I've been so busy chasing Sand Land neo-Nazis that I haven't had a chance to blog about this April 30 piece on the border fence by Channel 3 reporter Carey Pena. The segment would've been a rather pedestrian report on the 700 miles of border fencing being built because of the 2006 Secure Fence Act, had it not been for Channel 3 using Glenn Spencer of the American Border Patrol as the segment's main talking head.
See, Spencer is an extremist nativist, whose Sierra Vista-based ABP has been denounced as an anti-immigrant hate organization by the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report. Similarly, ABP has been labeled a "virulently anti-Hispanic group" by the Anti-Defamation League in a 2003 analysis entitled, Border Disputes: Armed Vigilantes in Arizona.
SPLC's Intelligence Report notes that Spencer was "one of the first well-known anti-immigration activists to more or less openly court white supremacists and anti-Semites." Spencer's spoken before conferences of American Renaissance magazine, which promotes,"a clear conception of the United States as a nation ruled by and for whites," according to AR's editor Jared Taylor. Spencer also promoted a book on his site by Taylor called The Color of Crime, which posits the false theory that African-Americans and Latinos are more likely to break the law.
The ADL's report on vigilantes is hardly more flattering when it comes to Spencer. It quotes a 1996 letter to the Los Angeles Times from Spencer that states, "the Mexican culture is based on deceit." ADL notes Spencer's fixation on the ludicrous reconquista conspiracy theory, which holds that the Mexican government is using illegal immigration to take over the American southwest. And ADL describes Spencer's alliance with controversial Cochise County rancher Roger Barnett.
Barnett is notorious in southern Arizona for detaining illegal immigrants at gunpoint. Earlier this year, he was found liable in by a federal civil jury for assault and emotional distress, and ordered to pay $77,804 in damages. This is on top of a nearly $100,000 award against Barnett from 2007 in another incident where members of a hunting party sued him for allegedly terrorizing them with an assault rifle.
Spencer's also had his run-ins with the law, as has been detailed at length by area daily The Sierra Vista Herald. The paper reports that in 2003 Spencer was arrested by the Cochise County Sheriff's Department after reports of gun shots coming from Spencer's property. One of Spencer's bullets passed through the walls of a neighbor's garage, damaging a baby crib kept there. Spencer ultimately pleaded guilty to endangerment. He received a year's probation and had to pay a $2,500 fine.
Stranger still, in 2008, Spencer's Cessna 206 was buzzed by two U.S. Air Force F-16s as he apparently crossed into Mexican airspace illegally, according to a Herald report. The incident is highly ironic given Spencer's views on illegal border crossers going in the opposite direction.
But none of these accounts of Spencer's dubious statements and activities were mentioned in Channel 3's report. Instead, Spencer was treated as an authority on the border fence, instead of the fringe nativist that he is.
"Spencer is the founder of the watchdog group American Border Patrol," said Carey Pena in the segment. "He lives near Sierra Vista and spends much of his time in the air flying the border to see how much of the fence is really being built."
Pena even gave Spencer a plug at the end of the report, telling viewers that "for more information on Glenn Spencer's group, you can go to our Web site azfamily.com, just click on the `3 on Your Side' link."
I called up Pena, and asked her about her use of Spencer in the segment. She admitted that she did not know the specifics of Spencer's criminal history, his anti-Mexican statements, or links to white supremacist groups. However, she defended the piece, pointing out that she's Hispanic, and that Channel 3 was committed to presenting different points of view. I encouraged her to contact the ADL and ask its people about Spencer's reputation.
There's nothing wrong with having Spencer be part of a piece on border issues, or allowing him to express his opinion even. But to present him as the member of a "watchdog group," while ignoring Spencer's past, his criminal history, his ties to white supremacists like Jared Taylor of American Renaissance, and Spencer's own bigoted statements and extremist rhetoric, is irresponsible.
Essentially, in this instance, Pena and Channel 3 whitewashed an extremist, and helped promote his cause.
After speaking with Pena, I called her back and left a message asking her to inform me if Channel 3 did any sort of follow-up discussing Spencer's past. I've yet to receive a return call, and I cannot find any evidence that Channel 3 has corrected itself on the Spencer matter.