Tom Tancredo calls out "brown supremacists" after Arizona immigration rally

Last month, a representative from Americans For Legal Immigration blasted ex-Congressman Tom Tancredo for pledging to participate in a June 5 rally in Phoenix whose organizer allegedly had ties to neo-Nazi groups.

Tancredo refuted these accusations, and he says his opinions were borne out by the rally, where no white supremacists were in evidence.

Which led him to wonder why no one seems concerned about "brown supremacists."

"I did not see a single white supremacist in the audience, or a skinhead, or anything like that," says Tancredo, who returned to Colorado late yesterday. "At one point, I was walking around in the crowd yelling out, 'Are there any white supremacists here? Is the Southern Poverty Lie Center sponsoring you?' But there was no one, absolutely no one, like that. It was just a regular crowd. Lots of people had flags and posters, but nobody even remotely smacked of white supremacy."

On the other hand, he frequently sees people he describes as "brown supremacists" -- Latino activists whose messages seem every bit as hateful to him as those espoused by white racists.

"I always wonder why no one is concerned about them," he notes. "You should see some of the signs the other side has. It's incredible. When I look at those signs and look at the e-mails I get, I always think to myself, if you just removed the word 'white' and put 'brown' on those signs..."

Regarding the event itself, there's a vigorous debate among advocates about whether or not it can be considered a success or a failure. An Associated Press piece notes that the organizer, Voice of the People USA president Daniel Smeriglio, hinted that as many as 20,000 people might show up -- but the AP put the total in the hundreds.

That led Immigration Clearinghouse, a site that opposes Arizona's controversial immigration bill, SB 1070, to declare the event a "dud."

Granted, other news agencies put the estimate at closer to 2,000, which is how Tancredo saw things -- although he concedes he's only guessing. He sees a couple of reasons for these numbers, the first of which was the sweltering weather.

"Like the old joke goes, it was 110 in the shade, but there wasn't any shade," he says. "It was just absolutely horrid. I saw four people go down while I was waiting to speak -- and they definitely didn't pass out in anticipation of seeing me!

"I guarantee you that there were a lot of people who chose not to show up because of the heat," he concedes, after attributing the crowd's comparatively muted response to the scorching temperatures as well. "I wouldn't have been there if I hadn't been scheduled to speak, and I'm pretty committed to this whole thing."

In addition, he feels events in support of SB 1070 have been legitimately grassroots in nature, unlike what he sees as more artificial marches whipped up by opponents.

"A guy from the L.A. Times called me about a week before the event, and he wanted my opinion as to why all the anti-1070 rallies were much bigger than the pro-1070 ones," he recalls. "And I said, 'There are a couple of things.' For one thing, the other side is very well-funded, a lot of times with tax dollars. They provide transportation and they'll bus people in from a lot of places. And that's a tremendous advantage."

On top of that, he sees SB 1070 as "a 'damn right' issue. You go out on the street and ask people what they think, and they say, ' Damn right.' Most people think it's a good law and it should be upheld and enforced -- but they may not get as emotional as people on the other side of the issue. There's not as big an incentive to go out and demonstrate about how good something is than there is if it's something you don't like."

Besides, "the polling has not changed. The support is about 65 percent nationwide, 70-some percent in Arizona. So the demonstrations don't reflect the overall opinion. And that's kind of amazing when the President and the Secretary of Homeland Security and everybody else mischaracterizes it purposefully, tries to put it in the worst possible light. I don't think sentiment has changed one bit."

No matter how few or many people braved the heat to hear him speak.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts