When a group of churches in Phoenix began helping immigrants released from the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), two Arizona-based groups – including an SPLC-designated hate group – began threatening the churches and harassing the pastors and project volunteers. The SPLC filed a lawsuit to stop the intimidation campaign.
The federal lawsuit describes the harassment by members and supporters of AZ Patriots and Patriot Movement AZ (PMAZ), an SPLC-designated hate group. They targeted churches – some with pastors belonging to the Alliance of Christian Leaders of the East Valley, a nonprofit group of pastors from several Latinx churches in the Phoenix area – providing immigrants with food, clothing, basic medical care and temporary housing while also assisting the immigrants with transportation to their U.S. sponsors.
Beginning in October 2018, the immigrants were brought to the churches by ICE. The churches did not receive any government assistance for their project; the humanitarian effort was backed by donations and volunteers. Shortly after the project was launched, members and supporters of PMAZ and AZ Patriots began trespassing on church property, sometimes armed, to intimidate the churches into stopping the project.
Other intimidation tactics included hurling insults at the pastors and volunteers – including accusations of human trafficking – and filming the immigrants, including small children, and volunteers. The videos were shared online by thousands of viewers. The groups also posted the names and contact information of some of the pastors – a tactic that led to several pastors receiving threatening phone calls and social media messages.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, accuses AZ Patriots, PMAZ, and their supporters and members of multiple counts, including conspiracy to violate civil rights, defamation and trespass. It seeks an injunction to stop the groups from engaging in illegal harassment and intimidation. It also seeks compensatory and punitive damages.
PMAZ supporters have targeted a place of worship in the past. In March 2018, two women affiliated with the group at the time were arrested after entering the Islamic Community Center of Tempe and posting a Facebook video that showed them entering the grounds of the mosque with three children, yelling anti-Muslim slurs and taking literature from a gated-off area of the mosque. Both women pleaded guilty to aggravated criminal damage.