Across the country, the overheated immigration debate fuels racist extremism and violent, anti-Hispanic hate crimes.
The raging national debate over immigration is stoking the fires of racist extremism across the country. Neo-Nazis and other white supremacists are ratcheting up the intensity of their bloodthirsty "race war" rhetoric as the tempo of the symbiotic dance between hate groups and the anti-immigration movement continues to increase, and violent hate crimes against Hispanics, regardless of their immigration status, appear to be on the rise.
In recent events:
• On May 6, the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan held an anti-immigration rally in Russellville, Ala., that drew more than 300 Klansmen and Klan supporters, including members of the neo-Nazi hate group Aryan Nations. At the rally, robed Klansmen burned a 22-foot-high cross and yelled, "Let's get rid of the Mexicans!"
• On April 29, a neo-Nazi in East Hampton, N.Y., was arrested for threatening two Hispanic teenagers he and several friends imprisoned for 90 minutes in a shed painted with swastikas. The skinhead reportedly held the blade of the machete to the throat of one while threatening to kill him, and chased another around with a running chainsaw yelling, "This is how you run across the border!"
• On April 22, a 17-year-old Hispanic high school football player was dragged from a suburban house party in Texas and savagely attacked by two white assailants, one of them a neo-Nazi skinhead. Police said the attackers were apparently enraged because the victim tried to kiss a young girl they believed to be Caucasian. After forcing the Hispanic youth into a backyard, they burned his neck with cigarettes, stomped his head with steel-toed boots, and slashed his chest with a knife, all while shouting racial slurs. They then stripped him naked and sodomized him with a patio umbrella pole.
The skinhead kicked the pole repeatedly.
"I don't mean just a little bit," said Harris County prosecutor Mike Trent. "He kicked it in and shoved it so far in that he has caused major organ damage. It looks like they were really trying to kill him and torture him anyway they could."
At press time, the victim remained in critical condition.
• On March 27, New Jersey-based neo-Nazi radio host Hal Turner called for the mass murder of Hispanics and the assassination of U.S. senators who support guest worker programs. "All of you who think there's a peaceful solution to these invaders are wrong. We're going to have to start killing these people," Turner said. "I advocate using extreme violence against illegal aliens. Clean your guns. Have plenty of ammunition. Find out where the largest gathering of illegal aliens will be near you. Go to the area well in advance, scope out several places to position yourself and then do what has to be done." Turner directed his listeners to a website that provides detailed instructions on constructing pipe bombs, ammonium nitrate "fertilizer bombs," car bombs, chlorine gas bombs, and other homemade explosive devices.
As the volatile issue of immigration has taken center stage in political debates, it's become clear that hate groups believe they've found a deeply resonant issue with racial overtones they can exploit to generate a hostile social climate that fosters bigotry and violence toward all Hispanics, whether they're in the country illegally or not.
When Hispanic families in Tucson, Ariz., gathered in a park to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, anti-immigration extremist Roy Warden arrived, strapped with a pistol, and led a demonstration. "Listen up, Mexican invaders," Warden said. "We will not permit you, the ignorant, the savage, the unwashed, to overrun us, as happened in Rome. ... Land must be paid for in blood. If any invader tries to take this land from us, we will wash this land and nurture our soil with oceans of their blood!" Warden later E-mailed a death threat to Isabel Garcia, a Tucson public defender who co-chairs the human rights group Derechos Humanos. The E-mail was titled, "Warden to Isabel Garcia: I will blow your freaking head off!"
Also in Tucson, anti-immigration leader and close Warden ally Laine Lawless secretly contacted the nation's largest neo-Nazi organization to urge its leaders to launch a campaign of violence and harassment against undocumented immigrants.
Elsewhere in Arizona, when 100,000 people marched through Phoenix in support of immigrants in April, the largest public demonstration in the city's history drew a litany of disturbing reactions from the media, elected officials, and radical extremists. State Rep. Russell Pearce continued to stereotype illegal immigrants as ruthless criminals by falsely claiming that 80% of violent crimes involve illegal immigrants, a statistic he was unable to defend when questioned. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio organized a 250-member citizens' posse to patrol the desert for illegal immigrants, and Phoenix radio talk show host Brian James urged his listeners to pick a night and "kill whoever crosses the border," prompting federal and state prosecutors to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission.
In California, the leader of the hate group Save Our State, Joe Turner, obtained enough signatures from residents of San Bernardino to get an immigrant-bashing initiative he authored on the upcoming ballot. Turner's "City of San Bernardino Illegal Immigration Relief Act" would prohibit city funding of day laborer centers, allow police to seize the vehicles of anyone hiring an undocumented day laborer, and make it a crime for landlords to rent to illegal immigrants.
Turner's stated goal is to prevent immigrants from turning California into a "Third World Cesspool." Racist skinheads frequently attend Save Our State rallies, and several of the group's members have recently advocated far more extreme measures than the San Bernardino ballot initiative. "I see people with vans driving by, gunning them down on street corners, and leaving them to feed the buzzards and worms," wrote Save Our State activist "Cazamigrante" ("Migrant hunter") as part of an online discussion of the heavily Latino street protests across the country.
Another Save Our State activist, "Bryan," recommended archery as an effective tactic against Mexicans. "Just a friendly reminder: There is no Brady Bill on bow and arrow. There is also no report or muzzle flash to give away position."
Also in California, Minuteman Project co-founder Jim Gilchrist set off on a cross-country Minuteman Caravan making stops in several states to help fight the "illegal alien invasion crisis." On May 8, Gilchrist was a guest on Tennessee radio show produced by the hate radio show Political Cesspool. It was Gilchrist's second appearance on the Cesspool. He was interviewed by Bill Rolen, a board member of the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens who readily agreed with Gilchrist's characterization of illegal aliens as people whose "intentions are to just squat here and plunder whatever social benefits our programs provide them." (However, Rolen, a staunch neo-Confederate, was less inclined to go along with Gilchrist's assessment of illegal aliens as the "21st Century slave trade.")
The following morning, at a rally at a Birmingham, Ala., truck stop, a Gilchrist supporter passed out copies of First Freedom, a newspaper featuring a column by white supremacist David Duke and articles praising incarcerated Holocaust deniers David Irving and Ernst Zundel.
Gilchrist wasn't the only nativist talking about an "illegal alien invasion." On the Internet, violent rhetoric against Hispanics continued to fester, with extremists posting warnings that Mexican flags on American soil constituted an "invasion" of the United States, which for many anti-immigration activists and white supremacists would mark the long-awaited beginning of the race war. As one poster on the white supremacist Stormfront website put it, "It will be grand. More exciting than the zombie flicks. If you have a good defense line and lots of ammo, the carnage will be orgasmic."