Fueling the Fire
Immigrant-bashing in Suffolk County, N.Y., dates back at least a decade to the founding of Sachem Quality of Life (SQL), a trendsetting anti-immigrant group whose militant tactics inspired later nativist extremist groups like the Minutemen and Save Our State.
SQL took its name from a Long Island school district. Most of its members lived in Farmingville, a small hamlet of 15,000 residents that, like much of Suffolk County, experienced an influx of Latino immigrants beginning in the mid-to-late 1990s.
After forming in 1998, Sachem began a generalized campaign to rid Farmingville of Latino immigrants. The efforts included harassment and verbal abuse of laborers and contractors at day-labor pickup sites. Members called for the U.S. military to occupy Farmingville so that soldiers could assist in rounding up immigrants for mass deportation. SQL spread defamatory anti-immigrant propaganda laden with bogus data purporting to show that Latino immigrants were responsible for a nonexistent rise in sexual assault, burglary, manslaughter and other serious crimes in the area.
The group worked to thwart the establishment of a day laborer hiring center that was authorized by the Suffolk County Legislature but ultimately vetoed by then-County Executive Bob Gaffney. Its ranks swelled to 400 members after the powerful Federation for American Immigration Reform, a national anti-immigrant hate group based in Washington, D.C., dispatched a field organizer to assist SQL's recruiting, street actions, and propaganda campaign. SQL referred to Latino immigrants as "invaders," and branded any American who advocated for immigrant rights a traitor to the country.
As SQL's influence grew, racial tensions ratcheted up. Incidents of verbal harassment and violence multiplied. They included rocks and bottles being thrown at Latino immigrants; BB gun snipers firing at Latinos from rooftops and passing cars; vandalism and window-breaking at houses and apartment complexes where immigrants lived, and Latinos being accosted on the street by groups of white youths.
In September 2000, two local racist skinheads posed as homebuilding contractors to lure two Mexican day laborers to a warehouse where the white supremacists stabbed and nearly beat the immigrants to death. One of the assailants was tattooed with swastikas. The other had a tattoo on his stomach of a skinhead menacing a kneeling Jew.
Shortly after the skinheads were arrested for attempted murder as a hate crime, Paul Tonna, a moderate Republican and presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature, helped organize a rally for racial unity in Farmingville. In response, SQL held a rally outside Tonna's home. Picketers hurled racial slurs at his adopted children, four of whom are Mexican-American and one a Native American.
Two weeks after the attack, SQL held a "Day of Truth" forum that featured guest speakers from several hate groups, including Glenn Spencer, head of California-based American Patrol.
At the forum, SQL President Margaret Bianculli-Dyber said that she was inspired to form the group one spring day when she witnessed "hundreds" of Latino men loitering on a corner outside her house. "I called the police. I said, 'There are hundreds of men standing on the corner. Send a patrol car.' They said, 'You mean the Mexicans waiting for work? We're not sending a car. You're a racist.'"
Also at the Day of Truth, SQL member Dave Drew said his group's ultimate goal was the deportation of all undocumented immigrants. "Some say, 'There are millions of illegal aliens. That's a big job to deport.' Is it really? How many planes and cars are on the road as we speak? Not that big a deal to deport a couple million people. Farmingville is a one-day job, that's Farmingville! If the INS [U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service] wanted to do it, they'd come in the morning with buses, with document people, and remove them all, repatriate them. One-day job. Farmingville would be restored."
A few days after the forum, a member of SQL was arrested for threatening a local immigrant family. The targeting of Latinos in Suffolk County has continued since. On July 5, 2003, when SQL was still active, five teenagers used firecrackers to set fire to the Farmingville home of a family of five Mexican immigrants. The family narrowly escaped death as flames melted the house's aluminum siding and kept spreading, scorching the trees outside. After speaking with the teenagers, the local district attorney reported that they showed no remorse over burning down the house, for the simple reason that "Mexicans live there."
In 2004, SQL divided into competing factions and gradually disintegrated. It's now defunct. But its hateful legacy remains.