream. Three years ago, anti-immigration hard-liners were often portrayed as erratic fringe elements in the major media, with President Bush labeling one group "vigilantes." Now, anchorman Lou Dobbs hails them as heroes and patriots on CNN.
"The demagoguery and scapegoating of immigrants by public figures in the national media has encouraged the Roy Wardens of the world to be more brazen and violent," says Rich Stolz, a Tucson-based immigrant rights organizer with the Center for Community Change. "As long as fundamentally violent policy proposals like border militarization, vigilantism, mass deportations, and migrant concentration camps go unchallenged in the public debate over immigration reform, anyone with a Roy Warden mindset will perceive that they have a free pass to use the anti-immigrant platform to preach hate and violence."
Many in Tucson worry that it's only a matter of time before Warden either shoots someone or gets shot. "He's just waiting for the time when he feels threatened, his space is invaded, and that gun is going to be fired," Lowen says. In the meantime, as Warden's antics and rhetoric grow more inflammatory, they consume more time and energy among pro-immigration forces in the Arizona border region. In this respect, Warden is a success, a strategic diversion. "Activists in the Latino community really can't do anything but think about Roy Warden, follow him around with cameras waiting for him to slip up," Lowen says.
One of those activists is 16-year-old Arturo Rodriquez, who decided last June to find out what would happen if he stepped over Warden's line.
'I'll Put You in the Ground'
In the tiny living room of his Tucson home, Arturo Rodriguez connects his video camera to a television and presses play. Although his mother has seen the footage that pops up on the screen several times, the images still bring angry tears to her eyes, which she wipes away with the back of her hand.
The footage is of a demonstration Warden held June 3. Behind the camera was Arturo, a skinny teenager who wears glasses. Braces peek through his shy smile.
Arturo's a budding activist. He explains that he wanted to document Warden's activities this summer. "I was scared," he admits, "but sometimes you just have to suck it up." His footage shows Warden establishing his usual "perimeter" around a piece of sidewalk with a length of clothesline. As Warden rants and paces, Arturo and a friend step over the barrier. Warden erupts in the teenager's face.
"Get out of here!" Warden screams at Arturo, his face filling the video camera's lens. "I'll put a fucking bullet in your head!"
Arturo continues to film as Warden rages and moves toward him. "You get away from my border," Warden says. He then shoves Arturo backward. "You better stay out of our area because I'll put you in the ground if you don't."
Arturo turned his footage over to the police, who arrested Warden for assault, disorderly conduct, and two counts of making intimidating threats. Warden's trial on these charges is pending. In preliminary court appearances, he has used a Mexican flag as a doormat and worn a T-shirt bearing the legend "Chicana Pendeja" (very loosely, asshole) underneath a large photo of Isabel Garcia. Garcia is the Pima County legal defender and leader of the human rights organization Derechos Humanos.
Last May, Warden circulated an E-mail with the subject line "Warden to Isabel Garcia: I will blow your freaking head off." The text read: "If any of your pendejo thugs assault me in any way, break through my perimeter, make any threat of deadly force upon my life, etc., I will not hesitate to draw my weapon and blow your freaking heads off."
Interviewed about the E-mail by a television news reporter, Warden said: "I don't understand what the problem is. It's conditional: you try to kill me and I will kill you first. It's very simple."
Garcia, who Warden calls a "hairy-breasted Amazon," has been working on immigrants' rights issues for 30 years. Her parents were activists, and she held her first picket sign when she was 10. She's used to threats and insults and says she's not afraid of Warden, but she is frustrated by the effect his anti-immigration Tasmanian Devil act has had. Garcia points out that while massive immigration reform marches on April 10 drew millions of people into the streets all over the United States for peaceful marches, the Tucson march turned violent when Warden staged a flag burning in the middle of a park along the marchers' path. The crowd surged toward Warden, causing a Tucson police officer to draw his gun. Six young immigration activists were arrested on charges of aggravated assault on a peace officer, interfering with governmental operation, hindering prosecution and disturbing the peace, while Warden was arrested the next day and charged with suspicion of assault, criminal damage and reckless burning (these charges, like those resulting from his confrontation with Arturo Rodriquez, are pending).
"He really gets himself into this state of such venom and hatred. He calls us animals," says Garcia. "He'd like a young Latino to attack him. Then he'd pull out a gun and shoot him."