Hate Groups Turn Focus on Hispanic Immigrants
Majority of crimes not reported to law enforcement
Organized hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan have historically terrorized Blacks, Jews, homosexuals and others around the country. But the recent influx of Hispanic immigrants to the Southeast has given White supremacist groups a new target, and officials say Hispanics are increasingly becoming targets of hate crimes.
Former Klansman Daniel Schertz, a 27-year-old from the southeast Tennessee town of South Pittsburg, was indicted in June on charges of building pipe bombs to kill Hispanic immigrants.
Imperial Wizard Billy Jeffery of the North Georgia White Knights denied any connection to the bomb plot and says he banished Schertz from the group, but he readily admits he isn’t happy with the flow of immigrants to the region.
“The Blacks fought for their civil rights. These illegal immigrants are coming in here and having everything just handed to them,” Jeffery says.
Advocates say there are no precise statistics on hate crimes against Hispanics. Victims don’t always call the police because of their sometimes precarious immigration status.
“People feel they will not be protected, and they are risking deportation,” says John Bernstein, director of federal policy at the National Immigration Law Center in Washington. “That is more and more a problem with hate crimes.”
Hate crimes against Hispanic immigrants have been common in other parts of the country, but Southern states saw their Hispanic populations boom in the 1990s. Arkansas’ Hispanic population rose by 337 percent during the decade, Georgia’s by 300 percent, Tennessee’s by 278 percent and South Carolina’s by 211 percent.
One of the first signs of organized anti-Hispanic activity in the South occurred in Gainesville, Ga., in 1998, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama group that tracks hate crimes.
The American Knights of the KKK held a rally on the Hall County Courthouse steps, followed by a cross-burning in nearby Winder. A few years later, in 2001, the nation’s largest Neo-Nazi organization, the National Alliance, staged a rally in Hall County.
Santos Aguilar of the Alianza Del Pueblo, an advocacy center for immigrants in Knoxville, Tenn., said he believes the number of hate groups taking aim at immigrants continues to grow.
“The majority of the crimes are not reported to the law enforcement agencies,” he says.
While a member of the North Georgia White Knights, Schertz took two men shopping for bomb-making materials at a home improvement store, unaware that the two were an undercover federal agent and a confidential informant.
Schertz is charged with teaching and demonstrating how to make a weapon of mass destruction and interstate transport of explosive material with intent to kill or injure. He is being held without bond.
Schertz’s attorney, Mike Caputo, declined to comment on the charges, but says he is working on a plea agreement. He says Schertz is a military veteran and has no previous criminal record.
His Klan leader, Jeffery, says Schertz was thrown out of the Klan for unrelated disobedience in mid-May — weeks after the alleged bomb making and selling in April.
“We kicked him out for breaking his oath that he swore before God,” Jeffery, 43, says. “We are not a violence-making group, and we don’t believe in that. This isn’t the ’50s and ’60s.”
— Associated Press
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