Cause Celeb

After years of wildly blasting the Chandler power structure, self-proclaimed civil rights advocate Ramon Gomez now finds himself under attack

By this point, Gomez was directing most of his energy to his civil rights organization. But from the beginning, the National Civil Rights Movement was an oddly unfocused concept. Gomez -- who has criticized Cesar Chávez for limiting his focus to the plight of farm workers -- wanted to take on the cause of all victims of injustice, regardless of their race or ethnic group, regardless of whether they were from Nogales or Norway, regardless of whether the injustice was legal, social or economic.

Unfortunately, he had neither the organizational experience nor the manpower to make the ambitious plan semi-feasible. Despite his boasts of having 40,000 members, he's been unable to provide evidence that the organization includes anyone beyond his assistant, Rose Becker, and a few personal friends, such as Tempe civil rights attorney Keith Knowlton. Knowlton did not respond to calls from New Times, but Becker supports Gomez's estimates of the group's size and dismisses Magidson's accusations as pathetic lies.

Carroll Clark, a Mesa civil rights attorney who has handled several public-records requests for Gomez and shared an office building with the National Civil Rights Movement for eight months, says he's seen no indication that Gomez's organization is anything more than a small group of friends.

M.R. Diaz is a Chandler artist and activist who has 
observed Ramon Gomez's public tirades at close 
Paolo Vescia
M.R. Diaz is a Chandler artist and activist who has observed Ramon Gomez's public tirades at close range.

"I know of four or five people here, another four or five in Page, one guy in Nebraska, and that's it," Clark says.

Though Gomez often prefaces big decisions by saying, "I'll have to meet with my board," Magidson says he never witnessed a single board meeting in his time with the group, from 1999 until last month. When pressed on the issue, Gomez sheepishly concedes that he's never held a board meeting, but defends himself on the grounds that even if he's distorted the size and operations of his group, it's not important anyway.

"So what if I'm a bad person? So what if I make mistakes? I claim we have chapters in 42 states," he says. "I can claim whatever the hell I want to claim. If they're not incorporated, so what? Anybody can get a group together and call themselves something. And what crime have they committed?"

Financial problems have also hindered Gomez's attempts to make the National Civil Rights Movement a viable organization. A year ago, the organization was forced to vacate its Mesa office on East Broadway because Gomez could not pay the rent. More recently, he lost his Saturday morning Spanish-language talk show on Radio Unica after six months on the air, because he could not meet his monthly payments of $2,500 for the time slot.

But if Gomez's organizational skills are suspect, he's proven himself a master at getting his name in print and his face on the tube. When off-duty Scottsdale police officers were accused of mistreating minority patrons at Club Tribeca, Gomez turned up in the Arizona Republic, supporting the police department and threatening to file a lawsuit against the club.

When Vanessa Rico was prosecuted in the accidental bathtub drowning of her child, Gomez stood by her side at a press conference and proclaimed her innocence.

When the state Legislature considered a bill requiring police officers to be trained on how to work with immigration officials, Gomez blasted the idea in the Republic, saying that such a law would not change police discrimination against Hispanics.

When opponents of former Immaculate Heart pastor the Reverend Saúl Madrid mounted a demonstration outside the Catholic diocese office last year, Gomez -- who is not an Immaculate Heart parishioner -- positioned himself in front of the phalanx of news cameras and announced that the National Civil Rights Movement would file a lawsuit against the Catholic diocese (an idea he later dropped) unless Bishop Thomas O'Brien stepped down.

But Gomez's biggest media impact revolved around his controversial support for Ronald Ruelas, a Longview Elementary counselor who was charged in 1999 with molesting six boys. Gomez became the public voice for the Ruelas family, speaking for them at press conferences, organizing a pro-Ruelas procession, and taking credit for posting Ruelas' bail.

Last June, when Ruelas was convicted on 18 counts of child molestation, sexual abuse, indecent exposure and providing harmful material to minors, Gomez called the trial "racially motivated" and announced that the National Civil Rights Movement would raise $3 million to mount an appeal.

Gomez's willingness to throw himself into the middle of such heated issues made him a lightning rod for criticism, but it also made his name familiar to locals in need of civil rights advice -- familiar enough to receive, according to his own count, 465 calls a week on his cell phone.

Gomez had now called himself a civil rights advocate so often, and so forcefully, he started to be treated like one.

M.R. Diaz recalls getting a firsthand glimpse of the shoestring nature of the National Civil Rights Movement during a visit to Gomez's home last year.

"He was on the phone, and he started calling the attorney general of the state, and the secretary put him on hold, so he got mad. Then he called the civil rights division and said he wanted to file a complaint against the secretary.

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