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White-Supremacist Activity Is on the Rise in Sand Land, and One Latino-American Family Is the Victim of a Vicious Hate Crime in North Phoenix

HATE CRIME

When Orlando Diaz returned to his mobile home recently from a two-week vacation in Mexico, he found the remnants of what looked like a skinhead hoedown.

On the outside, the house looked like any of the other residences in this tidy, pretty mobile home community in north Phoenix. But inside, the abode had been ransacked and violated, the walls scrawled with obscene juvenilia and neo-Nazi scribblings: swastikas, KKK hats, and "14/88," the "14" being white supremacist shorthand for "the 14 words," a racist credo authored by one of the godfathers of the neo-Nazi movement, David Lane, and "88" being the numeric code for the eighth letter of the alphabet, indicating "HH," or "Heil Hitler."

Diaz, 31, and his wife took their three small children to a family member's house to stay while they spent the next couple of days cleaning up the mess left by the vandals. The damage was extensive — and disturbing. Family photographs were painted over. The contents of the kitchen had been emptied onto the floor and on the dining room table: eggs, milk, juice, you name it. A water nozzle, like the kind used for cleaning dishes in the sink, had been taped down to make water continually spray onto the kitchen floor.

Whoever did this caused thousands of dollars of damage to the home the Diaz family had been living in for the past nine months. Items such as a computer and Diaz's son's Xbox were stolen. Even Diaz's fish tank did not escape the intruders' spite.

"The fish were black when I left," explained Diaz, as we sat in his living room. "When I came back, they had turned red and been killed from all the stuff they put in there. Brake fuel. Baby shampoo. Cooking oil. Anything they could find."

Cops from the Phoenix Police Department discovered the scene while the Diazes were away, tipped off by a neighbor who reported an open front door. Actually, the perpetrators got in by forcing a laundry door in the back. Along with other vulgarities — including a drawing of a Mexican mowing a lawn and drinking beer, random drawings of penises, graffiti that read "Pay back is a bitch, wetback," crude "SS" symbols, and the words "white power" painted on the TV and carpet — there was a note from one of the villains (assuming there was more than one), thanking Diaz for letting them party in his house while he was away.

Since Univision broke the story not long after the Diazes returned, some normalcy has returned to their home. Orlando Diaz has painted over, or cleaned off, all the offending images, including a swastika and "14/88" on a table in his children's bedroom. He sometimes checks in with the police to see how the investigation is going. The Phoenix cops are looking at it as a hate crime. They lifted prints from several items, including a child's doll hung from the ceiling with a meat cleaver stuck in its neck.

Diaz shared photos of the destruction and vandalism. He said his wife initially wanted to abandon the home and move into an apartment. And after seeing the images, I can understand why. He prevailed upon her not to move, that it was their house and they had to go on with their lives.

But the mental scars are still fresh. The children have asked him why they were targeted, but he has no definite answers. The Bonaventure Mobile Home Community is mixed, with both Anglo and Mexican families. His neighbors across the street are Hispanic. And he related that he's had no beefs with anyone who would have done this to his home.

For the bigoted nativists out there who are no doubt wondering, Diaz is an American citizen, born in Chicago. His wife is a legal permanent resident. Their children, including a cute, playful toddler of a year and a half, were all born in Arizona. Diaz is a social worker. His wife is employed by a company that cleans buildings.

They moved from the west side of Phoenix to the mobile home park because it was supposed to be a better area. But now, he has trouble sleeping at night. You can see that in his eyes, even before he tells you.

"If I go to sleep with my kids, I don't know what's going to happen," he admits with a worried look. "They might start a fire, or start throwing rocks in the windows. What's going to be the next step?"

SWASTIKA RISING

I can't dismiss what's happened to the Diazes as a random incident, even if it turns out to be the work of a neighborhood delinquent. Anecdotally, I hear of too many occurrences involving hate groups or white supremacists. Whether it's a local member of the National Socialist Movement boasting on the neo-Nazi site Stormfront.org that he and his pals will be fliering Phoenix with hate literature; a skinhead barbecue in Papago Park; last September's neo-Nazi Oi Fest in Tonopah, featuring white-power bands; or accounts of the infiltration of more mainstream conservative groups by local skinheads.

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