THE BLOG
06/19/2009 12:28 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Mainstream Extremism

by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ali Frick, Ryan Powers, and Ian Millhiser

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This week, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund released a new report tying the immigration debate's vitriolic rhetoric to the growing number of hate crimes against Latinos and "perceived immigrants." The report warned of a connection between hate crime incidents, extremist anti-immigrant groups and hateful anti-immigrant rhetoric's "infiltration of the mainstream media." Concerns arose late last year when FBI statistics showed another sharp increase in hate crimes targeting Latinos for the fourth year in a row. Shortly thereafter, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a controversial report warning that the frustration of right-wing extremist groups "over a perceived lack of government action on illegal immigration" might incite violence. Right-wing pundits and politicians quickly attacked the report, calling it "laughable" and "funny." Less than a month later, no one is laughing about DHS's warnings. In what appears to be a chain of hate-related violence, Shawna Forde, an Arizona Minuteman leader and head of the Minuteman American Defense (MAD) group, and two of her associates were charged this week with murdering a nine-year-old Hispanic girl and her father. The trio allegedly broke into a home dressed as law enforcement officers looking for money and drugs to finance the Minutemen group. The same week that the Leadership Fund's report issued its warnings, information arose tying Forde to prominent Republican leaders and mainstream anti-immigration organizations.

A TSUNAMI WAVE OF VIOLENCE: Hate crimes against Latinos have been rising for four consecutive years, jumping from 426 to 595 incidents in the last year alone with a 40 percent overall increase between 2003 and 2007. It soon became apparent that Forde's alleged crime was much more than a robbery. Forde's family reports that she had long been railing against immigrants and threatening to start "a revolution against the United States government." A chilling video appeared of Forde pledging her commitment to fight immigration: "We will not stop until we get the results that we need to have." DNA tests have also linked Forde's alleged accomplice, Jackson Eugene Bush, with the murder of a Latino homeless man in 1997. Suspicion arose after he bragged to police informants about "killing a Mexican." Several other alleged hate crime defendants faced sentencing this week. Two men who admitted to pouring a flammable liquid in the shape of a cross and the letters "KKK" on the front lawn of a home leased by an African-American and his Hispanic wife were sentenced to 41 and 51 months in federal prison. An 18-year-old who pled no-contest to tying a noose around the neck of a Hispanic 17-year-old and dragging him several feet while tied to a truck was sentenced to only 10 days in jail. And two white male teens were sentenced to serve 7 to 23 month sentences for their roles in the brutal murder of Mexican immigrant, Luis Ramirez. The jury foreman, witnesses, and legal experts all condemned the all-white jury's overall verdict.

MAINSTREAM BACKING: The Leadership Fund's report calls out the anti-immigration groups Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and NumbersUSA for their negative portrayal of immigrants and their links with extremists. A disturbing video of Forde speaking on behalf of FAIR was leaked on Wednesday. Forde also served as the 2008-2009 Border Director for Jim Gilchrist's Minuteman Civil Defense Corps' splinter group, the Minuteman project. Gilchrist has appeared as a guest on CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight and Fox News's Glenn Beck and Hannity & Colmes. It has also surfaced that Shawna Forde co-hosted "the pinnacle Conservative event of 2007," which featured Gilchrist along with GOP presidential candidates Duncan Hunter and Fred Thompson. Tancredo made sure to send a representative from his campaign and a letter extending his regrets for being unable to attend the "Illegal Immigration Summit." Tancredo's campaign chair has dismissed the letter as a "boiler plate" response.

GOVERNMENT-REGULATED DISCRIMINATION: In the absence of federal immigration reform, state governments have started taking action. But many of their attempts at immigration enforcement encourage massive discrimination and fan the flames of racism. This week, the senate in Forde's home state of Arizona passed a bill that would expand the state's trespassing law to include immigrants who enter the country without documents. Oklahoma's state legislature passed a law last month that will require arrested undocumented immigrants to submit a DNA sample before they are even convicted of a crime. Georgia has passed a law prohibiting community policing policies that help police maintain cooperative relationships with immigrant communities. MSNBC has also documented a recent "revival" of the controversial pro-English movement, which some say is motivated by anti-immigrant sentiment and reeks of "self defeating" "simple racism." Meanwhile, the recent wave of hate crimes has prompted Attorney General Eric Holder to renew his call for expanding hate crime legislation. The Matthew Shepard Act has passed the House of Representatives and is currently being held up in the Senate by right-wing resistance.