Even as millions of people demonstrated across the United States Monday to call for amnesty for the nation's 11 million undocumented workers, other events have shed more heat than light and have turned into boisterous anti-immigrant gatherings where violence against immigrants has become a rallying cry. On April 27 -- four days before a mass movement that included undocumented workers, legal immigrants and U.S. citizens who refused to go to work or school in observation of the “Great American Boycott” -- more than 1,000 people attended an anti-immigrant meeting called “Demagnetize America” in Franklin, Tennessee.
Those in attendance heard Nashville radio talk show host Phil Valentine say that he thought that U.S. Border Patrol Agents should consider shooting undocumented immigrants as they come across the border.
According to the news story posted at the Web site of the Center for New Community's Building Democracy Initiative, Susan Tully, the national field director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) -- present at the event – “chuckled at the idea, while the large crowd erupted into applause.”
The meeting was hosted by Valentine and broadcast over SuperTalk 99.7 WTN radio.
Devin Burghart, an expert on nativism at the Chicago-based civil rights organization, said an interview that the Center for New Community “was the first organization to report on Valentine's shooting remark.”
According to Burghart, the center has received a number of reports of veiled threats of violence coming from radio talk show hosts in other parts of the country as well.
“In early March, Brian James, a fill-in talk radio show host with Phoenix AM radio station KFYI, suggested on the air that a solution to the immigration problem in Arizona would be to kill undocumented immigrants as they cross the border. ‘What we'll do is randomly pick one night every week where we will kill whoever crosses the border,’ James said in the broadcast. ‘Step over there and you die. You get to decide whether it's your lucky night or not. I think that would be more fun.’”
Burghart pointed out that “James said that he'd be ‘happy to sit there with my high-powered rifle and my night scope’ and kill people as they cross the border. He also suggested that the National Guard shoot illegal immigrants and receive ‘$100 a head.’”
Even worse than the increasingly violent rhetoric is the marked increase in violent incidents, most recently exemplified by “the brutal attack in the Houston suburb of Spring, Texas, where two white power skinheads attacked a 16-year-old Latino, brutally sexually assaulting him with a PVC pipe, and stomping his head with their boots while cursing him as being a Mexican,” Burghart said.
Recently, two civil rights organizations, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Anti- Defamation League (ADL), issued reports documenting the rise in both violence and the threat of violence against undocumented immigrants.
The SPLC reported that Laine Lawless of the anti-immigrant group, the Border Guardians, has repeatedly called for violence against undocumented workers.
An e-mail dated April 3 and sent to Mark Martin, commander of the Western Ohio unit of the National Socialist Movement, was titled, “How to GET RID OF THEM!”
According to SPLC's report, Lawless, who was an original member of Chris Simcox's vigilante militia before it became the Minuteman Project in early 2005, suggested a number of ways to harass and terrorize undocumented immigrants, including robbery and “beating up illegals” as they leave their workplace. “Make every illegal alien feel the heat of being a person without status... I hear the rednecks in the South are beating up illegals as the textile mills have closed. Use your imagination,” Lawless wrote.
“Discourage Spanish-speaking children from going to school. Be creative,” she said.
“Create an anonymous propaganda campaign warning that any further illegal immigrants will be shot, maimed or seriously messed-up upon crossing the border. This should be fairly easy to do, considering the hysteria of the Spanish language press, and how they view the Minutemen as ‘racists and vigilantes.’”
In its report entitled “Extremists Declare ‘Open Season’ on Immigrants: Hispanics Target of Incitement and Violence,” the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) examines “how white supremacists, racist skinheads and others identifying with far-right extremist groups are using the national debate over immigration reform as a means to encourage likeminded racists to speak out, or even commit violent acts against immigrants.”
“It is time to shine the spotlight on those who have seized upon the immigration debate as an opportunity to advance their agenda of hate, bigotry and white supremacy,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL national director. “This report reminds us that there is a direct connection between the national policy debate and the atmosphere surrounding the daily lives of immigrants. Extremist groups are seeking to exploit the flow of foreign workers into this country to spread a message of xenophobia, to promote hateful stereotypes and to incite bigotry and violence against Hispanics, regardless of their status as citizens.”
While the overwrought Phil Valentine and Brian James, and a handful of neo-Nazi groups have openly advocated violence against the undocumented, anti-immigrant politicos and several cable news television personalities have contributed to the increasingly toxic climate.
On April 24, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a longtime media watchdog group, issued a press release pointing out that anti-immigrant fervor was being stirred up on a regular basis by Lou Dobbs, the host of CNN's nightly program “Lou Dobbs Tonight.”
FAIR pointed out that “Dobbs' tone on immigration is consistently alarmist; he warns his viewers of Mexican immigrants who see themselves as an ‘army of invaders’ intent upon re-annexing parts of the Southwestern United States to Mexico, announces that ‘illegal alien smugglers and drug traffickers are on the verge of ruining some of our national treasures,’ and declares that ‘the invasion of illegal aliens is threatening the health of many Americans’ through ‘deadly imports’ of diseases like leprosy and malaria.”
Jack Cafferty, a CNN personality who contributes to the afternoon program The Situation Room, “has attacked and belittled immigrants' rights protesters while ignoring or dismissing their concerns several times in recent weeks.”
When asked about the increase in violent rhetoric and incidents against undocumented immigrants, Burghart said that, “Unable to muster even a fraction of the numbers that immigrant rights supporters have turned out, and fearful that Congress will pass some form of a ‘guest worker’ program, the ramp up of these calls to violence is symptomatic of a nativist movement that has grown increasingly desperate and ever more radical.”
“This new nativism is grounded in violence: from the hysterical ‘invasion’ and ‘civil war’ rhetoric, to the racist ‘reconquista’ conspiracy theories, to the dehumanizing of immigrants, to the calls to form militias to 'round up' immigrants and worse. It's always been there, the current context has just pushed that violent undercurrent to the surface.”
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange.com column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.
Other Recent Articles by Bill Berkowitz
John Hagee Spearheads Christians United for Israel