CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Organized hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan have historically terrorized blacks and Jews in the Southeast. But the recent influx of Hispanic immigrants to the region has given hate groups a new target, and officials say Hispanics are increasingly targets of hate crimes.
Former Klansman Daniel Schertz, a 27-year-old from the southeast Tennessee town of South Pittsburg, was indicted in June on charges of building pipe bombs to kill Hispanic immigrants.
Imperial Wizard Billy Jeffery of the North Georgia White Knights denied any connection to the bomb plot and said he banished Schertz from the group, but he readily admits he isn’t happy with the flow of immigrants to the region.
”The blacks fought for their civil rights. These illegal immigrants are coming in here and having everything just handed to them,” Jeffery said.
Advocates say there are no precise statistics on hate crimes against Hispanics. Victims don’t always call the police because of their precarious immigration status.
”People feel they will not be protected, and they are risking deportation,” said John Bernstein, director of federal policy at the National Immigration Law Center in Washington.
Hate crimes against Hispanic immigrants have been common in other parts of the country, but Southern states saw their Hispanic populations boom in the 1990s. Arkansas’ Hispanic population rose by 337 percent during the decade, Georgia’s by 300 percent, Tennessee’s by 278 percent and South Carolina’s by 211 percent.
One of the first signs of organized anti-Hispanic activity in the South occurred in Gainesville, Ga., in 1998, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama group that tracks hate crimes.
The American Knights of the KKK held a rally on Hall County Courthouse steps, followed by a cross-burning in nearby Winder.
‘Not a violence-making group’
Santos Aguilar of the Alianza Del Pueblo, an advocacy center for immigrants in Knoxville, said he believes the number of hate groups taking aim at immigrants continues to grow.
”The majority of the crimes are not reported to the law enforcement agencies,” he said.
While a member of the North Georgia White Knights, Schertz was caught by an undercover federal agent and a confidential informant. Court records show he took them shopping for bomb materials at a home improvement store.
Schertz is charged with teaching and demonstrating how to make a weapon of mass destruction and interstate transport of explosive material with intent to kill or injure. He is being held without bond.
Schertz’s attorney, Mike Caputo, declined to comment on the charges.
His Klan leader, Jeffery, said Schertz was thrown out of the Klan for unrelated disobedience in mid-May.
”We kicked him out for breaking his oath that he swore before God,” Jeffery, 43, said. ”We are not a violence-making group, and we don’t believe in that. This isn’t the ’50s and ’60s.”
Federal agents say hate groups always deny involvement when one of their members is charged with a crime.