On July 7, around 2:20 in the morning, a white man walked out of a Costa Mesa convenience store and punched a black man in a wheelchair.
The black man had plenty of warning, and not just because his assailant—later identified as Ronald Bray, 25, a white supremacist from Huntington Beach with several outstanding parole violations—first yelled racial epithets and spit at him, but because the black man was in Costa Mesa, the self-proclaimed "City With a Heart."
It's a good bet that slogans arise out of suppressed anxiety, and Costa Mesa probably wouldn't have to call its attention to a heart if it actually had one. But led by Alan Mansoor, Costa Mesa, the "City Where the Inferiority Complex Is King," is headed for trouble.
Mansoor is mayor of Costa Mesa, and it's worth noting that he's the son of Swedish and Egyptian immigrants. He's brought his own special neuroses to a city already nuts about keeping up with next-door neighbor Newport Beach. Mansoor's demand that city cops enforce federal immigration laws has provoked boycotts and demonstrations. It's also made the 41-year-old Mansoor an honorary member of the Minuteman Project, the Orange County-based militia.
But the problem goes deeper than a mayor. According to an account in the hometown Daily Pilotnewspaper, a Costa Mesa city councilwoman contacted about the July 7 attack seemed surprised. "[This] is a diverse city and, overall, a tolerant community," Katrina Foley reportedly said. "It's unfortunate because it's certainly not reflective of the community that I live in on a daily basis."
Just last month, a white supremacist newspaper—The White Patriot Leaderof Springfield, Missouri—was thrown onto driveways in the College Park neighborhood—even though no one there presumably subscribes to The White Patriot Leader. The paper's front-page headline: "Invasion!" in large type above photos of marchers at immigration-rights rallies.
Other racist literature has been stuffed into the daily newspapers around town in the past.
The Holocaust-denying Institute for Historical Review (IHR) has been based in Costa Mesa for years. In October 2004, IHR director Mark Weber introduced infamous British historian David Irving to a crowd of about 70 in a Costa Mesa hotel. In February, 67-year-old Irving was found guilty in Vienna of denying the Holocaust of European Jewry and was sentenced to three years in prison.
In July 2002, Los Angeles Times columnist Dana Parsons traced an Aryan Baby Drive to a Costa Mesa post office box. Turns out that white babies with Hitler mustaches were not being given away. This was a one-woman baby-clothing drive for poor, racist honkys.
Thanks in part to the efforts of the Costa Mesa chapter of Women for Aryan Unity, word spread in 2001 about a Labor Day weekend concert featuring a slate of neo-Nazi bands at the old Shack in Anaheim.
Years ago, the Anti-Defamation League tracked an attack in a Costa Mesa video arcade to the Nazi Low Riders, a group known for recruiting new members at pool halls, bars, fast-food joints, high schools and arcades.
Martin H. Millard, dubbed one of Orange County's Scariest People by this very publication, is a Costa Mesa real estate agent who has published numerous racist rants on www.nationalvanguard.org, a "beacon of hope to white men, women and children around the world," and the website for the Council of Conservative Citizens, a front group for politically inclined Klansmen. Here is vintage "H. Millard" (his pen name) on "The Tan Man" born from unchecked immigration and intermarriage:
"What will emerge will be just be a slimy, brown mass of glop. The genocide being carried out against white people hasn't come with marching armies; instead, it has come with propaganda that is calculated to brainwash whites into happily and willingly jumping into the Neo-Melting Pot, and to their destruction. . . . Genocide via the bedroom chamber is just as long-lasting as genocide via the gas chamber."
The Weekly's Nick Schou wrote about Millard's uncomfortably close ties to Mansoor ("Mr. Clean," Oct. 9, 2002) when Mansoor was just a county deputy sheriff running for City Council. Over the years, Mansoor has appointed Millard to city committees and accepted his recommendations to "clean up" Costa Mesa's predominantly Latino Westside, including shuttering a job center he lambasted as a magnet for undocumented workers. Ironically, the job center was created to move day workers out of a city park frequented by caravans of contractor trucks.
In that recent Daily Pilot, police Sergeant Marty Carver concedes that several white supremacist gangs operate in the city. Experts agree. Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, which monitors hate crimes nationwide, said Costa Mesa has been on his organization's radar as a hotspot for intolerance going back several years, and the town's relatively recent emergence as an anti-immigrant bastion now ranks it alongside such backwaters as San Bernardino and Avon Park, Florida.
"There is no question Costa Mesa is a microcosm of the worst that's going on with immigration in this country," Potok said.
Hate crimes often fester in communities where racially charged issues are being publicly debated, he added.
"As a general matter, when people in positions of authority vilify and demonize groups of people, you do see an uptick of hate crimes against those very people in that community," Potok said. "Pat Robertson does not hit gay people with baseball bats, but other people do after hearing Pat Robertson bash gays. The same goes for Costa Mesa."
Rusty Kennedy, executive director of the Orange County Human Relations Commission, was unaware of the Costa Mesa convenience store incident until he was contacted by the Weekly, but agreed there's a connection between racial intolerance in the halls of power and hate crimes in the streets.
"You tend to see over time a high correlation with public debates—particularly when they get real nasty—and a rise in incidents in that community," Kennedy said.
He cited the uproar over the Rodney King beating leading to more hate crimes against African-Americans. When the Japanese were blamed for undermining the American auto industry in the mid-1980s, Kennedy noted, Asians were attacked. After 9/11, Muslims were targeted.
"When the debate on immigrants gets more and more hostile, and the vilifying of immigrants gets more acceptable, you see the fringes of society acting out their own odious beliefs with hate crimes," Kennedy said. "It's not like those engaged in the public debate are themselves perpetrating hate crimes, but the fringes of society feel newly emboldened when the public discourse comes down to certain name calling and hostility."
Of course, the July 7 attack involved non-immigrants: a white man and a black man. Despite their numerically small population, African-Americans are the most frequently targeted victims of hate crimes in Orange County, but Kennedy said his commission's figures show such incidents against blacks have decreased. There were 152 hate crimes and other incidents in OC in 2004 and again in 2005, but while 28 were directed at African-Americans in '04, only 22 were logged in '05.
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Indeed, hate crimes decreased against all ethnic groups last year—except one.
"The one community that experienced a significant increase in the number of hate crimes and incidents was the Latino community, where we documented over a 100 percent increase, from six in 2004 to 14 in 2005," Kennedy said. "We believe this is connected with backlash against immigrants based on the hostile and divisive public debate on immigration over the last year."
As the Republican Party hitches its re-election trailer to immigration reform and gay marriage, Kennedy suggests those debating the issues stick to the facts without spouting rhetoric that demonizes individuals.
"We should use 'undocumented resident' instead of 'alien,' which makes someone sound not even human," he said. "And no one should be called illegal because there is no such thing as an illegal person. Only acts can be illegal."