On the Borderline
*This story was corrected on June 26, 2007.
To presidential hopeful Tom Tancredo, shipping home immigrants isn't everything—it's the only thing. Tancredo doesn't want to talk about Iraq, health care or education reform because, according to him, all of those problems are rooted in illegal immigrants. Dig up the root, and you kill the weed.
So when Orange County supporters of this one-issue wonder and Republican congressman from Colorado were shopping for the perfect gift, they wanted something that would symbolize his dedication to eradicating the "scourge" of America. They figured the Home Depot would have it.
No, it isn't a Mexican day laborer. It is a torch-and-pitchfork set, which Tancredo jubilantly brandishes before a stomping, chanting crowd of some 200 people at the Richard Nixon Birthplace and Library at a fund-raising appearance June 16.
The Nixon library, with its elaborately engraved walls, portraits of George Washington and Teddy Roosevelt, and ornate chandeliers, seems hardly the place to invoke the threat of forcefully overthrowing the United States government, but on three separate occasions this night, it is.
The pitchfork Tancredo raises in indignation is an appropriate symbol since—as Joe Turner, one of the speakers at the event and organizer for anti-immigration organization Save Our State, puts it—"If you ask anyone in the room if they had to choose between voting for Hillary Clinton, or Satan, they'd be with Satan."
Tancredo, the final speaker of the evening, seems affable and relatively stable in comparison to his local counterparts. He speaks calmly and clearly, a far cry from the other speakers, whose podium-pounding, bellowing, minority-blaming fury is headache- and delirium-inducing.
Speakers make incredible leaps of logic, from prophecies of an impending new civil war to conspiracy theories claiming the United States wants to to link up with Canada and Mexico to form a socialist super-country. They revile President Bush with almost as much gusto as they hate immigrants. Some, such as Riverside resident Jim Peterson, speculate Bush supports the ill-fated Senate-proposed "amnesty" bill because he has relatives in Mexico, possibly of Hispanic descent.
The immigrants are actually subhuman, pod people, explains Lupe (which everyone pronounces "loopy") Moreno. They are not "undocumented workers" looking for a better life, but rather an "alien invasion" who "don't want to become Americans; they want to replace Americans!"
And the crowd goes wild.
Dan Sheehy proclaims illegal immigration is "the dagger pointed at the heart of America."
Audience members' faces beam with apparent ecstasy following the revelation that all our societal struggles can be pinned on one widely despised group.
Interviewed before the rally, Whittier resident Vince "not 'Vincente'" Estrada is quick to point out his dad was Spanish, not Mexican. Estrada says he won't even go to his nearby supermarket "because there's illegal immigrants there." Illegal immigrants add nothing of value to America, he says. "I can wash my own car, and I can mow my own lawn." Estrada's mother is from Texas and, he admits, is "probably" Mexican.
Not to be outdone, the African-American community turns out two speakers of its own, Ted Hayes and Terry Anderson. Anderson warms up the crowd with a joke that involves killing Hillary Clinton, sending hat-wearing older ladies into red-faced spasms of laughter.
Hayes says illegal immigrants are actually responsible for black poverty. "Illegal immigration is the greatest threat to black people since slavery," he says, prompting a standing ovation. Then he starts a chant of "These colors don't run! These colors don't run!"
Tancredo closes out the emotional night by reminding the audience that hunting down all illegal immigrants, sending them home, and building a 2,000-mile wall between us and Mexico is our calling, much like a previous generation "saved the world" during World War II. "Next, we build a wall along the Canadian border," he proposes to thunderous applause.
Sadly for Tancredo supporters, his campaign has hit a wall of its own. He garnered only 1 percent Republican support in the latest polls, a distinction he shares with eight other candidates.
Clinton, however, is a strong favorite in the Democratic primaries, with 36 percent of her party's support. So don't be surprised next year if you see a "Satan 2008" bumper sticker on the back of that one-ton 4x4 pickup truck with the two American flags flapping in the wind.
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