In one Massachusetts town, two conspiracy-minded brothers have been leading a hateful crusade against Brazilian immigrants
FRAMINGHAM, Mass. — Jim and Joe Rizoli think of themselves as a couple of "wicked pissahs." That's Boston-area lingo for righteous guys who stir up trouble. Righteous or not, the 54-year-old twins are stirring up plenty of trouble in this small city about 20 miles west of Boston. Framingham has 67,000 residents, 20% of whom are Brazilian, representing the largest per capita Brazilian community of any municipality in America. Some of the Brazilians in Framingham are in the country illegally, some have work visas, some were born in the United States and others are naturalized citizens.
The Rizolis scorn them all.
"Framingham has been turned into a Brazilian slave camp," Jim Rizoli told reporters in 2006. His brother Joe, the more belligerent of the pair, has repeatedly declared, "Framingham has been raped by Brazilians."
Four years ago, the Rizolis, who are native sons of Framingham, started gaining notoriety for their public-access cable television show, "Illegal Immigration Chat," a twice-weekly, 39-minute hodgepodge of racist skits, man-on-the-street interviews and recycled Town Meeting footage with running commentary from the Rizolis, who often sound like bigoted conspiracy-nut versions of the loquacious brothers on the popular National Public Radio show "Car Talk."
The Rizolis lead the nativist extremist group Concerned Friends of Illegal Immigration Law Enforcement, or CCFIILE, whose handful of members conduct surveillance of day labor pick-up sites and hold street protests, often waving posters that read, "Don't Feed the Bears." (The town of Framingham funds English as a Second Language classes, which, according to CCFIILE logic, is akin to feeding wild bears and thereby encouraging dangerous beasts to linger.) CCFIILE members also target Brazilian cultural events. In June 2006, for example, the Rizolis videotaped and protested against hundreds of Brazilians celebrating in the streets in downtown Framingham on two occasions after the Brazilian national soccer team won a World Cup game. The Rizolis claimed they were attacked by a mob during one of the celebrations and released a video that appeared to show a brief scuffle. Downtown jewelry store owner Vera Dias-Freitas told The Boston Globe that fans merely surrounded the brothers while singing Brazilian soccer anthems.
The Rizolis and other CCFIILE members are a regular presence at Framingham Town Meetings. Jim Rizoli is one of 183 elected town meeting members. Until last year, his brother volunteered with the local government to run the cameras that broadcast the proceedings of Town Meetings to Framingham residents watching at home. He made sure the cameras focused heavily on any Brazilians who attended. "If you insist on going to meetings, they intimidate you. They used to control the cameras and put the cameras right on you. Then they used the videos on their show," said Ilma Paixao, a teaching fellow at MIT, who is a frequent target of CCFIILE. Now a U.S. citizen, Paixao emigrated to Framingham in 1983. Between 2004 and 2006, she headed the Brazilian American Association (BRAMAS), a community action group that the Rizolis accuse of orchestrating a foreign takeover of the entire town. In reality, BRAMAS has financially struggled to keep its doors open.
Ilton Lisboa, a well-known Brazilian-American entrepreneur in eastern Massachusetts, said he has personally confronted the brothers over their defamations. "I ask [one of the brothers] why he say all the Brazilian women are prostitutes," Lisboa said. "He could not answer me."
Lisboa believes that CCFIILE's opponents exaggerate the group's power. "They paint Rizoli as dangerous man," he said. "He is not. He is an idiot."
But Are They Racist?
When The Boston Globe asked Joe Rizoli in May 2006 to respond to charges that CCFIILE is a racist group, he angrily replied: "I've been driving a Metro bus with black kids for 25 years and I'm a racist? That's ridiculous."
Jim Rizoli and his brother Joe specialize in aggressive attacks on the "illegal aliens" they apparently assume populate any crowd of brown faces. Their attacks are then offered up to the citizens of Framingham, Mass., as cable TV fare.
But there are ties between the CCFIILE membership and blatantly white supremacist and anti-black groups. At least two prominent members of the group, for instance, are also members of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a hate group that "oppose[s] all efforts to mix the races of mankind" and has called black people a "retrograde species of humanity." One of them, Kevin O'Neill, is the leader of the CCC's regional New England Council.
Mark Martin, head of the Ohio division of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, frequently posts under aliases to CCFIILE's Yahoo groups — and his postings often languish there for months. In one comment posted last November, Martin said: "Put a $5 bounty on the head of every minority and shoot them for sport. Do a retaliatory attack on the offenders. Get rid of the white guilt complex imposed upon us by the jew-owned media. Those animals only know one way: the VIOLENT way."
A man named John Kennedy — a member of both CCFIILE and the CCC — responded cheerfully. "I think you pretty much covered everything, cheers!" Chiming in was Jim Rizoli, who told Kennedy, "I can see your points," but added that he intended to delete his post because some "will twist what is said there."
It didn't happen. Three months later, the post was still up.
In another post, Martin offered to send Maryland-based racist skinheads to work security at CCFIILE events. (The offer was apparently not accepted.) And last November, the Ohio neo-Nazi leader wrote: "Why are the jews [sic] so FOR illegals to be here? Sooo if a Mestizo and a stupid white chick have a bastard, the kid's IQ will be halved by the inferior Mestizo genes." O'Neill, the head of the New England CCC and a CCFIILE member, replied, "What you have said is 100% truth."
The Rizolis also are supporters of Ernst Zundel, who published The Hitler We Loved and Why, UFOs: Nazi Secret Weapon? and the infamous Holocaust denial tract, Did Six Million Really Die? Zundel, who was for decades a legal resident of Canada but is a German citizen, is now serving a five-year sentence for Holocaust denial in Germany. He had earlier traveled to Tennessee to marry and live with an American woman, but was sent back to Canada on an immigration violation. After a protracted legal proceeding there, officials deported him to Germany.
The irony is that Zundel is the only illegal immigrant (during his stay in the United States) the Rizolis have ever defended.
In 2004, as first reported in Metro West Daily News, the brothers signed a petition asking that Zundel be freed in Canada and granted political asylum there. At the time, they claimed they were merely supporting Zundel's right to free speech, not his view of Jews. But Jim Rizoli has since bared his own anti-Semitism in postings to the CCFIILE Web forum.
"A lot of the Jews are for Illegal Immigration, reason being, the Russian Jews invaded this county years ago and took advantage of all the free services they could get, and they got plenty," he wrote Dec. 10.
Framingham Police Chief Steve Carl told the Intelligence Report that he's spoken to the Rizolis often over the group's four-year existence. "I told them they are nothing but a white supremacist group. What they do is, they take it right to the line as far as freedom of speech," he said. The brothers, the chief added, have become "an embarrassment to this town. I don't know if I would classify them as a hate group, but there's nothing but hate coming out of their mouths."
Women, Donkeys and Power
Joe Rizoli told The Boston Globe that he had never worried about immigration until a friend of his had two children with a Brazilian woman who was here without documentation. "She abused the system," said Rizoli, who felt the woman should have been deported. "This enraged me."
Critics of CCFIILE accuse the group of misogyny as well as racism because its members are particularly venomous toward Brazilian women. When Ellie Tulaba, a young Framingham woman who emigrated from Brazil as a child and is now a U.S. citizen, published an open letter to CCFIILE in which she wrote, "Folks, if you do not want to be labeled a racist then don't act like one," CCFIILE members posted comments calling her "a mud" and "a big sweaty donkey." One even told Tulaba, an only child, "Your sister invited me, but I don't ride donkeys."
Vera Dias-Freitas, the jewelry store owner, has frequently been subjected to false accusations on CCFIILE's "Illegal Immigration Chat" cable show. "They said I was hiding illegal immigrants in the basement of my shop," she said.
When a local news story appeared in recent years about a Brazilian man being accused of molesting a girl, the Rizolis accused Paixao of being directly responsible for bringing the suspect into the country. "They put her photo on TV for a half hour as they talk about Brazilian leaders in Framingham bringing child molesters to the U.S.," Frank Kavanaugh, Paixao's ex-husband, told the Intelligence Report.
Kavanaugh sent an E-mail to the Rizolis accusing them of "being cowards and promoting violence against women." Paixao said the brothers responded with an E-mail that read, "We will bury you so deep they are going to need a tractor."
'We Love All Immigrants'
CCFIILE's antics have not escaped official notice.
After the group's inaugural November 2003 meeting, town officials asked if its speech and flyers could be considered incitement to violence or illegal activity. "None of [CCFIILE's] materials rise to the level of inciting or advocating imminent violence or unlawful activity," concluded the town's attorney.
Still, Lloyd Kaye, a former Framingham human relations commissioner, remembers encountering CCFIILE at a voter registration drive in 2004 where the brothers yelled at and filmed people in line who were speaking Portuguese. "I have no problem with the Rizolis screaming at Brazilian people," said Kaye. "They just can't get in the way of registering people to vote."
The U.S. Department of Justice visited Framingham in June 2007, an invitation originally prompted by a state representative's concerns over CCFIILE's behavior around TownM eetings and protests. At a public hearing, hundreds of Brazilian immigrants spoke openly with police and government officials about housing, driver's licenses and working conditions.
Joe Rizoli was there too. "I want to apologize to the Brazilian community for any misunderstandings that have been brought upon you," he said.
"We love all immigrants," he said.
Kavanaugh was among many who scoffed at Rizoli's apology. "Here's a guy filming people at 5:30 p.m., filming children [and] accusing them of crimes, and now you're going to wheel [him] out at 7 p.m. to apologize," he said.
Still, the Rizolis are not entirely without local supporters beyond the ranks of CCFIILE.
Town selectmen Ginger Esty told The Boston Globe that the Rizolis are being "unfairly vilified." "They are not telling lies. They are just trying to call attention to a problem that is a nationwide problem," she said. "Unfortunately, their delivery leaves something to be desired."
The Rizolis temporarily lost one of their primary methods of delivery this Jan. 10, when Framingham public access cable mangers yanked an episode of "Illegal Immigration Chat" in the middle of the show. The managers explained later that they had done so because the Rizolis were improperly re-using Town Meeting footage. But the Rizolis have been doing that since the show began.
Critics hoped that four years of complaints about the show had finally borne fruit, resulting in cancellation after the brothers already had shown 145 episodes. But it was only a matter of days before the show was back on the air.
Now, CCFIILE doesn't seem ready to give up or moderate. "Our show is a lightning rod for what is wrong in the world, and the Brazilians are part of the problem," Jim Rizoli wrote in a recent letter to a critic of the show. "As it stands now, they are in the hands of Satan, who is the father of the lie."
But there are other signs that CCFIILE may be losing strength.
Two of its core members quit the group in recent months. Jeff Buck, who co-founded CCFIILE with the Rizoli twins, left to head the New England Minutemen. And Willy LaFarge, a liberal and gay CCFIILE member, said he departed after the group strayed from anti-illegal immigrant activism into open racism.
Lisboa, the Brazilian-American business entrepreneur, says CCFIILE's heyday is behind it and most Brazilians today tune the Rizoli brothers out. "People will tell you they don't care about Rizoli. He doesn't affect their life. They completely ignore him," Lisboa said. As for the Rizolis, he offers this advice: "Start a relationship. Make some Brazilian friends, like lots of Americans are doing."
That's not advice Paixao, for one, expects CCFIILE to follow. "The new generation [of local teenagers] has grown up with at least three years of seeing this," Paixao said of the Rizolis' in-your-face activism. "I'm very concerned that if the town doesn't come to accept Brazilians, we are going to pay a high price."