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Photo by Jack GouldThe sun sets, and a knot of Latino activists forms in the parking lot of the Garden Grove Women's Civic Club. They're clearly afraid to enter the building. Twenty feet away is the reason for their apprehension: a hulking man with glaring eyes, a massive beer gut, and a grizzled ZZ-Top beard who looks like he's waiting for them to make a move for the door. A foot-long hunting knife hangs from his belt.
The activists are members of LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens. The knife-wielder is a member of the fanatical California Coalition for Immigration Reform (CCIR), which is about to hold its July 26 meeting inside the Women's Civic Club.
CCIR has one purpose: getting rid of all illegal immigrants, especially those from Mexico. The Huntington Beach-based group established its credentials in 1994, when group founder Barbara Coe helped draft and pass Proposition 187, the controversial state initiative denying medical benefits and social services to undocumented residents.
Thanks to the intervention of nearby police officers, the mean-looking fellow reluctantly locks his knife in the trunk of his car and stalks inside the building. He's quickly followed by the 10 Latino activists, drawn inside by the promise of a speech by "officer and patriot" Harald Martin, the Anaheim cop and Anaheim high school district board member famous for trying (unsuccessfully as it turned out) to sue Mexico for the cost of educating undocumented children in the city's schools.
Inside, the meeting hall is mostly empty. Little old white ladies with white hair sit at tables displaying a mind-boggling array of CCIR memorabilia, everything from bumper stickers that read, "Pat Buchanan for President" and, "Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy: Member" to NRA brochures and videotapes.
There are maybe 30 empty folding chairs in the room; the Latinos sit closest to the door.
A half-hour late, the meeting finally starts.
Other than little old ladies, there appear to be three kinds of CCIR members: from oldest to youngest, they include white-haired American Legion types; guys who look like militia members, their massive bellies straining at T-shirts decorated with American flags and bald eagles; and scrawny, tattoo-wearing extras from Hot Seat With Wally George, busily setting up the sound system.
After the Pledge of Allegiance, Coe brings up one of the first items on the agenda: a vote as to whether CCIR should send a small delegation to the Los Angeles Democratic Convention later this month.
"When we show up in our robes, we'll really be getting our message across," she argues.Robes? Several Latino eyebrows go sky-high. But evidently, Coe is referring to monk's robes, not the other, white kind, though it's unclear why the group would wear monk's robes.
One of the militia guys wants nothing of it. He says his fellow "patriots" (his word) have infiltrated an anarchist group in LA, and they tell him the convention is going to be a bloodbath. He hints conspiratorially of such possibilities as a biological-warfare attack carried out by government agents-provocateurs.
The evening's first speaker is Stacy Polk, a former TRW employee recently fired—"wrongfully terminated," a CCIR flier asserts—after sending an e-mail to La Voz de Aztlan, a Latino website based in Whittier. In the e-mail, Polk referred to recent tumults in New York City's Central Park and outside LA's Staples Center, warning that "we're sick of the immature, violent behavior of the 'newer' citizens."
To much cheering, Polk tearfully—and breathlessly—recounts her story of "reverse-racist" victimization, pointing out at least seven times that she grew up in New Mexico with a Hispanic father who served his country in World War II and would be proud of her if he were still alive. But Polk screwed up, apparently discovering the website while at work and e-mailing La Voz de Aztlan in a way that identified TRW as the departure point of her message. Thanks to the e-mail, Polk is now a single mother without a job, and it's hard not to feel a little sorry for her—not impossible, mind you, given her willing transformation from desk jockey to race-baiting, anti-immigration crusader.
When Polk finally exhales, Martin takes the stand, slick and respectable in his khakis and Earth Shoes. Amid thunderous applause, he begins his speech the way he always does—with the requisite disclaimer that he doesn't speak for the Anaheim Police Department or the Anaheim Union High School District, on which he is a board member, just for himself.
That accomplished, Martin launches into an hourlong autobiography, a story of his struggle to become what he is today, which is to say perhaps one of the scariest anti-immigrant demagogues anywhere in the continental United States.
According to Martin, his journey began when he became the first community-based police officer in Anaheim's Jeffrey-Lynne neighborhood, which he described as the "top narcotics area" in Orange County. Martin says he created the first tenant-owner committee in the neighborhood and was responsible for a 90 percent drop in crime.
He was well-loved in the largely Latino community, he says. "I gained 15 pounds because everyone in that neighborhood wanted me to come in and have meals with them because they knew that I didn't care what language they spoke or what color their skin is or anything along those lines," Martin declares.
But the era of good feeling ended and Martin's metamorphosis began during a lunchtime meeting with two Hispanic activists. The meeting was called to discuss how to finish the job of cleaning up Jeffrey-Lynne. After 45 minutes of lunchtime talk, he recalls, nothing had been accomplished. "One looked at the other, the other looked at me," Martin said. "The meeting was over—and I left."
Martin suggests that his truncated lunch was a cataclysmic moment in his relationship with the Latino community. He boasts that he followed it by single-handedly bringing the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) into the Anaheim city jail. (In December 1997, President Bill Clinton signed a new law taking Martin's Anaheim-INS jail program nationwide, bringing it to 100 other city and county jails around the country.) Martin's biggest crowd-pleaser was his claim that groups like LULAC have no interest in fighting "illegals" because they want to "set up a string of Little Tijuanas and South Americas all up and down California."
"We aren't blinded by political-correctness blinders in this group," Martin tells his rapt audience, sparking yet another obligatory eruption of hand-clapping. The Latino activists in the audience are an island of bored silence.
Martin saved his best material for last, urging CCIR to help him launch a movement in Orange County that will "allow police officers to arrest illegals simply for being illegal." Martin made no effort to explain how officers would distinguish "illegals" from legal immigrants. But if he gets his way, anybody who looks Mexican could face a future of constant harassment by cops demanding proof of citizenship. Martin sees the plan in grand scope, beginning with door-to-door signature-gathering and city council resolutions—one city at a time, until every cop in the county is part of Martin's army.
Like Polk, Martin continuously denies he's a racist as he outlines what amounts to a straightforward campaign of ethnic cleansing by law-enforcement officers. Early in his speech, for example, he cites government statistics he says prove there are already 7 million to 8 million illegal immigrants in the country from all over the world—"Canada, Germany, wherever," he adds. But by the end of his speech, the Europeans disappear and the "7 [million] or 8 million" illegal immigrants are all Mexican. Martin is back on his favorite topic:evil Mexico, Mexican corruption, and the all-important need to close the border. He promises that if his idea of using cops to perform INS duties takes off in Orange County, it can go nationwide—just like his INS jail program. "Ultimately, we can send 7 [million] to 8 million illegal aliens back to Mexico," he estimates, forgetting his own math.
Martin takes questions, but the meeting quickly breaks up when most of the hands raised are on the LULAC side of the room. Outside in the parking lot, I approach Art Jacques, a CCIR member decked out in a black cowboy hat, black bandana, black shirt and black slacks. He's wearing mirrored sunglasses and has a pencil-thin moustache, Vicente Fernandez-style. From what I can tell, he's CCIR's only Mexican-American member. I ask him why he joined. "You either love America or get the hell out," he exclaims, watching the LULAC members exit the Garden Grove Women's Civic Club.
As I walk to my car, a frantic-looking woman follows me, trying to get me to interview her about why she joined CCIR. She tells me she doesn't like "the illegals" because they bring roosters into her community. Whenever she gets the chance, she says, she tries to talk to "the illegals" about why they hate America and love Mexico so much. She tells me her favorite question to them is, "Where would you be without the USA?"
In case I don't understand, she offers another example. "I also go up to black people and ask them, 'Hey, where would you be without slavery?" she explains.
"I mean, think about it!"