04/19/2012

Arizona Trip Aimed at Fighting Hate, Extremism

On Feb. 26, 2004, Don Logan received a mysterious package at his office in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he served as director of the city's diversity and dialogue office.

Logan cut the packing tape, opened the cardboard box — and heard what sounded like a gunshot. The windows and picture frames around him shattered. Smoke filled the room. The fire alarm sounded.

The explosion — from a pipe bomb in the package — badly injured Logan's right arm and ring finger. Two other city employees were hurt in the blast. Earlier this year, a jury convicted a white supremacist in connection with the bombing against Logan, who is black.

Since surviving the bombing, Logan has dedicated his life to telling his story and raising awareness of the hate and extremism that persists in the country today. This week, he joined Southern Poverty Law Center officials in Scottsdale for a presentation on the state of hate and extremism in America, attended by about 900 SPLC supporters.

SPLC supporters in Scottsdale
SPLC staff and supporters gathered in Scottsdale, Ariz. to discuss the rise in hate and extremism.

"There are some who refuse to accept the fact that there is a certain element in our communities that still lives in the past, that still carries hatred for people who are different than they," Logan said before the event. "In this case, they took it as far as acting out on that. I think what the Southern Poverty Law Center is doing in terms of drawing attention to these types of behaviors is relevant and good information for us all to know."

The SPLC came to Arizona to discuss the state's reputation as the epicenter of anti-immigrant hate and as a site of disturbing extremist activity. In 2010, Arizona passed a vicious anti-immigrant law that has served as a blueprint for similar laws in other states where lawmakers are exploiting the nation's anti-immigrant climate.

In 2005, the Minuteman Project was launched in Cochise County, Ariz., as the first of the major groups comprising the border vigilante movement. Four years later, anti-immigrant activist Shawna Forde, who had been a member of various Minuteman-style groups, and two accomplices murdered a Latino man and his 9-year-old daughter during a home invasion. Forde is now on death row.

Police still are investigating a 2007 incident when four men wearing camouflage and military-style berets shot at a vehicle carrying undocumented immigrants, killing a 12-year-old child and a man. And only days ago, on April 8, two Latino immigrants were shot and killed by men, also in camouflage, who ambushed their truck.

Arizona is also home to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The Department of Justice has alleged the sheriff routinely violates the civil rights of Latinos, and an Associated Press investigation recently accused his department of inadequately investigating more than 400 sex crime cases, many involving children of undocumented immigrants. Amid these allegations, Arpaio held a news conference in March questioning President Obama's citizenship.

"We can't ignore the dire situation in Arizona," said SPLC President Richard Cohen. "We've seen how events here are felt nationwide. This gathering is a way to discuss — and fight — the rise of extremism."

Logan, who endured four surgeries and physical rehabilitation during his recovery from the bombing, is concerned that hate-inspired violence will escalate as the election season heats up.

"The chance of any of us receiving a mail bomb is slim, but if we don't get a handle on the trend that we're seeing in terms of the increase in hate activity, this could become more frequent," said Logan, who recounts the Arizona bombing in his memoir, Targeted Delivery — Destination: Scottsdale, Arizona.

The persistent threat of extremist violence was highlighted during the evening, as several of the historic SPLC lawsuits that have devastated hate groups were recounted. One of those cases was the SPLC's 1990 courtroom victory over White Aryan Resistance (WAR).

A jury determined WAR and its leadership were responsible for training the racist skinheads who killed an Ethiopian college student, awarding a $12.5 million judgment against Tom and John Metzger and their hate group, WAR.

Recently filed court records in three states suggest federal investigators strongly suspect Tom Metzger provided the Arizona bomber responsible for the attack on Logan with bomb-making instructions, knowing they would be used in the commission of a crime of violence.

Holocaust Survivor Shares Story

The SPLC event also provided a powerful example of how one person can triumph over hate when Holocaust survivor Gerda Klein spoke. Klein is the subject of "One Survivor Remembers," an Oscar-winning documentary recounting her ordeal. The SPLC's Teaching Tolerance project has helped Klein tell her story by offering the film as part of a teaching kit for educators and has distributed 130,000 copies of the film since its release in 2005.

Klein said she has "everlasting gratitude" for the work of the SPLC.

"I have few heroes in my life: my beloved husband, my beloved country — and my other two heroes are [SPLC founder] Morris Dees and [President] Richard Cohen," she said.

Teacher Sarah Green, who attended the event with her mother and father, said the SPLC's teaching aids have become a standard part of her classroom lessons.

"I really appreciate their Teaching Tolerance kits, and I make it a point to teach those lessons and civil rights lessons," she said. "I teach them every year, and it's their favorite part of the class."

Lynn and Max Jarrett of Willcox, Ariz., drove for hours to attend.

"While we found the information provided sobering, on the whole, it was a strangely uplifting and inspirational experience," they said in an e-mail. "It was a special treat for us to hear Don Logan and Gerda Klein. It was especially heartening for us as residents of Arizona to encounter, in one place, so many like-minded Arizonans. The experience was well worth the time and effort involved in traveling the 400 miles round trip."

Dees also struck a positive tone, despite the disturbing information presented about extremists and hate groups.

"There's no doubt there's a real and growing threat of extremism, but it's also important to realize that 900 people showed up tonight," Dees said. "That tells me there are people willing to stand up and speak out against hate. And that gives me hope."

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