A specter is haunting America and the world. It is the growing wave of hatred, the manifestation of political, racial, religious, gender and open sexual intolerance–no if’s, no but’s, no shame or extenuating circumstances. And it is here, in the Golden State.
Nazis in California: They are more numerous and persistent with each passing day.
The Sources of Hatred
Hatred comes from various sources. From novice politicians affiliated with the Republican Party who run for municipal and state elected positions, they ride a wave of popular hostility that adds to what they already possess. They are fueled by a general enthusiasm guaranteeing that their acolytes, although a minority, will visit the polls at the appropriate time.
From agitators in neighborhood councils and school board meetings, these individuals are neighbors and family members full of rage promoting historic persecution; first, against mask mandates, then against COVID vaccines, then against all vaccines and then against all Science. They hate a vast collection of textbooks they deem harmful. Emboldened by past success, they now are compiling hundreds of books they want banned.
We see those who embrace Christianity as a core identity, mixing their particular set of beliefs with far-right views. For them the separation of church and state should be (or is) illegal. America (the United States) is a Christian country. Only them have a claim to full identity with the country.
And, finally, from well-organized and well-armed paramilitary groups, made up in large part by US Army war veterans.
This group was dormant, but they were awakened by Trumpism with its base of resentment and aggressiveness. They cheer the Supreme Court’s June decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and ending the constitutional right to abortion, a decision that by itself is an expression of extreme hatred toward women and a wanton imposition of the power of the State against its citizens.
They are in the service of the ideology of white supremacy. Until not long ago it belonged in the dustbin of history, writhing there since the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, but now rearing its ugly head.
It threatens to engulf us.
The enemies of these groups, which in their imagination have traditionally been African-Americans, are now also Latinos, liberals, and those whose crime is to vote for the current ruling party, the Democratic Party.
Above these always flutters the hatred against the Jews.
Since 2016, their main characteristic or identity is fanatical support for Donald Trump. Their most important action to date was the attempted insurrection of January 6, 2021, with the assault on Congress in Washington.
We only now start to grasp the severity of the situation back then, the possibility that the coup may succeed, the coordination between the armed militia groups that led the attack and those in the “War Rooms” or “command centers” in the Willard and the Trump International Hotels in Washington, of retired Gen. Michael Flynn , Roger Stone and Rudy Giuliani, who in turn were communicating with Donald Trump and his Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
But we live in California, where Latinos are the largest ethnic group and Democrats have super majorities in the Legislature and all positions of power. It is a liberal, pro-immigrant state, open to diverse ethnicities and religions.
And yet in many Californian counties the picture is different. There, Nazi groups and those mobilized by Donald Trump’s lie that he lost the presidential elections due to alleged fraud intermingle. Yes, there are Nazis in California and they are not few. Back in 2010 I wrote about Nazis in Los Angeles in HispanicLA (in Spanish).
Hatred in California
Calling it an “epidemic of hate,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta last month released the 2021 Hate Crimes in California report, which shows that hate crimes increased by 33% in last year, to a level not seen before. since the 911 terrorist attacks in 2001.
This type of crime increased in the state, in just one decade, by 90%.
In California, 1,763 complaints of personal attacks against people whose crime is to be different were registered in 2021. Of these, 610 were referred for prosecution.
The main targets of hatred attacks are African Americans, with 513, an increase of 12.5% from the previous year.
Douglas Haynes writes in Forbes that “Black people only represent 6% of the state population, but they were the target of 44% of all hate crime events based on race/ethnicity/national origin reported in 2021”.
Attacks on Asian Americans are up 107% after a 177% increase the year before. Against gays they rose by 48%; against Jews by 32% and against Latinos, by 30%.
The recorded attacks are only a fraction of the total, since most go unreported: out of fear, doubts that the authorities will investigate and punish the guilty, false optimism or for all these reasons together.
It is the same optimism with which we have deluded ourselves so many times in history.
“The pandemic created an epidemic of hate. We saw the intolerant words of our former President turn a thread of hate into a flood that stays with us,” said Rob Bonta when presenting the report, prepared by the California Department of Justice Center for Statistics.
To combat hate crimes, this July 6, Governor Gavin Newsom announced the allocation of 30 million dollars that will be distributed in the next 12 months to 12 organizations specialized in “providing services to survivors and facilitating preventive measures against hate.” The sum adds to $14.3 million in grants allocated to 80 additional organizations to fund intervention for groups at risk of hate crimes.
In its annual report, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an organization that investigates hate groups, identified 65 of them in the state of California, divided into: Skinheads (racists), anti-Muslims, anti-Semites, white nationalists, neo-Nazis, Neo Volkisch, General Hate/Hate Music, anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQ groups.
With astonishing speed, the neo-Nazis conquered the Republican party – also in California – occupying the vacuum created by the disbandment of the traditional elements with the rise of Trumpism.
This means they entered mainstream politics, running for office in numerous states. Some elected officials in state legislatures joined their ranks.
Generally speaking, Nazi-sympathizing groups in California are more influential and their presence more pronounced in smaller counties.
Members of the militia have become politically active particularly in Shasta County, population 182,000, in the north of the state. Its capital is Redding. There, retired Marine Carlos Zapata and a member of a local militia led the successful removal of a county supervisor, leading to a far-right majority on their Board of Supervisors. This led to a series of controversial proclamations and plans.
Orange County was once a bastion of the Republican Party. Demographic changes led to the election of Latino officials, beginning with Loretta Sánchez’s victory against Bob Dornan in 1997 for a seat in Congress.
But white supremacy, which has a long history in the county, persists. Officials also continue to fail to take threats from neo-Nazi-affiliated groups seriously.
The “Rise Above Movement” (RAM), a racist fight club based in Southern California, rose to fame for its bloody confrontations with anti-fascist protesters at the “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, Virginia. which, as will be remembered, ended with the death of Heather Heyer and the injuries of dozens of them.
Four RAM members were prosecuted for their actions during that rally, all of them residents of Southern California.
Incidents that county authorities described as “benign” were recorded for years, like high school students from the Pacifica (sic) High School in Garden Grove giving the Nazi salute.
It would be “benign” if it wasn’t not followed by the harassment of Jewish students in Pacifica to the point that they had to change schools.
During a 2017 pro-Trump march organized by RAM, there was a fight between one of the organizers, Tyler Laube, and Jessica Aguilar. The federal government prosecuted Laube and seven other provocateurs from the group. Laube pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the case during his trial a year later.
But Orange County instead sued and prosecuted only the young Jessica Aguilar for allegedly slapping Laube. Aguilar was arrested, charged and had to appear in court 25 times during the next two years.
None of the Nazis were prosecuted by the county.
Last year, four members of the group were prosecuted for their role in several similar violent attacks on political rallies. A local judge declared that the law under which the four were charged was unconstitutional, and the case went to a federal court, which overturned the ruling. Among them are Tyler Laube and Robert Rundo.
Oath Keepers is a prominent groups in the far-right armed militia movement, and 17 of its members are currently on trial for their role in the January 6, 2021 assault on Congress.
In his bid for re-election, Sherriff Bianco was endorsed and actively supported by Freedom Revival, a Californian group dedicated to the election of Christian fundamentalist candidates. When questioned, he said: “They certainly do not promote violence and the overthrow of the government. They advocate protecting the Constitution.” Oath Keepers is known for recruiting military and law enforcement officers.
Bianco defends himself by saying that he doesn’t even remember his membership, which was 40 years ago, and that he doesn’t share the racist and xenophobic ideology. Right, but the issue here is that this group is legitimized today.
A wildfire is currently burning near the city of Mariposa, seat of the same name county, which has a population of about 18,000 residents.
At the end of July, a uniformed squad appeared in the city as if they were US soldiers. They are members of the California State Militia Echo company, a militarized and armed group (although they did not bring weapons with them), who performed tasks reserved for firefighters. while proselytizing for their cause. Authorities praised their help.
There are more examples, contemporary and recent. There are Nazis in California. Nazi ideology is no longer marginal. Their popularity grows, as do the ranks of their organizations and their ambition. It is part of the dizzying turn to the extreme right promoted by former President Donald Trump.
Founder and co-editor of Latino Los Angeles. Editor Emeritus of La Opinion, former Editor-in-Chief. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, is a journalist, columnist, blogger, poet, novelist, and short story writer. Was the editorial director of Huffington Post Voces. Editor-in-chief of the weekly Tiempo in Israel. Is the father of three grown children and lives with Celia and with Rosie, Almendra and Yinyit in Los Angeles.