Our VoiceImmigration

Congresswoman gunned down in Arizona, democracy crumbles in the beleaguered state

Jill Garvey • Jan 08, 2011

Rep. Giffords (D-Ariz)

Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head Saturday morning at a public event in Tucson. Several news outlets are reporting that the newly re-elected Democrat was critically injured and underwent emergency surgery.

At least 12 members of her staff and other bystanders were also shot. Five are reportedly dead, including one child.

Congresswoman Giffords has been targeted before. According to sources in Tucson, after Rep. Giffords voted in favor of health care reform her office was shot at and swastikas were painted on her office building. Giffords is Arizona’s first Jewish Congresswoman.

In April, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and his staff received threats after he called for a boycott of Arizona in response to the passage of controversial “papers, please” law SB1070. Rep. Giffords publicly supported Grijalva  after he had to close two offices as a result of the threats, stating:

“I am deeply troubled about reports that Congressman Grijalva and members of his staff have been subjected to death threats. This is not how we, as Americans, express our political differences. I know from the recent act of vandalism at my Tucson office that intimidation has no place in our representative democracy. Such acts only make it more difficult for us to resolve our differences.”

Congressman Grijalva was still receiving threats as recently as October when his office received an envelope with swastikas drawn on the outside and a white powdery substance on the inside. The FBI confirmed that the substance was toxic. In July, staffers found a bullet and a shattered window inside his Yuma office.

Racist activity and violence has escalated in Arizona over the last several months. Imagine2050 has previously reported on the activities of neo-Nazi leaders like  J.T. Ready - a well-known member of the National Socialist Movement. According to the group’s website,

“Only those of pure White blood, whatever their creed, may be members of the nation. Non-citizens may live in America only as guests and must be subject to laws for aliens. Accordingly, no Jew or homosexual may be a member of the nation.”

In May, J.T. Ready and his white nationalist supporters came to a rally opposing SB1070. They arrived with signs, confederate flags, loaded weapons and the following message, “We are here to defend ourselves. That’s one of our rights here in America.”

Ready and other neo-Nazis have begun milita-syle patrols in the Arizona desert in order to help law enforcement “apprehend” undocumented immigrants who have crossed the border. They claim they are specifically targeting drug smugglers.

In the wake of the uproar over the passage of racist SB 1070 in Arizona, border vigilantes like Barbara Coe and Glenn Spencer revved up their anti-immigrant rhetoric. In a trend that has disturbing parallels, several immigrants were targeted by camouflaged gunmen in June 2010, and two Latino men were found murdered in the Arizona desert on June 6.

Mainstream media reports pinned the cause on drug smuggling; however, bloggers who have followed the story uncovered suspicious details surrounding the murders. No drugs were found on or near the victims, but there was an automatic rifle commonly used by border patrol agents nearby.

The murders occurred just one day after Barbara Coe of the anti-immigrant group California Coalition for Immigration Reform told the crowd at a Phoenix anti-immigrant rally, “It is now our responsibility to stand up and be counted. This is our turning point. The traitors have underestimated the power of Americans. No mas. … God forbid it should come to this but if it should come to this, lock and load.”

Minutemen and border patrol groups have long attracted members with extreme ideologies who feel justified in taking the law into their own hands. While most claim that their activities are non-violent, their collective history tells a different story.

Last year, Shawna Forde, leader of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, along with two accomplices attacked a Latino family in their home near the border, killing a young girl and her father. Forde was later apprehended by the FBI.

Even more troubling is the relationship between border vigilante groups and influential anti-immigrant groups like Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Shawna Forde was identified as a FAIR representative in a video of a panel discussion on immigration (FAIR denied the affiliation after her arrest.)

As today’s tragic shooting indicates, Arizona doesn’t really have a problem with immigrants. It has a problem with violent bigots.

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