Climate of Fear: SB 1070 and Extremist Violence on the Arizona Border

One of the unspoken tragedies and implicit intentions of Arizona's
anti-immigrant law, SB 1070, is the promotion of a climate of fear among
certain segments of the population. This fear-mongering strategy has been
cooked up by the bill's leading proponents and most likely beneficiaries: the
governor, rightwing state legislators, and an unscrupulous sheriff who shall
remain nameless. As the political leadership of a failing state, they should be
squarely on the hot seat, but instead they have managed to deflect scrutiny and
pass the buck down the ladder to the bottom rung instead.

Here in Arizona, constant talk of murders, beheadings, escalating
crime, and a rising tide of violence due to the presence of illegal immigrants
has fanned the flames of terror and suspicion. It is empirically false but
emotionally persuasive, in the true spirit of propaganda and demagoguery. Reporters'
about the propriety of elected officials denigrating their
own state can be sidestepped -- but now, the chickens may be coming home to
roost, as indicated by a recent article in The Daily Beast:

"[T]he fierce debate over Arizona's new migrant
law ... has stirred up the ugly underside of immigration -- hate groups with
nativist and white-supremacist links. Long story short, Arizona's new
immigration law gives 'racism a place to hide,' says Roxanne Doty,
an Arizona State University professor who has long studied
the nexus of white supremacy and immigration policy in Arizona.... 'My view
is you can't separate white supremacists from what is going on
with Arizona immigration," Professor Doty says. "Even if politicians
say they aren't associated with white supremacists, the ideas behind SB 1070
are very attractive to white supremacists....'"

There is mounting evidence to support these claims,
including the presence of avowed neo-Nazis "wearing camouflage and toting high-powered firearms"
while patrolling for -- and detaining -- illegal aliens on the Arizona-Mexico
border. As reported by the Associated Press and reprinted in papers around the state:

'J.T.' Ready
is taking matters into his own hands, declaring war on
'narco-terrorists' and keeping an eye out for illegal immigrants....
group is heavily armed and identifies with the National Socialist
Movement, an
organization that believes only non-Jewish, white heterosexuals should
American citizens and that everyone who isn't white should leave the
country 'peacefully or by force.' ... He and his friends are outfitted
military fatigues, body armor and gas masks, and carry assault rifles.
takes offense at the term 'neo-Nazi,' but admits he identifies with
the National Socialist Movement. 'These are explicit Nazis,' said
Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project.
'These are people who wear swastikas on their sleeves.' Ready is a
reflection of the anger over illegal immigration in Arizona...."

In a series of blogs and articles beginning in
2008, the Phoenix New Times has
documented the rising presence of white supremacists and neo-Nazis in the
state, and their repeated connections with elected officials including the senatorial
sponsor of SB 1070. Some of the more disturbing reports include not only
financial and political intertwining, but also a perverse rapport that is juxtaposed with
visceral images of extremists shouting "sieg heil" at immigrant rights marchers
and wiping imaginary "Mexcrement" (as they called it) on a Mexican flag.

Still, this could all be written off as childish posturing
and low-level hijinks. Except for the fact that hate groups are extremely dangerous,
not only for what they represent but for the acts committed in their name. Recently
in Arizona there have been hate crimes with explicit "white power" fingerprints
on them, the murder of a Hispanic man attributed by
family members to the tensions created by SB 1070, and a robbery-murder enterprise conducted by apparent
vigilantes ostensibly to fund their "border security" operations.

Furthermore, and perhaps most strikingly, there has been
a wave of violence AGAINST undocumented people in the past two years that has
gone largely unnoticed in the furor over SB 1070, as recently reported by the Nogales International:

"Another undocumented
immigrant has been shot in Santa Cruz County. Jose Enedion Acosta-Amaniego, 28, from Culiacan,
Sinaloa, was shot in the back by unidentified assailants as he was walking
through a canyon area west of Rio Rico on July 2, officials said.... A similar attack occurred on June 11 when five illegal
border-crossers were ambushed by two camouflage-clad gunmen near the dead end
of Peck Canyon Drive in Rio Rico. One of the men, Manuel Esquer Gomez, 45, was
shot in the arm as the group fled. Following that attack, Sheriff Antonio
Estrada expressed concern that someone might be targeting undocumented
immigrants in the county solely for the purpose of harming them, not to rob
them.... According to records kept by the Nogales International, more than 50
incidents of borderland robberies and/or assaults have been reported to the
Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office since April 10, 2008. During these
incidents, nearly a dozen people have been shot and at least three have been
killed. Their assailants have been described as men carrying semi-automatic
weapons and wearing black and/or camouflage who lie in ambush on the U.S. side
of the border. Another three cases of sexual assault against undocumented
immigrants have been reported to local authorities, but officials and advocates
say the incidence of the crime is common and most often goes unreported."

Fostering an environment of racialized violence is the
harsh reality of Arizona's drive toward legislated intolerance. For those who
might feel saturated by the incessant news about immigration, or who wonder "what's
the big deal?" about SB 1070 and the like, this is a reminder of the stakes
involved. Will there be a climate of escalating fear, hatred, and violence that
takes over, or will this be a tipping point toward social justice and human
dignity instead? Politics and legalities aside, this is the basic question that
the Arizona dilemma is posing to the nation -- mirroring that which was posed
by Martin Luther King, Jr. almost half a century ago: "Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be
extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?"

The choice lies squarely ahead. No matter what ensues in
the near term, navigating this path will remain our task. In the end, as King
observed, it shall remain the case that "right,
temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant." Time will soon tell.

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