“The illegals who come here… don’t want to be American, they want to destroy our form of government.”
This was part of a speech made by State Senator Sylvia Allen at a Support Russell Pearce rally in October of last year. She spoke about illegal immigration and prefaced the quote above as part of a “La Raza mentality,” inferring that La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights organization, is working to destroy our government.
Though some may dismiss her rant as nothing more than a partisan speech to galvanize an anti-immigrant base, others are starting to question if extremist language, such as this, is encouraging the hate groups in Arizona.
I ask, how could it not?
Since last week’s murder of four individuals by known neo-Nazi J.T. Ready, the media has focused on the rise of hate groups in Arizona. And what motivates these hate groups? Illegal immigration.
Because Arizona is ground zero in the battle over immigration reform, we are also ground zero in the recruitment of White supremacists who worry that non-European immigrants will have a majority status in America.
Lawmakers such as Allen use language that not only promotes these ideas but also brings them into mainstream politics. How many times have we heard Tea Party legislators speak about the “invasion of illegals?” How many times have we heard these same lawmakers speak encouragingly about armed border militias?
J.T. Ready was head of an armed militia that patrolled the border and was identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. Recently, Glenn Spencer, the founder of another border militia that is classified as a hate group, was asked to speak to Arizona’s Senate Committee on Border Security, Federalism and States’ Sovereignty.
Spencer was invited by Senator Allen and Senator Al Melvin (a former member of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps) to speak as an expert on border security even though the Anti-Defamation League had previously warned both senators that Spencer was “an anti-Hispanic, anti-Semitic bigot.”
Spencer promotes a conspiracy theory known as Aztlan, which suggests Mexican immigrants are plotting to take over the American Southwest. Conspiracy theories such as Aztlan as well as the conspiracy theory that President Obama is a Muslim born in another country are other elements known to invigorate hate groups.
The Arizona legislature has no shortage of conspiracy theorists. From sponsoring legislation aimed at stopping a takeover by the United Nations to two failed attempts at passing a ‘birther’ bill, our state lawmakers have spent a great deal of time thwarting imaginary problems.
State Representative Carl Seel actually met with Donald Trump to discuss his ‘birther’ bill and was supported, yet again, by Senators Lori Klein (the lawmaker that read a letter on the floor of the Senate claiming Hispanic students don’t want to be educated but be gang members), Steve Smith, Judy Burgess, and Rick Murphy.
Most of these Republican lawmakers have given their undying support to SB1070 author and former Senate President Russell Pearce. Pearce, as we know, was good friends with J.T. Ready. Though he denies knowing anything about Ready’s involvement in or favorable attitudes toward White supremacy groups, the Regional Director of Arizona’s Anti-Defamation League, Bill Straus, has gone on record saying he warned Pearce about Ready’s activities more than a year before Pearce cut off ties with him.
Fox 10 News ran an in-depth report on Pearce’s ties to Ready as well as an interview in which Ready describes Pearce as a “surrogate father.” You can watch that story here.
By befriending leaders of hate groups and/or classifying them as experts on border security, state legislators help legitimize the views of hate groups. When they use offensive or misleading language to describe civil rights groups or classify undocumented immigrants, lawmakers encourage fear and promote the myths that pervade the immigration discussion.
Our lawmakers may not be part of the White supremacist groups that are infiltrating our state, but I firmly believe some of their words and actions are helping fuel the flames that light the fires of hate.