Hate from Within: America's Home-Grown Terrorism

Human Rights

As cities and towns across the country watched the immigrant rights marches last week, some saw a spike in violent attacks targeting immigrants. In separate incidents, authorities arrested groups and individuals caught stockpiling grenades, semi-automatic weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition in preparation for attack on immigrants. Immigrant rights advocates say the series of incidents and reports indicates what they are calling a very dangerous trend that they believe is fueled by the anti-immigrant climate.

In addition to the well-reported incidents involving police violence against immigrants in Los Angeles, last week's less publicized incidents and reports involving actual and potential violence against immigrants and their supporters included:

  • The arrest and indictment of six members of the Alabama Free Militia who, according to federal authorities, were allegedly preparing to attack Mexican immigrants near Birmingham, Ala. with grenades, semi-automatic weapons and 2,500 rounds of ammunition confiscated during a recent raid by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

  • Washington, D.C., area police arrested Tyler J. Froatz Jr., a 24 year-old man wielding a gun as he allegedly attacked marchers at a local immigration rally last Tuesday. U.S. Park police say Froatz had two knives, a hammer, a flare gun, a taser stun gun and pepper spray when they captured him. A subsequent police search of Froatz's apartment yielded 15 guns, a Molotov cocktail, a grenade and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition, according to authorities.

  • An early morning fire last Thursday at Casa de Maryland, a day-labor center near Gaithersburg, Md. was declared an arson incident by Montgomery County fire investigators. Representatives of Casa de Maryland, which received regular hate phone calls and emails prior to the incident, were reported in The Washington Post as calling the incident a hate crime and a "natural consequence to the ongoing debate over immigration." County executive Isaiah Leggett called it "shameful and despicable."

Each of these incidents represents an alarming development in and of themselves. But together, advocates like Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, say they represent a potentially catastrophic turn in the already heated politics of immigration. "This is very dangerous and deeply troubling - but not a surprise," says Salas, whose organization has documented an increase in hate crimes in the Los Angeles area. "These crimes are not just happening because of the organized hate groups," adds Salas. "It's also happening because of the (anti-immigrant) climate created by irresponsible politicians and media personalities like Lou Dobbs who use their bully pulpits ... against a specific population. This gives the green light to every crazy to do physical harm to immigrants as if it's their civic duty."

She and other immigrant leaders fear that the lack of official condemnation of, and the lack of media attention to, these violent attacks against immigrants has created a national numbness to threats to immigrant life.

With the exception of the LAPD violence, little attention has been paid to the other incidents across the country, outside of a few local stories (in Los Angeles, Washington, Maryland and Birmingham) and a few Spanish and other foreign language reports. And, with the exception of condemnations of the police incident by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Congresswoman Hilda Solis and other elected officials, no single politician of national stature or presidential candidate has said anything about what some analysts say is the exponential growth of violence against immigrants. A report released last week by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups and hate crimes, found that, "The last two years have seen the birth of at least 144 'nativist extremist' groups -- organizations that do not merely target immigration policies they don't agree with, but instead confront or harass individual immigrants."

Commenting on what she considers the dangerous inversion of values behind the attacks, Salas said, "Because it's immigrants being threatened and targeted with violence, this is not a big story. It's only a story for immigrants."

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