The shameful actions of anti-immigrant protesters who have blocked buses transporting Central American children fleeing violence to a Border Patrol facility for processing have been some of the most explicit public displays of nativism in recent memory. With intimidating chants of “Go back home!” and “U-S-A,” and signs accusing those seeking refuge of being public health threats, the Murrieta demonstrators have shown they have virtually no regard for the well-being of these children who have made the traumatic journey to the U.S./Mexico border out of desperation.
It should also come as no surprise that several of the organizers of the Murrieta demonstrations have a history of nativist activism that is not limited to demonizing immigrants. Muslims, too, have been a target of their bigoted fervor.
Southern California residents Patrice Lynes and Diana Serafin have been widely credited with organizing this month’s protests in Murrieta. In 2010, both were also actively involved in opposing a mosque proposed by the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley. Lynes, who was a
candidate for Temecula City Council at the time, was a vocal opponent of the mosque proposal at a planning commission meeting. The planning commission approved the proposal despite the outcry of Lynes and others. Comments were so offensive that each member of the commission addressed the rhetoric before casting a vote.
“I don’t think I can remember a project that raised the kind of hatred I saw today,” Commissioner John Telesio said. “As a citizen I am somewhat ashamed and somewhat flabbergasted by the rhetoric I heard.”
Diana Serafin’s opposition to the proposed mosque was even more vitriolic. According to The New York Times, Serafin “reached out to others she knew from attending Tea Party events and anti-immigration rallies” and organized a demonstration across the street from the proposed mosque site in June 2010. The Times report also sheds light on some of Serafin’s bigoted and conspiratorial motivations for organizing the anti-mosque demonstration:
“As a mother and a grandmother, I worry,” Ms. Serafin said. “I learned that in 20 years with the rate of the birth population, we will be overtaken by Islam, and their goal is to get people in Congress and the Supreme Court to see that Shariah is implemented. My children and grandchildren will have to live under that.”
“I do believe everybody has a right to freedom of religion,” she said. “But Islam is not about a religion. It’s a political government, and it’s 100 percent against our Constitution.”
Serafin was featured in a video of the mosque protest produced by the Press-Enterprise. Standing alongside Serafin at the event were protesters with signs reading such things as “Muslims Danced with Joy on 9/11 – Never Forget” and “No More Mosque [sic] in America.” Some protesters also brought their dogs to the demonstration knowing it would offend many Muslims, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Serafin and Lynes also maintain ties to Suzanne St. John, Temecula/Murrieta chapter leader of the anti-Muslim grassroots group ACT! For America. In 2011, St. John told Temecula Patch that she was involved with the mosque protests as well as a group named “Temecula Limited Government.” Serafin, who has attended at least one ACT! For America meeting, was a member of that group as well. Lynes served as the group’s chair.
Last Thursday, police officials announced that Border Patrol has suspended transporting those fleeing Central America and apprehended at the border to the Murrieta facility and others in the San Diego area. Accordingly, protesters have not planned any future demonstrations. Despite this, the Murrieta protests will almost surely receive more media coverage and be upheld by the anti-immigrant movement. Over the coming weeks, it must be stressed that these protests are the latest in a history of ugly nativist outbursts in the area. And they are the work of longtime activists motivated by deep-seated bigotries.
Whether it’s Central American children escaping violence that plagues the region or Muslims looking for a safe space to worship, this bigotry does not discriminate.
Image source: Los Angeles Times