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

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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.

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