A new spin on hate

By: - August 10, 2005 5:08 am

Greensboro News & Record

A new chapter in the ugly history of hate groups apparently is being written, with the Southeast playing an increasing role in going after a new target: Hispanics.

The June indictment of former Klansman Daniel Schertz, of southeast Tennessee, on charges of building pipe bombs to kill Hispanic immigrants, recently shone light on this shameful trend.

Acts of vandalism and intimidation directed toward Hispanics, reminiscent of past assaults on blacks and Jews, also have made headlines this year in towns such as Maryville, Tenn., and Hamilton, Ohio.

Anti-immigrant sentiment may have taken less overt forms here in North Carolina, but it undeniably exists. Perhaps most notably so far this year, it flared in reactions to a bill that proposed in-state tuition at colleges and universities for illegal immigrants meeting certain criteria.

Such hostile responses, directed at legislators who supported the bill and other advocates, reflect tensions that have risen across the state and region since Hispanic immigrants, legal and illegal, began coming to the South in unprecedented numbers in the 1990s.

Of course, there’s a difference between hateful speech and documented acts of violence. But as noted by David Lubell of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, the supremacist rhetoric of hate groups can encourage violent acts. "It is what happened in the civil rights movement. All of a sudden it is acceptable to incite hatred of immigrants, whether Latino, or from Africa, or Asia or wherever."

As troubling and unacceptable as that is in 2005, we should be equally disturbed if, as immigrant advocates believe, occurrences of hate crimes against Hispanics are hard to measure because they are underreported for fear of deportation or retaliation.

Or because, according to Ilana Dubester of Hispanic Liaison, a nonprofit assistance group in Siler City, authorities choose not to characterize some incidents as hate crimes — even when Hispanics have been targeted for attack by non-Latinos and racial slurs have been used during the attacks.

Dubester can recall several such cases in Chatham County over the last few years and said they contribute to a general fear of reporting crime in the area’s Hispanic community. "It paralyzes a community that’s already marginalized and living in an underground economy and world."

Dubester’s comments speak to an old and odious strategy. And there’s only one word for retooling that strategy for a new target: evil.

Klan leader Billy Jeffery, who banished Schertz from the North Georgia White Knights and denies any connection to Schertz’s bombing plot, says "illegal immigrants are coming in here and having everything just handed to them." That thinking conveniently ignores the realities of the country’s inconsistent immigration policy and dependence on the labor of undocumented workers.

More importantly, frustration with illegal immigration can never justify the tactics of terror practiced by hate groups. Their new spin on hate may find a few foot soldiers, in the South and elsewhere, for now. But as history shows, time is not on their side.

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066