2 Mesa groups identified in report on hate

The Arizona Republic/March 18, 2009

Arizona's continuing illegal immigration debate represents one element behind the nation's resurgence in the number of hate groups, including two Mesa organizations named in a recently released national study.

Over eight years, the nation's hate groups have grown 54 percent since 2000, according to a report published by the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center.

In Mesa, the study identified the Nationalist Coalition, a neo-Nazi group, and the Vinlanders Social Club, a group labeled racist skinhead.

In Apache Junction, the study counted the neo-Nazi group National Socialist Movement.

Across the Valley, five hate groups were in Phoenix, while a branch of the Ku Klux Klan was listed in Tempe and an Arian Nation group located in Goodyear, according to the study.

The center and its report "Year in Hate" identified 926 active hate groups nationwide. That was an increase of 4 percent from 2007, when 888 groups were identified.

Under the study's definitions, 19 hate groups were identified as operating within the state, including the Nation of Islam, a group whose Web site displays "Peace be unto you."

Of the groups named, 10 were listed as neo-Nazi organizations and one included the Colorado City-based Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Mesa Police Sgt. Ed Wessing said he was unfamiliar with the city's two identified hate groups and was unable to speak to them.

Repeated attempts to contact Officer Matt Browning, who investigated such groups for more than 12 years, were unsuccessful.

Browing worked undercover with three border militia groups and six White-supremacist organizations in Arizona. In a meeting with state lawmakers in 2007, Browning said the growing topic of debate at hate group gatherings was immigration.

"Every meeting revolved around immigration," Browning said at the time.

FBI figures show the rise of anti-immigrant hate groups coincided with a 40 percent growth in hate crimes against Latinos from 2003 to 2007, the study states.

Two new factors have fueled the expansion of hate groups last year, the study said - the faltering economy and the election of President Barack Obama.

"Barack Obama's election has inflamed racist extremists who see it as another sign that their country is under siege by non-whites," said Mark Potok, editor of the Intelligence Report, the center's quarterly investigative journal that published the study.

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