Hatewatch

Controversial Tennessee Sheriff Speaks At Hate Group Function

A Nashville, Tenn., sheriff who’s been criticized for his crackdown on undocumented immigrants recently spoke at a white supremacist gathering.

Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall addressed the Middle Tennessee chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a white nationalist hate group, at a dinner meeting last Nov. 22. Descended from the pro-segregationist White Citizens’ Councils (also known as the uptown Klan), the CCC has described blacks as a “retrograde species of humanity” and “genetically inferior,” compared pop singer Michael Jackson to an ape, and condemned “race-mixing.”

Hall’s appearance at the Middle Tennessee CCC meeting was reported in the latest issue of the Citizens Informer, the CCC’s in-house publication. “The meeting drew the largest attendance in 12 years, with many youth in attendance,” the newsletter noted.

Karla Weikal, spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office, said the Middle Tennessee CCC asked Hall to talk to the group about his immigration enforcement program. She said Hall often speaks to private groups about issues related to the sheriff’s office and was not aware of the CCC’s racist beliefs. “Those views would certainly not be views that Sheriff Hall would support. Absolutely not,” Weikal said. “He went before that group to provide information about a program that the sheriff’s office participates in. Period. It was not an endorsement of this organization.”

But critics of the sheriff’s handling of immigration enforcement said Hall should have known better. “I am shocked that he would appear before such a group,” said Nashville immigration lawyer Elliott Ozment. “Any claim that he might make that he did not know the nature of this group is really no excuse. He has staff that should be checking out these things.”

Fellow Nashville immigration attorney Mario Ramos agreed. “For Sheriff Hall to be speaking in front of a hate group shows a severe lack of judgment,” he said. “I think the citizens of Nashville will be outraged that he spoke before this kind of group.” As for the sheriff’s professed ignorance of the group’s ideology, Ramos said, “It’s hard to believe [the sheriff’s office] is that naïve or unprofessional. You’d imagine they’d do their homework.”

Indeed, if Hall had merely typed “Council of Conservative Citizens” into the Internet search engine Google, the top result would have been the CCC’s web address and site description, which reads, “Advocating against minorities and racial integration.” The website proclaims that the CCC “oppose[s] all efforts to mix the races of mankind.” Along with ads for white pride T-shirts, the group’s homepage features numerous articles from its “news team” linking blacks to violent crime.

The group has also flirted increasingly with anti-Semitism in recent years; after Pope Benedict XVI provoked an outcry last week by revoking the excommunication of schismatic bishop Richard Williamson — who claimed no more than 300,000 Jews died in the Holocaust, none of them in gas chambers — the CCC asserted on its website that Williamson was not a Holocaust denier: “He has simply stated that the numbers [sic] of Jewish deaths have been exaggerated for political reasons.”

The CCC isn’t fond of non-white immigrants, either. It has accused them of turning America into “a slimy brown mass of glop.”

Hall, who became sheriff in 2002, has drawn fire for his immigration enforcement strategy. Since 2007, the county has participated in 287G, a program that gives local agencies limited authority to enforce federal immigration law. After a drunken driver — who was also an undocumented immigrant with a lengthy criminal history — killed a husband and wife in 2006, Hall wrote a letter to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement asking to take part in the program. Hall said it would allow the county to target undocumented immigrants who are dangerous offenders.

But immigrant rights activists say that hasn’t happened. Instead, of the nearly 3,000 people arrested during the program’s first year, half were nabbed for minor traffic violations such as driving without a license, according to an April 2008 analysis by The Tennessean. Last July, a pregnant woman who had been arrested for careless driving was chained to a hospital bed as she gave birth. Juana Villegas’ story was featured prominently in The New York Times. (The sheriff later announced that pregnant women would no longer be shackled unless they posed a clear risk to themselves or others, The Tennessean reported.)

Sheriff’s office spokeswoman Weikal defended the immigration enforcement program, saying that Nashville police make all the arrests and that the sheriff’s office merely screens those who are foreign-born.

But Ozment, who represents Villegas, said he wasn’t surprised that the CCC wanted to know more about 287G. Both Ozment and Gregg Ramos, a Nashville attorney and civil rights advocate (no relation to Mario Ramos), said the program’s implementation in Davidson County has led to racial profiling of Hispanics. “It is open season on Hispanics in Nashville now,” Ozment said. (Ozment previously served on a council formed to advise the sheriff on 287G, but Hall kicked him off after Ozment said publicly that the council played no meaningful role.)

Added Mario Ramos: “I’m left to wonder where else he [Hall] has spoken. If he feels this is where the audience is for 287G, what a sad comment on 287G.”