California racist threat must be confronted

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Inducing and manipulating hateful emotions appears to be a growing trend in
American public life. The media discourse is mostly about shouting epithets
and accusations. The idea is to get as many people as excited and agitated
as possible. All media is geared to exploit "tension" around issues,
although "hostile insult" is now more often the basis for any successful
program.

Radio's hate-talkers agitate the masses with euphemistic language, charging
at the "multiculturalists" (or as Rush Limbaugh puts it, the "diversity
crowd") when they really mean the non-mainstream, when their anger is
actually directed at the non-white (and white) people who still understand
the nature of racism. In some cases, politicians join in the game by
chastising whole groups while attacking on a given issue. (Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger's infamous characterization of Indians as thieves in his
perhaps careless phrase "The Indians are ripping us off" is a case in
point.) The intent of this hardball game is, of course, to score on the
opponent, to pound the other guy into submission.

It is mostly just a game for Schwarzenegger and for most media hounds and
politicians who play it, but it is a game that can have serious
consequences for communities.

Enter the potentially violent race-based haters; enter Bishop, Calif.,
where the Paiute Reservation community is currently terrorized by threats
of violence directed at their children.

Three original letters containing threats to "kidnap, rape and dismember"
young Paiute girls aged 5 to 9 were prominently found near facilities
hosting children's programs, reported Indian Country Today contributing
writer Valerie Taliman. The letters, which were widely reproduced and
distributed in a manner suggesting organization, were "typed in red ink
with a cover sheet signed 'KKK.'"

The letters appeared on the heels of the killing, from all indications in a
dispute of a personal nature, of a white man by an American Indian.
Nevertheless, local white supremacist ideologues have apparently jumped to
make a case of the shooting as a racial incident. The letters referred to
"your half-witted bucks taking another white life" and listed alleged
crimes of tribal members. Presumably, a hate group, whether the Ku Klux
Klan or not, is the source of the threat.

Cal Stafford, the tribe's chief of law enforcement services, contends that
the killing was not at all racially motivated. In a welcome gesture of no
culpability, and to signal that there was no racial motivation involved,
the murdered man's own sons publicly embraced the alleged killer's family.
Stafford feels that "someone's hoping to set off a race war by twisting
things to turn people against the Paiute community."

The local situation with white supremacist groups, whether they call
themselves KKK or Aryan Nation or The National Alliance, has been tense for
a while. A former tribal administrator and current lawman, Stafford was
targeted by the Aryan Nation four years ago for working to recover
illegally-taken Indian land. In 2001, his son was beaten to death by
alleged members of the hate group in a crime that remains unsolved.

Violent acts directed at children are the most hideous. Bishop Paiute Vice
Chair Sandra Warlie rightfully calls the letters "a terrorist threat,"
intended "to put fear in our hearts by targeting our children." All such
threats, of course, must be taken as real and therefore children and
parents in the community are fearful as well as outraged. So far, those
concerns have kept dozens of children out of school, and families have
armed themselves in defensive measure.

While in these cases some argue for silence lest the culprits be further
aroused, we commend the leadership of Chairman Michael Rogers, Vice Chair
Warlie and the Bishop Paiute Tribal Council in informing the community and
helping to engender a proper response. This leadership immediately convened
state and federal agencies, and in a gymnasium packed with 600 parents and
relatives vowed to put all necessary resources to work to protect and
defend the community.

State politicians must get involved and speak out against such threats
without hesitation. The condition of terror faced by the Bishop Paiute
community cannot be tolerated. Outright racist threats, particularly
against children, must be investigated and prosecuted intensely.

Schwarzenegger would do himself and his public image some good by fully
endorsing the most forceful possible prosecution of this horrible travesty.
Considering the doubts left lingering after his dubious remarks about
Indians, the governor might consider taking the initiative and standing
strongly for what is honorable in this situation. Rattle the cage of the
hate groups that endorse racist concepts and white supremacist ideologies.
Put the state's eye on them: make them strongly aware of the power of the
law.

We urge all of Indian country to weigh in with California officials in
support of the Paiute families, to whom we send our deepest sympathy and
solidarity. No doubt, it will require the highest level of discipline,
courage and vigilance to confront the crisis they are facing.