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Barletta seen as a ‘hero’ by extremists

by repost Monday, Apr. 16, 2007 at 1:10 AM

By Nichole Dobo and Wade Malcolm , Staff Writers

The New Jersey head of a Ku Klux Klan group is not the only extremist organization to applaud Hazleton’s illegal immigration ordinance.

Organizations that track fringe groups say Mayor Lou Barletta has become a sort of “hero” in these circles, despite his insistence that he wants nothing to do with these hate groups. An Internet search reveals at least a dozen references to the city’s ordinance on hate group Web sites and discussion boards.

“The city is seen as heroic not only by the Klan (but also) other white supremacist groups,” said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “That’s not to suggest the city or the mayor are racist. The Klan might like the way you part your hair, but that does not make you a Klansman.”

Still, extremist groups have been increasingly using immigration issues to grow their ranks, according to a 2007 study by the Anti-Defamation League. Hard-line ordinances like Hazleton’s are attractive to groups, said Barry Morrison, of the Anti-Defamation League’s Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware office.

“The primary issue around which the Klan seeks to rally support is with immigrants,” Morrison said.

The California man who drafted the original version of the Hazleton illegal immigration ordinance, Joe Turner, has been called the leader of a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Turner now works for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, also known as FAIR, one of the legal groups representing Hazleton in its federal court battle.

Turner has had rallies in California where skinheads and neo-Nazis have stood next to his group, Save Our State.

“We have scores of pictures of Nazis standing with Save Our State,” Potok said. “I am talking about people with swastikas on their sleeves.

Turner has said he never invited hate groups to participate in his past demonstrations; they simply showed up on their own. A spokesman for FAIR said he did not know about Turner’s former group or alleged ties to hate groups.

“I’m not familiar with that group,” said Bob Dane, a FAIR spokesman. “Joe is fairly new.”

Barletta said he did not know some considered Turner the leader of a hate group when he found the ordinance on the Internet and proposed an almost exact replica in Hazleton.

Any support from extremist groups is an unfortunate coincidence, the mayor said.

“First of all, I can only be responsible for myself and my actions,” Barletta said. “I can’t be responsible for other people and how they feel. I have tried to do my best to make people understand this is not about race. I think my record has proven that race does not play a factor.”

Talk of racist and extremist groups who have identified with the city bothers Barletta. The mayor thinks some of these hate groups react to “the opponents who make these racial accusations. They bring out the racial issue as well.”

“A lot of it is brought out by the other side playing the race card,” the mayor said. “That brings race to the forefront of the issue, which also brings out these other groups.”

Even if it was not intended, Hazleton’s law has become a rallying point for these groups, Potok said. The immigration debate has become “incredibly nasty” and has “turned, in large part, to villainization of people with brown skin.”

Barletta should not be surprised hate groups are identifying and rallying to his cause, said Potok, of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Intelligence Report,” which tracks extremists and hate groups.

“If you lie down with the dogs,” Potok said, “you will get fleas.”

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