Burn, Baby, Burn!

With her silver power-mullet, support hose, and ankle-length leopard-print skirt, Laine Roberta Lawless is a cross between Ma Barker, Dog the Bounty Hunter, and South Park school-bus driver Mrs. Crabtree (minus the bird in her hair). Actually, Lawless, 57, is more like the Carrie Nation of the anti-illegal-immigration movement, but instead of smashing up bars with a hatchet like the temperance battle-ax of yore, Lawless' shtick is barbecuing Mexican flags.

Which is what she did last December 16 in front of the Mexican consulate in Phoenix, but not until she had finished her megaphone-enhanced diatribe about the hordes of illegals invading this country.

"This foreign infestation has grown to the point where the illegals among us victimize an American citizen every 17 seconds," she spewed to an assemblage of curiosity-seekers, counterprotesters, and more than a few of Phoenix's finest in plainclothes. (Lawless later admits that the foreign-infestation factoid is the concoction of a confederate, a "distillation" of disparate sources.)

There was tittering in the crowd as she continued her gas-bagging about Americans being the unwitting prey of the brown tide.

"Mexico actively promotes illegal immigration and routinely interferes with the internal affairs of the United States," she read from a black notebook in her left hand, as her bearded buddy, Don Pauly of the Emigration Party of Nevada, held signs touting anti-immigrant stats and advertising Lawless' self-produced DVD, How to Burn a Mexican Flag. "This is an outrage! Why are more American citizens not joining with me here today to protect American sovereignty?"

A girl's voice cried out from the crowd, "Because you're a racist nut!"

Lawless paused to let the laughter die down. Photogs snapped away. Lawless persevered, at one point yelling to a group of men across the street that included Rusty Childress, owner of the Childress auto mall in Phoenix and a well-known anti-illegal-immigration booster who hosts a regular Thursday-night meeting for like-minded folks at his Kia dealership. Childress was videotaping the event from a distance, refusing to join Lawless and Pauly, which pissed off Lawless big-time.

"I want to know what's the matter with the men of Phoenix," she barked. "Aren't your balls big enough to stand here with me and burn the Mexican flag?"

The answer was, apparently, not. Childress, et al., did not cross the street and help out. So Lawless resumed her rant.

"We are asked who will pick our vegetables, who will do your landscaping, and who will clean your toilets," Lawless screeched. "My response to that is, 'We will!' I don't have a problem cleaning my own toilet. I do it every week."

And so it went. Mexican immigrants are destroying the country, bankrupting our public hospitals, dumbing down our schools, and forcing us to speak a handful of Spanish words whenever we get a roadside taco. Before you know it, we'll all be eating churros and wearing big-ass straw sombreros! Where will it all end? Sarcasm aside, Lawless is deadly serious. In her mind, she's at the forefront of the second American revolution, one that will drive illegals from the land, defeat the "communists" of what she calls the "Open Borders Lobby" (her movement's pet term for their opposition), and eject from power the hypocritical politicians who've allowed the "invasion" of the United States from Mexico. To help effect this result, she's formed her own organization, Border Guardians (www.borderguardians.org), which is devoted to gathering intelligence about the movement's enemies and promoting pyromaniacal protests involving Ronson lighter fluid and swaths of red, white, and green polyester.

But Lawless is the odd gal out, even in the screwy, cobbled-together world of self-made experts, Sunday soldiers, and putative patriots that is the anti-illegal-immigrant movement. The Bay Area transplant's a lesbian pagan, a former high priestess of a Dianic Wiccan outfit named the Sisterhood of the Moon. In fact, she once placed a hex on homophobic orange-juice-hawker Anita Bryant. And though both the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League have made hay linking her to neo-Nazis, she remains a pro-choice feminist in a movement fueled in part by high testosterone and backward, archconservative he-man values.

Her flag burnings in Tucson and Phoenix have made international news, drawn the denunciations of the Mexican government and local officials, and caused her to be reviled and ostracized by activists on both ends of the political seesaw. Yet, Lawless' oft-loony views and activities are belied by the spirited, well-read conversationalist who dreams of writing screenplays for Hollywood and whose psyche may be best explained by fan fiction she penned in tribute to one of her all-time-favorite TV shows: Xena: Warrior Princess.

Her gun-totin' extremism has led her to patrol with minutemen near the border and make pals with advocates of racial violence and hatred. On the other hand, she counts women of many nations and colors as former flames. These contrasts conspire to create one of the most intriguing and frustrating personalities of the anti-illegal-immigration movement, frustrating because Lawless won't squeeze nicely into the cubbyhole assigned her, no matter how hard you make her try.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons