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?"
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.
Granted, Arizona's notoriety as a battleground state for the pro- and anti-immigration forces sucks the wackos down here like the flush of a giant commode. And the hate the nativists manufacture in Sand Land is sometimes indistinguishable from that of their more brutal, and far more extremist, cousins in white-power circles. There is some overlap, but there's still a difference between a skinhead extremist and your average do-rag-wearin', motorcycle club nativist. Though the line does get blurry.
Three sources bolster my own observations regarding a rise in white supremacist activities and various bias incidents: the Anti-Defamation League of Arizona; the Phoenix Police Department's hate crime stats; and Montgomery, Alabama's Southern Poverty Law Center's report on "The Year in Hate," published in the most recent issue of their magazine, Intelligence Report.
(Also, as The Bird went to press, Reuters was reporting on a new study by Janet Napolitano's Department of Homeland Security on the rise of right-wing hate groups.)
AZ ADL regional director Bill Straus says his organization has been noting the increase for several months. The incidents the ADL's documented for 2008 run the gamut and include synagogues being spray-painted with anti-Jewish epithets and swastikas, the racist tagging of a black woman's home in Mesa, attacks on gays, the vandalism of a Bosnian mosque, and assaults by white supremacists on Native Americans and Hispanics.
There was one incident in which neo-Nazis in north Phoenix tried to cut off a Hispanic man's tattoo depicting American and Chilean flags.
The reasons for this uptick in activity? Straus points to the downturn in the economy and to an influx of neo-Nazis into the Valley who've been successful at sponsoring events and forming, in some cases, roving white gangs. He doesn't think there's a direct connection between the incidents he knows about and the election of Barack Obama, the country's first black president — though on the Internet, there is obvious rage toward Obama from extremists, including far rightists and white nationalists.
"We get the feeling that they're ramping up for something," Straus tells me. Straus was also familiar with the damage inflicted on Orlando Diaz's home. I asked about him about the difference between a hate crime, like at Diaz's residence, versus ordinary vandalism and criminal activity.
"There is no other crime that sends this message," Straus says. "And it doesn't just send the message to Orlando Diaz. It sends the message to every Hispanic person who hears about it."
That message is pretty simple: "You don't belong. Get out or else." It's a form of terrorism, Straus suggests, leveled at anyone who fits the bill. He points out that the ADL has a broad definition of a hate crime, whereas the Phoenix PD works with a stricter definition. On its hate crime stat sheets, the PPD states that "bias" exists if the facts of the case lead a reasonable person to believe that the offender was motivated "in whole or part by bias."
As for a hate crime, it must be established, not just presumed, that the criminal act was motivated by bias. And according to Sergeant Jerry Hill of the Phoenix PD's Bias Crime Detail, hate crimes are on the increase. For 2008, the Phoenix PD reported a record 89 hate crimes to the FBI. That's a 9.9 percent increase over 81 for 2007. And it's an even greater jump from 2006, when there were 60, and 2005, when there were 32.
Hill cited several reasons for the leap in numbers, including population increase, citizens more willing to report such crimes, better data collection, and the ever-present (in Arizona, anyway) "border issues."
The spring edition of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report spots a national trend of a rise in hate groups nationwide, a record 926 last year, up 50 percent from 2000, with 19 in Arizona alone. IR editor Mark Potok, in a commentary published in the latest issue, cites a "white-hot nativist backlash" to the wave of Latino immigration that kicked off in the 1990s. Potok regards the backlash as "largely responsible" for the rise of hate groups and the vicious crimes they spawn.
I am convinced that Potok's logic applies to Arizona, as well. As with the summer's baking heat, many Arizonans are inured to the antics of white-power cretins, racist skinheads, and violent white nationalists. With right-wing demagogues, such as state Senator Russell Pearce, verbally flogging Mexicans continually and with racial profiling becoming de rigueur under the regime of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the voices and activities of more radical, racist forces are somehow subsumed in a sea of intolerance.
ZACK'S COMIN' BACK
The folks who put thousands in Phoenix's streets February 28 to protest Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the 287(g) program are ready to do it again May 2, with Rage Against the Machine frontman Zack de la Rocha slated to participate, as he did before.
The difference this time is that the anti-Arpaio march will start at the Wells Fargo Building downtown, where the sheriff keeps two pricey floors of executive offices. It will end with stops at Joe's Estrella and Durango jails.
"It's to highlight the 287(g) agreement," says Phoenix civil rights leader Salvador Reza of the decision to march to Joe's gulags. "And how 287(g) is being used in the jails. It's also to highlight all the abuses that are going on in there, like with the broken-arm lady, the broken-jaw lady, and anyone else who has been abused in there."
Reza's referring to the fact that the 287(g) program has deputized 160 of Arpaio's men to enforce federal immigration law. Arpaio uses these men not only in his anti-immigrant hunting sweeps and in his worksite raids, but in the jails, where they often coerce and sometimes physically injure undocumented immigrants held pending their transfer to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody.
Examples include undocumented immigrant Maria del Carmen Garcia-Martinez, whose arm was broken while in ICE custody, and undocumented immigrant Alejandra Alvarez, whose jaw and arm were wounded as she was arrested by the MCSO during a worksite raid.
Families of jail inmates have asked for help, said Reza, which is another reason for the march to Estrella and Durango. However, Reza fears Arpaio will take out his anger toward the marchers on the inmates. He explained that a liaison from the Phoenix PD has informed the activists that the MCSO will place the jails in lockdown the day of the march, allowing no visitors, and canceling all outside work details.
"I can see Arpaio trying to make us look like the bad guys," said Reza, whose group PUENTE is spearheading the march along with the L.A.-based National Day Laborer Organizing Network. "They'll claim they have to do it for security reasons, like we're trying to incite a riot or something. We have to send a message to the prisoners that we're doing it for them."
The march will also have some competition. Currently, Radio Campesina and the United Farm Workers have an action planned for April 19, a march to the state Capitol for immigration reform. And on May 1, there will be demonstrations across the country demanding "reform not raids." The worry among some is that the other marches might eat into the total numbers for the march Reza's fronting. But Reza insists he's not worried about turnout.
"Our action is very focused on 287(g) and Arpaio," said Reza, who noted that the demo on April 19 will have a broader message. Also, having De la Rocha return to Phoenix should assist in drawing demonstrators to the May 2 event.
Marchers will begin gathering about 8 a.m. on May 2 at César Chávez Plaza downtown, according to Reza. The march itself will begin at 9 a.m. from the Wells Fargo Building at 100 West Washington Street.
Reza hopes to see ya there, amigos.