Responding to a planned right-wing rally in the heart of Berkeley, community organizations, left-wing and anti-racist groups, churches, religious leaders and others marched through the streets of that city Sunday. Alameda County sheriff’s deputies confronted the marchers when they arrived at City Hall.
Copyright David Bacon
The Golden State of Hate
A new series exploring how, despite California’s resistance to Donald Trump, white nationalism and extremism are alive and well in the nation’s most diverse state.
California and White Nationalism in the Age of Trump
Almost from the day Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the White House in 2015, California, along with the rest of the country, has experienced an uptick of reported hate and bias incidents. As Capital & Main’s new series reveals, most of these attacks have been directed at immigrants and people of color. But this is hardly new – the Golden State has a long history of violence and discrimination against nonwhites and the foreign born. This week we present the first of our series’ findings:
- California’s Extremist Roots Run Deep Gabriel Thompson surveys California’s far-right landscape, from Klan rallies to Twitter-savvy white separatists. (Co-published by Newsweek.)
- The Golden State of Hate A video overview of a moment when America’s most democratic and generous values are under attack.
- “We Have a New President, Faggot!” A U.S.-born Sikh had no idea he was about to come face to face with hate in Bakersfield when he stepped outside a burger joint to make a phone call, Bill Raden reports.
- Balmeet Singh Interview A video account by a Bakersfield Sikh who was seemingly targeted for his beard and turban.
- How the Internet Made Hate Respectable Ed Leibowitz talks about the mainstreaming of white supremacist ideologies with Professor Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
- Is California a Land Without Pity? Photo essay by Joanne Kim.
San Francisco Marchers Drop Hammer on Planned Right-wing Rally
On Saturday community organizations and unions in San Francisco marched up Market Street, carrying banners and blocking streets, to protest a planned rally by the extreme right-wing group Patriot Prayer, which was eventually canceled by its organizers. David Bacon’s images captured the mood of the city.
Editor’s Note: On Saturday community organizations and unions in San Francisco marched up Market Street, carrying banners and blocking streets, to protest a planned rally by the extreme right-wing group Patriot Prayer, which was eventually canceled by its organizers. David Bacon’s images captured the mood of the city.
Copyright David Bacon
The Golden State of Hate: California Hate Crime Watch
The white supremacist march in Charlottesville, and its explosive aftermath, have focused the nation’s attention on the far right and its ideology of intolerance. Across the country, hate crimes are on the rise — and California is no exception.
From Remembrance to Resistance: The 48th Manzanar Pilgrimage Photo Essay
From Remembrance to Resistance: The 48th Manzanar Pilgrimage. A photo essay by Joanne Kim.
On April 30, 2017, the 48th Manzanar Pilgrimage took place, marking the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which authorized the forced removal of Japanese-Americans. Manzanar was the first concentration camp created by FDR’s order, and was located in a valley below the Eastern Sierras.
Photo by Joanne Kim
First-timers to the Manzanar Pilgrimage raise their hands. Many new people were inspired to attend this year due to similarities between the Trump administration’s rhetoric and policies against immigrants and Muslims, and the fate of Japanese-Americans during WWII.
Photo by Joanne Kim
A performance by Vigilant Love, a solidarity community against violence and Islamophobia, which co-hosted the Manzanar Pilgrimage. From left: Kathy Masaoka, Sahar Pirzada, Traci Kato-Kiriyama, traci ishigo.
Photo by Joanne Kim
Eleven flags represent each of the 10 concentration camps and the 442nd Infantry Regiment. They are held by representatives each year at the Manzanar Pilgrimage to honor all of the internees, sites and veterans.
Photo by Joanne Kim
146 incarcerees died at Manzanar. Most were cremated, and their ashes were buried here or sent to hometown cemeteries. Six graves remain, most reburied elsewhere by their families.
Photo by Joanne Kim
Asmaa Ahmed of the Council on American-Islamic Relations spoke as part of the 48th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage’s program. She connected Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 with Trump’s Executive Order 13769, the travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries. “The two orders are separated by a period of 75 years, but both were born out of the same culture of fear and prejudice.”
Photo by Joanne Kim
Attendees of the Manzanar Pilgrimage in the camp’s cemetery. In the middle stands “I Rei To/Soul Consoling Tower,” a monument by Ryozo Kado installed in August 1943 to honor those who are buried there. Families collectively paid for its construction.
Photo by Joanne Kim
During the Shinto ceremony, National Park Rangers are given leaves to place on the I Rei To monument to honor those who were interned at Manzanar. Rangers worked with the Japanese-American community in creating the Manzanar Historic Site’s Museum and the re-creation of the barracks and buildings.
Photo by Joanne Kim
Alan Nishio was born in the Manzanar concentration camp in 1945. He received the 2017 Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy Award for his lifetime’s work on a wide range of issues from the redress movement, to helping found UCLA’s Asian American Studies program, the fight for affordable housing and the preservation of Los Angele’s Little Tokyo.
Photo by Joanne Kim
Steve Wong, Asian American Studies instructor, and two Pasadena City College students. Wong described the importance of coming to Manzanar and recognizing the danger of rhetoric that scapegoats marginalized groups for “military necessity” as happened with those of Japanese descent during WWII and is currently happening with Muslim groups under the Trump administration.
Photo by Joanne Kim
Former Manzanar child internees Irene Hadeishi, left, and her sister Marge Taniwaki, right, in a re-created children’s room. In order to make the re-creations of living spaces accessible, National Parks was required to make the living quarters much nicer than what was the reality for Irene and Marge and other families. They slept in cots separated only by sheets from other families with floors made of wood beams with space between them so the dust would come up constantly from the ground into their eyes and mouths.
Photo by Joanne Kim
Runners from the Manzanar 50/500, which is a relay run from Los Angeles to Manzanar in its 26th year. Mo Nishida (center), the founder of the run, felt it was a way to connect with the Native American communities and the cultural and spiritual uses of running. Danny Ramos (right) has been running with him for 10 years.
Photo by Joanne Kim
View of the Eastern Sierras from the Manzanar concentration camp. The buildings from the camp were relocated around Lone Pine and other nearby towns, but the roads of the camp exist for visitors to walk through.
Photo by Joanne Kim
Re-creation of the women’s latrine at Manzanar concentration camp. When re-creating some of the concentration camp’s buildings, Japanese-Americans who had been incarcerated at Manzanar felt it was extremely important to show people what life was like in the camp. There were no stalls in the toilets or the showers.
Photo by Joanne Kim
The old buildings and barracks from the Manzanar concentration camp were relocated and reused in nearby towns. Signs are placed throughout the camp’s grounds that point to what was once located there.
Photo by Joanne Kim
A recreation of one of the guard towers. The barbed wire fence surrounded the entire camp and armed guards manned the towers. Anyone who touched the barbed wire fence was shot at by the guards. Parents constantly warned their children to stay far away from the fence.
Photo by Joanne Kim
From Remembrance to Resistance: The 48th Manzanar Pilgrimage
This year marks the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, in which President Franklin Roosevelt authorized the forced removal of anyone who posed a “threat” to designated military zones during World War II.
Photo by Joanne Kim
On April 29 an estimated 2,000 people from around the country convened for the 48th annual Manzanar Pilgrimage. This year, 2017, marks the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, in which President Franklin Roosevelt authorized the forced removal of anyone who posed a “threat” to designated military zones during World War II. From 1942 to 1945, over 120,000 persons of Japanese descent were imprisoned in 10 concentration camps. Manzanar was the first camp, located in an inhospitable valley along California’s Eastern Sierras.
For many survivors, the camps were a source of trauma and rarely spoken of in the decades after World War II. Activist Pat Sakamoto recalled her mother saying, “There’s nothing to remember.” Longtime activist Warren Furutani described this silence as the impetus for the search for Manzanar: “It couldn’t help but stir the curiosity of the generation that was born after [the] camp.” On December 26, 1969, Furutani and over 150 other activists and survivors made the first pilgrimage to Manzanar—and galvanized a Japanese-American civil rights movement.
In 1970, the Manzanar Committee formed to advocate for the establishment of Manzanar as a National Historic Site. It would be another 22 years before they achieved their goal. During this time, many of the Manzanar Committee members became part of the Redress Movement, which in 1988 won small reparations for the survivors of the camps and a formal government apology. Yet the pilgrimages continued. Monica Mariko Embrey, granddaughter of the late Manzanar activist Sue Kunitomi Embrey, explained, “This is a place for community, connection and building.”
The Manzanar Committee has worked to include other communities in the pilgrimage, including the Paiute tribe, which was forcibly removed from Manzanar in 1863. Recently, the Paiute and Shoshone tribes helped defend the land from a planned Los Angeles Department of Water and Power solar farm. In the years since 9/11, the Committee built strong relationships with Muslim and Arab-American communities. Asmaa Ahmed, from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, drew connections between E.O. 9066 and President Donald Trump’s E.O. 13769, the travel ban signed in January that originally targeted seven Muslim-majority countries. Ahmed explained, “The two orders are separated by a period of 75 years, but both were born out of the same culture of fear and prejudice.”
Kristin Fukushima, a Little Tokyo, Los Angeles community organizer, added, “With this new administration and the threats that [Trump] poses for those most vulnerable and marginalized—the Muslim community, immigrants, refugees and queer folks—there [are] a lot of reasons to come together and remember what we cannot allow to happen again.”
Yet many at the pilgrimage fear that camps or registries could indeed happen again, unless communities organize to prevent history’s repetition. Alan Nishio, recipient of the 2017 Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy Award, declared, “We are here to remember but we need to move from remembrance to resistance.” And traci ishigo, organizer with the coalition Vigilant Love, asked, “What will our community’s legacy be at the end of these four years?”
The pilgrimage program closed with an interfaith ceremony in the camp’s cemetery and an interpretation of the bon odori dance, honoring the 146 who died while imprisoned in Manzanar.
The Golden State of Hate: How the Internet Made Hate Respectable
Co-published by Fast Company
Ed Leibowitz talks about the mainstreaming of white supremacist ideologies with Professor Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
Co-published by Fast Company
In late February of 2016, the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan decided to hold a “White Lives Matter” rally at a public park a couple of miles north of Disneyland.
By all reports, the rally seemed less a show of force than a last gasp — with the entire white supremacist contingent spilling out of a single SUV. By the time the time the Klansmen arrived at the park, they were far outnumbered by about 50 mostly peaceful counter-demonstrators.
A small group of protestors, however, escalated from getting into the Klansmen’s faces to beating them with sticks, and one of their victims retaliated with a knife — non-fatally as it turned out. William Hagen, Grand Dragon of the Loyal White Knights in California, might have suffered more than just a cracked rib had not a loose-limbed criminal justice professor and former cop named Brian Levin put himself in front of the dragon’s prone body and begun shouting at his assailants to back off while waiting for the police to arrive.
“Who knew in 1985, when I learned those skills at the New York Police Academy, that someday I’d be using them at a Klan rally in Anaheim?” Levin says, with the sing-song drawl of a Borscht Belt comedian. “I wouldn’t have bet money on that.” Who knew, too, that more than three decades later Levin would find himself tracking a national surge in hate crimes, with the Golden State surprisingly at the forefront?
After some years of patrolling Washington Heights and Harlem, Levin left the NYPD and took his undergraduate degree at the University of Pennsylvania and his law degree at Stanford. Two decades ago, as a professor at a small New Jersey college, he launched the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, which he moved to California State University, San Bernardino when he received a teaching position there in 1999. Today, under his aegis, the center is the largest university research organization of its kind.
The center’s report for 2015, the most recent year for which annual statistics are available, reveals a California more roiled by ethnic and religious division than is commonly believed. While the nation experienced a 6.7 percent increase in hate crimes, California had a 10.4 percent spike. Anti-Semitic acts of violence and vandalism were up over 21 percent in California, while the rest of the country saw a nine percent jump. The number of hate crimes nationally against Latinos was essentially unchanged from the previous year, while in California, which became a Latino-plurality state in 2014, incidents were up. “Not all of that increase can be laid at the feet of the alt-right,” Levin says. “Turf battles between people of color — in L.A. County particularly — counts for a substantial amount of that increase.”
The statistics show a state far from unified in standing up to what many Californians regard as the excesses of Trump’s America. “California is on the leading edge of whatever weather pattern is hitting the U.S.,” Levin says, “and I think the same holds for intergroup relationships and politics. We certainly tend to be more of a blue state — but don’t kid yourself. Go to places like Fresno. We talk about California seceding, but there’s also talk of California breaking in two.”
Levin wasn’t reassured by the poor showing of the Loyal White Knights that afternoon in Anaheim, in large part because the surge in bigotry and hate crimes his center was following went far beyond what traditional extremist groups could foment on their own. Rather, he was aware of how deeply their fringe ideas and violent measures had permeated the mainstream through social media and news sites with a surprising subtlety.
“Bigots have become especially nuanced and skillful at hanging onto the coattails of important public policy debates that are going on in the mainstream,” Levin says. “There’s an online cottage industry that attaches bigotry to real policy issues from national security to free speech on campus to the economy.”
“Some groups continue to promote overt racism and bigotry,” Levin continues, “but some are changing their branding, or toning down the swastikas. And their arguments are no longer that Latinos and immigrants are genetically inferior. It’s that they’re culturally or religiously inapposite to American ideals. Or sometimes the message is shrouded in the idea that we’re under attack from terrorists.”
Scrubbed of the eugenics ideology or race war rhetoric that may have helped spawn them, and freed from the stigma that comes from being the clear intellectual property of Nazi skinheads or the Ku Klux Klan, many of these messages about the otherness of immigrants have gained an expansive audience among Americans who might not embrace them in their raw form. While these views haven’t been given much credence on NBC’s Meet the Press or in the op-ed pages of the Washington Post, they’re regularly part of the conversation on Fox News, and they constitute the bread and butter of breitbart.com — which now enjoys a monthly readership greater than the entire populations of Great Britain, Germany or France.
Until his fall from alt-right grace last week, British journalist and self-described “free-speech fundamentalist” Milo Yiannopoulos was particularly effective at spreading the alt-right’s loaded messages — both as an editor and a columnist at breitbart.com, and as the heroic subject of articles by other contributors to that website.
Late last October, Breitbart gave ample coverage to a speech Yiannopoulos delivered at the University of California, Irvine. “MILO: ‘Western Civilization’ Is At Stake This Election,” one headline blared. “Let me tell you about where I come from,” Yiannopoulos was quoted in the article. “The UK is falling to Islam as we speak. There are whole neighborhoods that are no-go zones, much like the Calais Jungle in France.”
“Here in Irvine, we’re barely an hour from San Bernardino,” he continued, referring to the scene of a 2015 mass shooting that was initially reported as an act of jihad. “Everywhere in America you can see the signs that an alien culture, dedicated to the destruction of the West, is making its presence felt.”
That was Yiannopoulos at his most high-minded. On his “Dangerous Faggot” college speaking tour, he attacked a BuzzFeed News senior tech reporter as “a typical example of a sort of thick-as-pig shit media Jew” and, days before the Republican National Convention, he had been banned for life from Twitter after his tweets unleashed a torrent of online racist harassment against Saturday Night Live and Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones.
Fifteen years ago, a provocateur like Milo Yiannopoulos would have had his work cut out for him securing 10 minutes to air his views on a cable access channel in Schenectady. But during last year’s presidential election and beyond, as a towering Breitbart superstar, he had the opportunity to reach a potential audience of well over 100 million. As of this writing, according to recent Alexa internet rankings, breitbart.com was the 35th most popular website in the U.S., only nine rungs below nytimes.com and seven spots above washingtonpost.com. As for the Loyal White Knights of the KKK, America’s largest contemporary Klan organization, their website came in at 94,210.
Visitors to breitbart.com and consumers of alt-right-inflected social media feeds can embrace bigoted ideas without becoming card-carrying members of the American Nazi Party or the Klan — and certainly without having disapproving neighbors see them in such a way.
Social media feeds and incendiary Internet news sources had begun eliminating communication barriers to an extreme nationalist agenda some time before Donald Trump declared his candidacy for president. Nevertheless, America’s two-party system had continued to serve as a bulwark against furthering the alt-right’s brand of right-wing populism in Washington — as opposed to the business-friendly, entitlement-slashing programs of leading congressional conservatives like U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan. “I think it gets lost in the wash sometimes, but the alt-right is not a disruptive movement,” Levin says. “It’s a dismantling movement – a movement to dismantle the Republican party as an effective bloc. Alt-right leaders saw people like John McCain or George H. W. Bush, who signed the original 1990 Hate Crimes Act, and any other Republicans who would speak out against bigotry, as enemies.”
Early in his campaign, Trump predicted he’d be able to mend fences for an increasingly polarized America. “I will be a great unifier for our country,” he assured CNN’s Jake Tapper in October of 2015. By calling for a Muslim ban and for mass deportations of undocumented Mexican immigrants, by declaring that Hillary Clinton should be put behind bars, by disparaging the Black Lives Matter movement, by declining to repudiate David Duke, or to make any mention of six million Jewish victims in his presidential message for International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2017, Trump didn’t exactly bring a divided nation closer together. But he did manage to join hands among bigots, white nationalists and separatists from all factions. “What has been so fascinating yet disturbing,” says Levin, “and what I haven’t seen in all my professional lifetime — is the unanimity [of] racist and anti-Semitic groups in their support for a mainstream, victorious candidate.”
For the most part, there has been massive yet peaceful pushback against Trump during his first 100 days in office — the women’s marches, the “Not My President’s Day” rallies and the tongue lashings that some Republican members of Congress have recently undergone at town halls back in their districts. What concerns Levin is the prospect of the extralegal activity of the extreme left finding a larger audience in the wake of the punishing defeat of a centrist Democrat at the polls, and an electoral process that made the likes of former Breitbart executive chair Steve Bannon arguably the most influential shaper of America’s public policy. “The situation now gives license for the fringes on the left to say, ‘Resistance must include violence,’” Levin says.
By Any Means Necessary, for example, is a Bay Area group whose program of protecting immigrant rights and affirmative action has included attacking neo-Nazis on college campuses. While the group garners less than 1,900 followers on its Twitter feed, one of its chief organizers did manage to get its message out on Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox.
Levin’s organization has tracked others. “We’re seeing the violence by far leftists against people they regard as Nazis — whether it’s Richard Spencer [the white nationalist punched in the face by a masked assailant on Trump’s inauguration day], or the Traditional Workers Party or the Klan.” Yiannopoulos’ planned address at the University of California, Berkeley was shut down when rioters smashed windows and set fires.
Although Levin’s center has monitored hate crimes across the country, he contends that the media’s recent focus on violent acts by extremists is masking a shift in the mainstream national discourse that is equally troubling. “What we’re seeing now is a coarsening of society that encompasses both [verbal violence] and bigotry, aside from criminal acts,” he says. “We have so much more intergroup conflict, involving so many different variables — not only traditional bigotry, but also those relating to class education, and employment.”
The rise in incivility can be seen in recent letters to the editor justifying the harsh treatment of today’s undocumented immigrants and of Japanese-Americans interred during World War II, in the verbal pipe bombs hurled across college campuses from the left and the right, in the threatening letters sent to synagogues and mosques, in the ease with which some Americans will mock women in burqas or tar all Muslims with the same broad brush.
“We’re at the place now where legitimate policy debates are turning into something more nefarious, more bigoted and more insular,” Levin says. “A place where hate crime might be as much of the symptom as the cause.”
The Golden State of Hate: Balmeet Singh Interview
A video account by a Bakersfield Sikh who was seemingly targeted for his skin color and turban.
The Golden State of Hate: “We Have a New President, Faggot!”
The hate-crime reports began filtering in on election night at the Southern California offices of the Counsel of American-Islamic Relations. CAIR’s civil rights monitors received their first call within hours of Donald Trump’s victory.
The reports began filtering in on election night.
At the Southern California offices of the Counsel of American-Islamic Relations, CAIR’s civil rights monitors received their first call within hours of Donald Trump’s victory. A Muslim woman wearing the traditional hijab headscarf reported being refused service at a gas station by an attendant who allegedly announced, “I don’t need to serve you anymore. We’re trying to make America great again.”
And a widely shared Facebook post from friends of a Calgary film producer showed a graphic photo of the man, who was bloodied outside a Santa Monica bar, allegedly for being gay, immediately after watching election returns with a date as raucous patrons shouted to the pair, “We have a new president, faggot!”
The new president’s rhetoric has been implicated in a flurry of incidents throughout the state, dating back to June of 2015, when he first announced his White House bid amid a blare of anti-Mexican and anti-Muslim vitriol, a tone maintained throughout a campaign that, according to CAIR, effectively mainstreamed Islamophobia in the U.S.
Balmeet Singh is neither a Muslim nor an immigrant, but a member of Bakersfield’s large Sikh community and sports the full beard and distinctive turban that is mandatory dress for religiously observant Sikh men. He was born in Ohio to South Asian parents and moved with his family to Kern County as a child. During the final stretch of the election campaign, the 31-year-old Bakersfield realtor got a first-hand taste of the fear and public humiliation that an increasing number of Californians are experiencing in the age of Trump.
On the evening of September 30, 2016, Singh was having dinner at a Habit Burger restaurant in a West Park commercial strip mall when he stepped out to a patio dining area to take a phone call from his cousin.
“He turned 14 that day,” Singh recalled in a phone call to Capital & Main. “And so here I am, wishing him a happy birthday, having a long conversation with him, when out of the corner of my eye [I saw] a Caucasian man approach and he started yelling at me, telling me that I was a terrorist, that I was going to blow up the country.”
Confused, Singh said he stared uncomprehendingly as the bearded and tattooed man repeated the words, adding, “I should fucking kill you right now.” Instead, said Singh, the man threw his drink at him, soaking Singh’s turban and clothes as nearby diners watched.
“I felt the adrenaline rush, the fight or flight,” Singh remembered. “I actually told him that I would call the police, and I stepped towards him … and had actually dialed 911, and I think that’s why he walked away.”
Fortunately, the cup contained nothing more lethal than a cold beverage, and Singh was able to give the police a description of the assailant along with his vehicle make and license plate number. But it was little consolation, given the shock of what had just happened. Most painful, he said, is the memory of what didn’t happen.
“They just sat there,” Singh said incredulously of the other diners. “I don’t know if this was the bystander effect or what, but none of them said or did anything. … That was painful because my cousins were inside the Habit Burger, so I had to walk inside afterwards past all of these people who had just seen what happened. They are talking and laughing and having a good time, and here I am, dripping this liquid and in shock.”
A December report
A December reportby the Southern Poverty Law Center had California leading the nation in post-election hate incidents, tallying 125 for the state in the month following November 8. The center also recorded a dramatic surge in the number of U.S. anti-Muslim hate groups, which nearly tripled in 2016 over its tally for 2015 — a year that itself saw a 67 percent jump in hate crimes against Muslims across the country.
A CAIR spokesperson told Capital & Main that November and December alone saw reports coming into its office of anti-Muslim incidents in Los Angeles and Orange County roughly triple that of pre-election monthly averages.
Some of those 2016 California incidents include:
- A fire that was set to the Islamic Society of the Coachella Valley in December of 2015, for which a Palm Desert man is serving a six-year sentence for perpetrating a hate crime. The incident may have been prompted in response to the mass shooting in San Bernardino that had occurred earlier that month, and which was denounced by Donald Trump.
- The November murder of Will Sims, a young African-American jazz musician from Oakland, who was shot to death by three white men outside a pool hall in El Sobrante, Contra Costa County, just days after the election, in what police concluded was a hate-related killing.
- November letters sent to multiple California mosques threatening genocide against Muslims — while praising Donald Trump.
- In December, after a Muslim worshiper was stabbed in a parking lot adjacent to a Simi Valley mosque following Saturday prayers, two Simi Valley men were arrested on suspicion of making criminal threats and committing a hate crime.
- More recently, a 30-year-old Davis woman was charged in the January hate-crime vandalism of a mosque in which security cameras captured her smashing windows, vandalizing bicycles and draping bacon — a proscribed food in Islam — on an exterior door handle.
The true numbers are likely higher. According to CAIR, because of the climate of fear surrounding the administration’s ramped up deportations and Trump’s executive order barring refugees and entry by citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, those most vulnerable to hate violence also tend to be reticent when it comes to reporting incidents to police or speaking to the media.
The man who targeted Balmeet Singh turned out to be 40-year-old David Hook of Bakersfield, who later claimed that he had heard Singh “say something about a bomb” during the cell call and confronted him about it. Hook insisted he had a constitutional right to take direct action against Singh, believing that “If you see something, say something.” The Kern County District Attorney’s office, however, was unconvinced and charged Hook with two hate crime misdemeanors, including one count of interference with the exercise of a civil right and one count of battery. (Attempts to reach Hook for comment were unsuccessful.)
For his part, Singh, who formerly taught special education, thought there was a learning opportunity to be had. Since 9/11, he noted, the country’s Sikh community has increasingly found itself at risk in similarly mistaken and sometimes far more tragic hate attacks. And so Singh arranged with the DA’s office for a 15-minute face-to-face with his attacker, believing that the dialogue and perspective could result in something positive. But Hook was not open to persuasion.
“There was no remorse,” Singh admitted. “He basically told me that he didn’t want to see me again and that he was a military veteran. He said, ‘I have served the country, what have you done?’ He was just yelling this stuff over and over.”
On the positive side, Singh was inundated with hopeful messages on social media, and Bakersfield residents stepped forward with an outpouring of support, including an anonymous delivery of flowers to his realty office with a card that read, “Just remember: Bakersfield is better than this. We’re not all like that.”
Still, the experience has been sobering. Recalling his father, who came to the U.S. in the 1980s with $200 in his pocket, a medical degree and a desire to have a better life than the one he left behind in India, Singh reflected on the rising levels of fear, mistrust and misunderstanding that he fears have tarnished the American dream.
“Maybe I am a little naive in thinking that every story has a happy ending or thinking that people will change,” he said. “I see what’s happening here and [my father] talks about how America is different from the America that he remembers in the ’80s when he came. It seems that this hatred was maybe not as open — at least on a public level — by politicians and by leaders. It does affect everyone. I was speaking to a schoolteacher here, who said that in his school, kids were walking down the hallway chanting, ‘Build the wall, build the wall!’ These are the values that we are now instilling on our children.”
The Golden State of Hate: California’s Extremist Roots Run Deep
Co-published by Newsweek.
On election night last November, Nathan Damigo, a 30-year-old white nationalist and student at California State University, Stanislaus, met up with friends in the Northern California city of Folsom. As they bounced from bar to bar, it became clear that Donald Trump was outperforming most polls.
Co-published by Newsweek
On election night last November, Nathan Damigo, a 30-year-old white nationalist and student at California State University, Stanislaus, met up with friends in the Northern California city of Folsom. As they bounced from bar to bar, it became clear that Donald Trump was outperforming most polls; when the election was called for the former reality TV star, Damigo and his buddies were euphoric. On the drive home, still buzzed by the victory, Damigo pulled out a bullhorn and shouted at passersby in the street, presumably those with darker skin than his, “You have to go back! You have to go back!”
“Trump’s election has been a major boost to morale,” he later told an interviewer. “Something is happening. Things are changing and it’s not going to stop.”
Damigo is part of an ascendant far-right movement, however uncoordinated, that sees the election of Trump as a sign that an extremist vision for the country—which includes millions of undocumented immigrants deported and an open hostility to Muslims—is moving from dream to reality. And this is not only about rhetoric. Since Trump’s election, groups that track hate crimes have reported spikes in the number of incidents, including within the deeply blue state of California.
Damigo grew up in San Jose, joined the Marine Corps after graduating from high school, and completed two tours in Iraq. He returned with post-traumatic stress disorder and in 2007, after an afternoon of heavy drinking in San Diego, pulled a gun on a cabdriver who he believed was Iraqi, robbing him of $43. He pleaded guilty to a felony count of robbery and spent five years behind bars, where he discovered former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke’s autobiography, My Awakening: A Path to Racial Understanding. Last March, he founded a group called Identity Evropa, geared towards attracting college students to white nationalism, a broad term whose adherents espouse white separatist ideologies.
Damigo has positioned himself as a sort of a West Coast sibling to Richard Spencer, the 38 year old who coined the term “alt-right” and who has become the country’s most prominent white supremacist, due in part to a video of him being punched by a presumed protester that went viral. The pair appeared together at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where Damigo live-streamed the event for Red Ice Radio, a white supremacist network broadcasting from Sweden. And last November, two-dozen members of Identity Evropa traveled to Washington, DC for Spencer’s National Policy Institute conference, at which many attendees were seen flashing the Nazi salute.
When I reached out, Damigo emailed that he was on the East Coast in an area with limited cellphone coverage. Curious, I scanned Identity Evropa’s Twitter feed. Posted from early that morning were pictures of the group’s flyers plastered across the campus of Kutztown University, in rural Pennsylvania. The effort is part of “Project Siege,” which targets colleges with pro-white propaganda. A day earlier, the provost of Indiana University reported that the group’s flyers were posted on the office doors of faculty members of color. Also hit were schools in Illinois, Texas, Georgia and Virginia.
“Our members tend to be whites from diverse areas, because they have actual experience with multiculturalism,” he tells me over Skype. Damigo keeps his blond hair in the “Hitler youth” style—longer on top, shaved on the sides—and on the day we speak is wearing a black sweater and looks tired. Asked for an example of a problem caused by multiculturalism, Damigo pauses a beat. “You know, black people constantly being dicks to white people, starting fights with them, harassing them.” His answer to what he sees as the problem of multiculturalism, which he views as inherently anti-white, is as simple as it is quixotic: the creation of a white ethno-state for Americans of European descent. (Damigo doesn’t consider Jews to be white, and they are barred from joining his group. Asked recently about whether the Holocaust occurred, he declined to answer, stating that he’s “not a history buff.”)
Damigo says that the majority of Identity Evropa’s members are in California, but he dreams of taking his group, which he describes as “Identitarian,” national. “A lot of people started becoming interested in politics a year ago,” he says. “They knew something was wrong but didn’t quite get what. Advocating for whites is going to become normalized: People are waking up to subjects that were once very taboo.” Damigo first told me that over the past five months, Identity Evropa had signed up about five new members a day, which comes to roughly 750 members. A couple of days later, however, he estimated the membership at 300.
He likens the white nationalist movement to the early years of the gay rights movement. “Back then, if someone was homosexual and came out, they would be dealing with chronic unemployment and ostracism. We’re dealing with the same thing.” But he tells me that he sees signs that change may be on the way, accelerated by the election of Trump. “It’s starting to snowball.”
California is like America, only more so,” said novelist Wallace Stegner, echoing journalist Carey McWilliams’ earlier opinion that “Californians are more like the Americans than the Americans themselves.” California, McWilliams continued, “is the great catch-all, the vortex at the continent’s end into which elements of America’s diverse population have been drawn, whirled around.”
The state is solidly liberal, with political leaders who have promised to resist Trump’s agenda. “California is not turning back,” Governor Jerry Brown declared last January in his State of the State address. “Not now, not ever.” When San Francisco International Airport erupted in protest after Trump signed his executive order targeting Muslims, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom was there, shaking hands in the crowd and registering his dissent. And a week after Trump signed another sweeping executive order—this one stepping up enforcement actions against undocumented immigrants—the state took its first steps to create a “sanctuary state,” which would prohibit the state and its localities from enforcing federal immigration laws.
Yet California also has a rich history of right-wing extremism, xenophobia and racism, which it has exported, with varying degrees of success, to the rest of the country. Perhaps the best example is Proposition 187, which was overwhelmingly passed by voters in 1994. The law was drafted in part by a lobbyist with the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an organization that seeks to severely curtail immigration to the U.S. and whose founder, John Tanton, believes that the U.S. must remain a majority-white state. FAIR is designated as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which defines the term as a group with “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.”
Proposition 187 prevented undocumented immigrants from receiving most tax-supported benefits, including medical care at publicly funded hospitals and the use of public schools. (It was immediately challenged in court and eventually declared unconstitutional.) Less remembered is that Prop. 187 also compelled all law enforcement agents and school officials to investigate the immigration status of individuals they believed might be in the country illegally, and to refer such individuals to both federal immigration agencies and the state attorney general. It was the mother of all anti-immigrant bills, from SB 1070 in Arizona to HB 56 in Alabama, a specter that continues to haunt our country as a new wave of raids takes shape.
Anti-immigrant and anti-Mexican sentiments go back much further than the mid-1990s, of course. For the first half of the last century, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans were forcibly segregated into second-class schools and shunted into fieldwork. When they attempted to organize for higher wages, they were met with violence from the state, surveilled by sprawling private spy networks or simply deported. Business owners posted “White Trade Only” signs in their windows, and care was made to prevent races from mixing in public facilities. For years the City of Orange, for example, allowed children of Mexican descent to use its public pool only on Mondays. The pool was drained on Monday night and cleaned and refilled on Tuesday, to protect white children from contamination.
Racial hysteria swept the state during World War II, this time targeting the Japanese. In January of 1945, the federal government reopened the West Coast to Japanese-Americans, who had been rounded up into internment camps three years earlier. Fearing anti-Japanese hostility, the government offered funds to any former internee who decided to remain east of the Rockies, but most elected to return. This unleashed what the War Relocation Agency characterized as a “widespread campaign of terrorism.” In the first six months, Japanese-Americans were targeted in 22 shootings and 20 cases of arson. Vigilantes burnt their sheds to the ground and fired bullets into their homes. Most of the violence was in rural areas, but not all. In San Francisco, the windows of a hostel sheltering Japanese were smashed.
The post-war period saw the resurgence of the Klan in California, in response to returning veterans of color who were impatient to finally live in the democracy they had fought for. In Fontana, 50 miles east of Los Angeles, an African American named O’Day Short moved his family into a new home in 1945. The house was south of Base Line Road; the saying around town was “Base Line is the race line.” Blacks were supposed to stay north of the road. A group of men, likely from the local KKK, visited Short and advised him to leave, but he didn’t budge. A few days later, his home was firebombed and Short, along with his wife and two young children, perished. A generation would pass before another black would buy property south of Base Line.
This sort of racial segregation was the rule in California, often enforced through restrictive housing covenants that forbade selling a property to a person of color. (Short was light-skinned, so may not have been identified as black by the seller.) In addition, California had a comparatively high number of “sundown towns”—white communities that barred blacks and other people of color after nightfall.
Damigo’s vision, then, of whites living apart from other races, does have a historical precedent, and his anxiety about the browning of the state comes from a deep strain of nativism. A century ago, boosters held up Los Angeles as a “city without slums” and “more Anglo-Saxon than the mother country today.” That Eden was soon spoiled, however. In 1928, a reporter for the Saturday Evening Post complained that the city was filled with “the shacks of illiterate, diseased, pauperized Mexicans” who breed “with the reckless prodigality of rabbits.” This invasion of foreigners—forgetting for the moment that California was once part of Mexico—is the animating force behind white nationalists like Damigo. They long for a past that never was, and he hopes to tap into the power of Trump’s ahistorical nostalgia. One of the posters that Identity Evropa posts on college campuses proclaims, “Let’s Become Great Again.”
In more recent decades, the state has cranked out a who’s who of notable racists and immigrant bashers. Richard Butler, the founder of Aryan Nations, spent decades in California before retreating to his compound in Idaho. Tom Metzger, who would launch White Aryan Resistance, got his start by attending John Birch Society meetings in Southern California in the 1960s. And it was a retired accountant from Orange County, Jim Gilchrist, who put out the call for armed volunteers, or so-called Minutemen, to patrol the southern border in 2005.
According to the SPLC, there are currently 79 hate groups scattered across California, the state with the highest number in the nation. (Florida is second with 63.) Many keep a low profile, but last year they were impossible to miss, as two brawls erupted between white power groups and much larger contingents of counter protestors. The first was a Klan rally in Anaheim, the second a joint rally between the Golden State Skinheads and the Traditionalist Workers Party. In each, multiple people were stabbed.
“California has been a cornucopia of extremism on all sides of the political spectrum,” says Brian Levin, who directs the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. “It’s the place where you can come from anywhere and define your own American Dream, and everybody’s got a gripe. The fringes are as hot here as they are anywhere.”
Muslims have borne the brunt of that hate. The SPLC recently claimed that anti-Muslim hate groups nearly tripled in the last year, from 34 in 2015 to 101 in 2016. According to Levin, hate crimes targeting Muslims in California jumped 122 percent between 2014 and 2015, a period that coincided with the San Bernardino terror attack and Donald Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. This past January, someone broke the windows of a mosque in Davis and left bacon at the front door. Several days later, in a radio story about the Muslim ban, Jeff Schwilk of San Diegans for Secure Borders Coalition—which supports dramatic curbs on immigration and opposed what it called Hillary Clinton’s “mass unvetted Muslim refugee dumping plans” — told a KQED reporter that “not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.”
On the morning of January 29, in one of his Twitter bursts, Trump wrote: “Christians in the Middle-East have been executed in large numbers. We cannot allow this horror to continue!” Later that evening, Alexandre Bissonnette, a college student and Trump supporter, walked into a Quebec mosque and opened fire during evening prayers, killing six worshipers.
Such developments have Muslims in California on edge. Hamdy Abbass came to the U.S. from Egypt in 1979, and for more than three decades has lived in San Martin, a rural area south of San Jose. For years, he and his fellow worshipers have held services in a converted barn. In 2006 they bought a 16-acre lot with plans to build a mosque. But Abbass has run into fierce opposition from some local residents, led by a group called the Gilroy-Morgan Hill Patriots, whose president is Georgine Scott-Codiga. “They are claiming they are worried about the environmental impact, but that is a smokescreen,” Abbass says. “It’s Islamophobia .”
In an interview, Scott-Codiga tells me that she doesn’t have anything against Muslims, but indeed has concerns about the environmental impact of the proposed mosque. I ask her about her group’s Facebook page, which is filled with links to articles with titles like “The Muslim Plot to Colonize America,” and interviews from a group called Political Islam, identified by the SPLC as an anti-Muslim hate group. Her organization also sponsored a local talk by Peter Friedman, who runs a website called Islamthreat.com—again, listed as a hate group by SPLC—entitled “What the Mosque Represents and the Threat of Islam.”
“Well, the people that are committing all of these terrorist acts, they have one thing in common,” she says. “So you have to ask yourself, what’s going on?”
I ask her what is going on.
At a recent community meeting, Abbass tells me, a man warned that the mosque would be used as a base for terrorist attacks. “That was maybe one of the kinder things that was said,” says Abbass. Still, he is undaunted. If all goes as planned, his congregation will begin building the mosque next year. “We have to go with the assumption that we will be targeted,” Abbass says. “But we have to also pray that nothing will happen.”
Klan march photo credit: Los Angeles Public Library Collection
Video: The Golden State of Hate
A continuing series on hate and extremism in California and the nation.
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