On a cloudless morning in Westwood, Glenn Spencer is talking about treachery. The new leaders of the United States and Mexico are poised to meet amid a feel-good public relations buildup that has enraged Spencer, self-styled crusader against what he calls Mexico’s reconquista of California and the Southwest. News reports breezily convey the prospect of relaxed borders, a new amnesty for illegal immigrants and expanded free trade. It is no less than treason to Spencer, a 63-year-old former computer consultant from the San Fernando Valley, now a brash evangelist in a holy war of his own design.
He has called his brothers and sisters to Westwood to rally in protest. “Stand up for America or kiss it goodbye,” he warned them in an insistent e-mail dispatched to thousands of “loyal Americans” nationwide, urging them to mobilize here. “This is your last chance, and the media will be there!!!”
Alas, no more than 60 make it to Wilshire Boulevard today. Some hoist Old Glory and placards proclaiming “Close the Border” or “No Deal With Narco State.” A cadre of mostly young men and women denounce Spencer’s legions as Nazis and fascists. Worse, the only broadcast medium present is Spanish-language television, which inevitably will portray Spencer as a Latinophobic demon. It is hard to shake the impression of an older generation tilting at windmills only a few years after standing triumphant.
Once, Spencer and his allies who yearn to shut the country’s doors appeared to have tapped into a political and social lodestone. With the backing of then-Gov. Pete Wilson, they championed the passage of Proposition 187, a landmark California ballot initiative that became a nasty referendum on the state’s demographic transformation. The message of “restrictionists” such as Spencer was unambiguous: The “invasion” of poor Mexicans and Central Americans was costing Americans jobs, dragging down public schools, despoiling the environment, spreading disease and exacerbating sundry other social problems.
Emboldened, Spencer transformed his Sherman Oaks basement into a full-time, high-tech command post to spread the anti-immigration gospel. He used the Internet and a privately financed radio show to circulate ominous warnings about Mexico’s “demographic war” against the United States. He proudly personified the angry white man of the shut-the-border crowd. Critics denounced his message as racist and delusional. Spencer paid them no mind. He foresaw millions of converts--only to see his temple founder.
The recession ended, the economy boomed anew, and with that the anti-immigration engine backfired; it had become too harsh for its own good and had lost its most potent fuel: high unemployment. Today, lawmakers and social scientists regularly celebrate the economic vitality and cultural verve that immigrants have brought to places such as New York City, Silicon Valley and Southern California. Now, Glenn Spencer seeks out new converts in states thousands of miles away, places where resentment against immigrants is only starting to build.
It is easy to dismiss Spencer as a purveyor of hate on the loony fringes of the immigration-control movement, a contrarian voice rejecting the tide of demographic inevitability so evident in the new census. Yet Spencer can also be seen as a man who gives voice to a crude but deeply felt discontent. He is the next-door neighbor who has gradually rebelled against the unsettling sense of change coming too fast. To his sympathizers, not all of them white, Spencer is the man courageous enough to breach one of L.A.'s biggest taboos: He identifies and articulates the collateral damage from mass immigration that has jolted established communities--and to hell with the high-minded, supposed benefits of immigration. Their unease is captured in one phrase: It’s like a foreign country.
“It’s not the state I was raised in anymore,” says Kevin Knox, 51, a third-generation Californian and substitute teacher who has come to the Westwood rally.
The rise and stall of Glenn Spencer is a peculiarly California saga of a suburban guy who becomes obsessed and consumed by an issue--and ends up on a list of hate groups. It illustrates how harsh voices can emerge when the inevitable anxiety associated with dramatic demographic change is largely ignored by policymakers and the news media, who are inclined to dismiss it as racist. “When we don’t allow for the moderately disgruntled,” warns Gregory Rodriguez, senior fellow at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan public-policy institute in Washington, D.C., “it makes the marginally angry more powerful.”
The list of grievances is all too familiar. hand-made signs declare, “Illegal Aliens Are Criminals--Not Immigrants” and “Peaceful Solutions Through Deportation.” Residents complain that hundreds of unkempt day laborers gather along Horse Block Road, creating a nuisance and posing a menace as they solicit jobs from passing motorists. “It’s about time my daughter can go back to the Laundromat without having to be solicited for sex,” says a distraught Margaret Bianculli-Dyber, a public-school teacher, drawing cheers from the assembled. “It’s about time that women, people, mothers can come through our community without worrying about being hit by drunk drivers who are illegal aliens.” To resounding applause, she adds: “We are not racists! We are not bigots!”
This isn’t another Southern California burg grappling with curbside employment. This is Farmingville, Long Island, a blue-collar town 60 miles east of Manhattan that is more than 90% white.
Spencer has flown across the country to a town hall meeting at a nearby VFW post to commiserate with the citizenry. The day before, he’d witnessed the offending spectacle: day laborers, organized by Catholic activists, standing defiantly on Horse Block Road toting signs stating their right to be here. “I was stunned,” Spencer said on his radio show, broadcast the same week from the studios of a New York City station. “Can you imagine going down to Mexico, standing on the corners of Mexico City with an American flag, with banners saying, ‘We’re here and not leaving?’ You would last three seconds.”
Spencer has taken his campaign against la reconquista not merely to the exurbs of New York but to the deep South, the Midwest, the mountain states and the Pacific Northwest. He and his adherents have burned Mexican flags in Washington, D.C., and Alabama. His radio show, “American Patrol,” funded from donations and sales of videos chronicling the immigration threat, has aired in more than a dozen cities, from Seattle to Little Rock, New York to Kansas City, where communities are navigating California-like demographic currents. In Los Angeles, the program ran Sunday afternoons on KRLA 870 AM, formerly KIEV. Spencer says broadcasts nationwide will resume in October.
“We are faced, as I’ve said for 10 years now, with the greatest threat to the security of the United States in our history,” he tells listeners. “We’re being invaded, ladies and gentlemen. We’re making it easier and easier for people from the entire planet to come here, occupy and colonize us and take away our nation.”
In the Long Island VFW post, before 200 angry residents, many waving U.S. flags and balloons of red, white and blue, Spencer proclaims: “You are in the biggest fight you will have to face. The power elite have decided we have to be folded into the world village.”
Like a prophet from the Land of Doom, he bestows his stock sermon about California, a homily of paradise lost.
“California,” responds Bianculli-Dyber, president of the Long Island group, “represents our failure, and our country’s failure, and our citizens’ failure to support the citizens who were crying out a long time ago and warning us about it.”
Dan Morris, whose immigration-control group in northwest Arkansas earlier invited Spencer to speak to residents disturbed about an influx of poultry workers, came away similarly inspired. “He brings a crystal ball into our community and says: ‘You’re at the stage where we were 15 years ago.’ ”
glenn spencer’s dystopian lens, his view of the golden state as a corrupted place in the death grip of Mexican revanchism, is shaped by his heritage. He is a product of Los Angeles--of Hollywood, actually, the old Hollywood of neat suburban homes and palm-lined boulevards that mirrored the orderly vision of the country transmitted from the entertainment capital. He attended Hollywood High School, where he met his wife, to whom he remains married 42 years later. The couple’s two grown daughters, public-school educated and UCLA graduates, still live in the area--both married to Jewish men, Spencer points out. His wife does not completely approve of his obsession, into which Spencer has plowed substantial amounts of his savings. “She would wish I would do something else, and maybe I will.”
He graduated from Cal State Northridge. He drives a 1994 Dodge wagon and does not appear to live extravagantly. His first real job was as an aerospace worker.
Like so many L.A. natives, Spencer comes from Midwestern stock, a family of Missouri vaudevillians who made their way west in the 1930s. His uncle, Tim Spencer, was an original member of the Sons of the Pioneers, the groundbreaking western group whose lineup included a lanky Ohioan cowboy wannabe named Leonard Slye, later known as Roy Rogers. The many credits of Glenn Spencer Sr., a songwriter, include co-writing the theme for “Gunsmoke,” the popular TV western series. Yet Spencer says he never liked show business--especially the “hangers-on” he would see around the house. He dismisses any comparison between his ancestors and today’s new Californians.
“These weren’t immigrants, they were settlers,” Spencer says, hunting around his cluttered desk for a family tree compiled by a cousin. “I think the last so-called immigrant who came in was 1811.”
The point is central to Spencer’s world view. He acknowledges that immigration has helped the nation “avoid stagnation,” but says the process has not been sufficiently selective. He regularly finds himself locked in debates, real and virtual, with antagonists who suggest he and his cronies all go back to Europe.
“You are forgetting the fact that all you people are descendants from immigrants!” complained a message from a man identifying himself as Latino, one of about 200 e-mails that Spencer receives daily, some supportive, others threatening. “Our people have inhabited these lands way before your tourist C. Columbus got lost in the Atlantic! When you say that these ‘illegal immigrants’ don’t have the right to come to these lands in search of a better life, think about how contradicted that is.”
Spencer met the challenge. He shot back that his forefathers “civilized and built America into what it is today. You want to move in [and] take over what we built. We’re not going to allow it . . . Bank robbers are in search of a better life. Mexicans should stay in Mexico and pursue the ‘Mexican Dream.’ ”
No single moment turns a man from citizen to advocate. But Spencer points to the drama of the 1992 riots that broke out in the wake of jury verdicts dismissing most charges against the LAPD officers who beat Rodney King. Television captured widespread looting, much of it by Latinos who, on the face of it, had no direct political stake in the King trial. Spencer recalls an epiphany of sorts as he watched the helicopter images of mostly Latino faces plundering the familiar Hollywood Sears. “I was stunned and thought, ‘Oh, my God, there are so many of them and they are so out of control.’ ”
Spencer was back in a rapidly changing Los Angeles, working as a computer consultant after spending several years as an energy executive combing the West for geothermal reserves from his private plane. He, like many Southern California residents, was only now becoming aware of the tectonic impact of massive immigration, both legal and illegal. He went to the library and learned of the numbers crossing the border illegally--several thousand arrests a night in San Diego, wave after wave. He discussed gang crime with his brother, Chet, a former LAPD police commander in the Valley. (Another brother is a Presbyterian pastor. Spencer himself is not a churchgoer, despite years of Bible school and Christian camps.)
He began firing off angry letters to the editor (a passion that continues), and found that others shared his outrage. Yet he says he felt no one in power paid heed.
It was a time of deep despair in Southern California, embodied in the two Rs: riot and recession. Many longtime residents were just taking stock of the demographic revolution. Spencer co-founded a neighborhood group, Valley Citizens Together, which, as interest expanded, was renamed Voice of Citizens Together. He used his desktop publishing skills to launch a provocative newsletter, which he initially distributed to homes while walking his dog. The publication painted an almost pornographic portrait of a community reeling under the multiple afflictions of disease, violence, poverty, illiteracy, white flight--all explicitly linked to illegal immigrants. Spencer’s frantic tone touched a chord in the middle-class suburbs of Los Angeles baffled by the social upheaval all around. When journalists began showing up at meetings, Spencer took pains to point out that his co-religionists were not racists or rubes. “We don’t want to go back to Ozzie and Harriet,” he told one reporter.
At monthly meetings in a Valley school auditorium, Spencer often suggested to his virtually all-white audiences that the changes they feared were rooted in the ideology and iconography of the 1960s Chicano movement, which had largely faded from the political scene. His technique was that of the 19th century explorer exposing the customs of a strange and pernicious civilization. On one occasion, viewers focused transfixed on the video images of militants in sunglasses and brown berets vowing to reclaim Aztlan--the mystical northern homeland of the Aztecs that some activists argue (with little historical proof) was originally in today’s U.S. Southwest. For the audience, it was a terrifying picture of an aggrieved people eager to recolonize a lost homeland.
“The more I got into this, I couldn’t let it go,” Spencer says. “I started seeing things, and I started saying: ‘What on earth is going on here?’ ”
Out of this disgruntlement arose the Save Our State movement, composed of many groups like Spencer’s. Gov. Wilson, needing a lift in his sagging 1994 reelection campaign, jumped on the bandwagon. The combustible combination of an angry electorate, a recession and a governor fueling ill will detonated into Proposition 187, which sought to expedite the deportation of illegal immigrants--expelling them from public schools and denying them health and social services, among other measures. Spencer’s group gathered 40,000 signatures to help put the proposal on the ballot. He was now a public figure--a role he acknowledges liking.
Californians approved Proposition 187 in landslide fashion; only Latinos and Jews voted “no” in decisive majorities. Many critics dismissed the episode as racist, the latest incarnation of an historic “nativism” that has persisted as a kind of alter ego to the nation’s centuries-long embrace of immigrants. But the reality was more nuanced. Most supporters enthusiastically endorsed the notion of “sending a message” to Washington, but were not as hard-line as Spencer and other high-profile backers.
The great victory was fleeting, ultimately a Pyrrhic triumph. More enduring was the dramatic “backlash against the backlash"--the political empowerment of Latinos mobilized by Proposition 187. Amid a recovering economy, immigrants signed up for citizenship in unprecedented numbers. Wilson was replaced by a moderate Democrat, Gray Davis, who wooed Latino voters and signed off on a court agreement to kill Proposition 187. It was a “deal,” Spencer contends, hatched in concert with then-Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, whose visit to the state was labeled by Spencer as a “victory parade through a conquered California.”
Soon, immigrant-bashing was political suicide, both in California and nationally. “In the near future, people will look at California and Mexico as one magnificent region,” gushed Davis.
Art Torres, chairman of the California Democratic Party, triumphantly provided a sound bite that lives in infamy in the Spencer archives. “Remember,” Torres told a largely Latino audience at UC Riverside, “187 is the last gasp of white America in California.”
Today the nation is in the midst of a wave of immigration
that is coursing through its fourth decade, with no end in sight. More than 1 million immigrants--both legal and illegal--are believed to settle permanently in the United States each year. The figure is close to historical highs from the early 20th century, before Congress pulled up the welcome mat. Immigrants now account for one in four Californians--about the same as a century ago--and are the driving force in population growth here. Census 2000 data suggests that the illegal immigrant population has grown much larger than previously thought, despite the extraordinary buildup of forces along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Yet there is hardly any public debate today in Congress about limiting immigration levels. As the economy rebounded, the “restrictionist” camp’s arguments have been lost in the ether. “Where do they turn to? There’s no room for them to move,” says Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigrant group in Washington, D.C. “They’re reduced to praying for a severe recession, and hoping that will put wind in their sails.”
Glenn Spencer greets a visitor to his hillside Sherman Oaks home dressed casually--shorts, a cotton top, black socks and suede walking shoes. He appears every inch the prototypical, balding, heavyset retiree puttering about with his electric trains or some other inoffensive hobby. His affable demeanor is a marked departure from his pugnacious public posture and often-venomous pen. But Spencer’s basement office, with an expansive view to the Valley below, bristles with purpose--"GlennLand,” his paid assistant calls the digitized compound. Four computer terminals stand mobilized for action, along with an equal number of sophisticated video recording devices and television monitors, all programmed to news channels. There are two audio mixers, three tape decks, five telephone lines, cable and satellite TV hookups, special antennae to pick up broadcasts--and an emergency backup generator.
This is Spencer’s command center, his bunker against the onslaught of the politically correct, the diversity-pushers and the globalists. His deep-set eyes wander to the assorted screens like a ship captain’s scanning the seas, alert for friend or foe. Eighteen hours a day, he says, he and his assistant monitor pertinent developments from the Internet and news stations nationwide, seeking items to download for use in interviews, his radio show or on his American Patrol Web site, a kind of electronic clipping service with barbed commentaries.
“Arrogant Mexican Rants,” was the newsletter headline recounting President Vicente Fox’s spirited defense of the plight of immigrants during his visit to California. Spencer organized a busload of protesters against Fox, whom he considers an aggressive proponent of reconquista. The next day, Spencer’s Web site featured visuals and audio of a confrontation between Spencer and an irate “Mexican passerby,” who declared of Southern California’s future: “This is all going to be down and brown.”
Crashing Latino-themed conferences in quest of compromising remarks is a Spencer sub-specialty. Like the time he caught Jose Angel Pescador Osuna, Mexico’s former consul general in Los Angeles, making an offhand comment during a speech at Southwestern School of Law. “Even though I’m saying this part serious, part joking, I think we are practicing la reconquista in California,” Pescador remarked. Spencer says he was thrown out for unauthorized taping. But he made sure the press knew of the quip, which found its way into The New York Times and elsewhere.
The anthology of incriminating audio and video clips, encoded in his laptop to be accessed almost instantaneously, is a Spencer trademark--the core of his circumstantial case of perfidy. Like an exorcist baring his cross, he produces the disembodied voices at rallies and in interviews and rails against a censorious mainstream news media that does not follow his lead. He has taken out more than a dozen full-page ads in area newspapers, including The Times, in an attempt to expose Mexico’s supposed aims. The media segment that can’t get enough of Spencer is the Spanish-language press, which paints him as a stereotypical Anglo-Saxon intent on subjugating the brown masses. He both relies on and excoriates the press, especially his hometown paper. The Times is “willing to sacrifice the United States on the altar of globalism,” Spencer complains.
“Will the newspaper suddenly admit its errors and say that I was right all along?” Spencer queries a Times reporter in an e-mail. “Or will it say things are not that bad and tend to portray me as a ‘racist loner sitting in his home office spewing out hate?’ ”
In Spencer’s personal vision of the apocalypse, California and the Southwest are effectively annexed by Mexico, transformed into some kind of dysfunctional socialist colony--"Blade Runner” on welfare, the Red Menace with Mexicans. The bitter territorial losses of the 19th century are avenged through mass immigration and Latinos’ comparatively high birthrate.
Does he believe, literally, that debt-plagued and underdeveloped Mexico will one day retake its former lands? “What is conquest?” he demands. “It is control. It is language, it is culture, it is your way of life imposed on others against their will. It is control of territory. It can mean the ability to redistribute the wealth by the police power of taxation. In the extreme, it can mean retribution.” This, he says, is “the silent Alamo.”
His group’s Web site, his radio program and his two videotapes-- “Immigration: Threatening the Bonds of Our Union, Parts I and II” (9,000 sold at $19.99 each, a major revenue source)--traffic in lurid depictions of the peril. His is a universe awash with schemes of treachery on an operatic scale. Abetting the plot are assorted “rabid multiculturalists” and “open-borders globalists " from an array of suspect institutions--the Catholic Church, the Democratic Party, multinational corporations, the “liberal press,” organized labor and the Ford Foundation, a major funder of Latino rights groups. The Immigration and Naturalization Service, an agency long assailed by civil libertarians, “has been taken over by left-wing radicals.” Spencer also says California’s growing ranks of prominent Latino lawmakers--especially Antonio Villaraigosa, who lost the L.A. mayor’s race--are infiltrators bent on retaking Aztlan. (Spencer has filed suit against both The Times and the Daily News, alleging that The Times improperly pressured the Daily News to kill a Spencer-designed campaign ad that asked of Villaraigosa, “Does Los Angeles Need a Mayor Who Reports to Mexico City?” Representatives of both newspapers deny any illegality or political motivation. An attorney for The Times says the newspaper objected because the proposed ad--which featured a reprint of a Times front page--used copyrighted material and other intellectual property without permission.) If things degenerate further, Spencer hints, a U.S. invasion of Mexico and the establishment of a “protectorate” may be called for.
It is often pointed out that earlier immigrant groups--Irish, Italians, Jews--suffered the kind of disdain that is often directed at today’s Mexican arrivals. All are now well-integrated into the nation’s fabric. Likewise, there is much evidence suggesting that immigrants from Mexico and their children are also assimilating--learning English, purchasing homes, becoming U.S. citizens, buying into the American dream. But Spencer will have none of it. Mexicans and Central Americans, he says, “are remaining separate by choice. Their culture is maintained, as is their language.”
The modern welfare state, he argues resolutely, is a magnet that keeps ‘em coming. “Now all a Mexican has to do is have a baby, and she and her boyfriend are set for life. Scavenging for work on street corners, or selling dope to U.S. teenagers, helps supplement free giveaways from the Yankee suckers.”
So frenzied is Spencer’s rhetoric that it scares off potential allies in the varied constituency of the immigration-control movement. Established organizations such as the Federation for American Immigration maintain a distance from Spencer, though FAIR and Spencer share fundamental policy goals: large-scale deportations, deep cuts in legal immigration, more border guards and barriers and denial of birthright citizenship to the children of undocumented parents. Politicians wary of the radioactive “racist” tag also shun a partisan who once wrote, “The Mexican culture is based on deceit . . . Chicanos and Mexicanos lie as a means of survival. “
This spring, Glenn’s Voice of Citizens Together was added to the list of hate groups tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Alabama-based nonprofit organization that monitors organized hate. The fact that California had become the first large state to see its non-Latino white population dip below 50% “sent chills up the collective spine of the extreme right,” noted the center’s magazine. “If the economy goes sour,” says the center’s Joe Roy, “we can expect more scapegoating violence, especially against immigrants.”
Spencer denies any racist motivations, rejects violence and says he has no link to hate groups. “This is not an attack on Americans of Hispanic or Mexican descent, who are some of our finest citizens,” he proclaims at the beginning of each radio broadcast. He points out that his group’s co-founder is Jewish, despite his reservations about the Jewish establishment’s backing of immigration. (Jews, notes Spencer, historically “vote with the ‘stranger.’ ”) The criticism he faces, Spencer contends, is an ideological cudgel to bludgeon debate. “The United States of America,” he says, “will be the first great nation to have been defeated out of fear of being called a name: racist.”
the Fox-Bush summit in Mexico has come and gone. The Republic still stands. The Mexican government is pushing for a four-part plan that would bestow rights on Mexicans already in the United States, create a guest-worker program with safeguards for participants, increase the number of permanent visas and reduce border violence. It is an ambitious agenda under discussion at high levels in Washington and Mexico City. Some see in President George W. Bush’s position an analogy to Richard M. Nixon’s before his historic visit to Communist China: A conservative Republican politically enabled to take a bold step to regulate the unremitting flow of back-door immigration. The new administration, openly courting Latino votes, has already moved to ease burdens for illegal immigrants from Central America and elsewhere who are fighting for lawful status.
“Capitulation,” responds Spencer to the notion of a U.S.-Mexico deal. This Reagan Republican who followed Pat Buchanan to the Reform Party urged people to vote for Bush, but the talk of a binational accord is prompting second thoughts. “With that,” he says of such a deal, “this is Mexico.” Reconquista a fait accompli. The upshot: an explosion in welfare use, bond issues, social services--in short, a major redistribution of income, as “loyal Americans” abandon California in ever greater multitudes.
His policy prescription is a draconian dose of tough love: mass deportations linked with a kind of Marshall Plan for Mexico--paid “with pesos, not dollars,” and named for the U.S.-subsidized reconstruction of Western Europe following World War II. “I don’t care if it costs us a trillion dollars to do it,” says Spencer, otherwise wary of globalist expenditures. “It’s worth it to save the country.”
It is an improbable scenario. Expelling 6 million people--the official (and likely low) estimate of the undocumented population--is an undertaking of a biblical scope, requiring a virtual army to sweep through and occupy inner-city and suburban neighborhoods, rural enclaves and tens of thousands of job sites. The endeavor would leave entire industries without workers and could practically transform parts of California into ghost towns. Nor would influential Latinos and others passively tolerate what would likely be condemned as ethnic cleansing.
“If I had to bet money on it, I would bet that he [Bush] would sell us out,” says Terry Anderson, an auto mechanic from South-Central Los Angeles who is among those at the Westwood protest rally. A longtime Spencer ally, Anderson is himself a radio personality, going on the air to stress the damage he says immigration has done to African Americans such as himself. “We’ve always had Hispanics in the community--it’s not about that. It’s about how many came. Couldn’t speak the language. Pulled down the school system. Put 30 people in a house. Got 15 cars per house. Chickens, goats, corn growing in the front yard, laundry on the front fence.” The oft-interviewed Anderson, as media-conscious as Spencer, pauses and makes sure he has a journalist’s attention. “That’s not my culture,” he adds. “Good stuff in print, though.”
Glenn Spencer is apprehensive, even gloomy. He is savvy enough to know that bashing a Republican president may push him and his movement farther to the margins of acceptable discourse. A shortage of cash has forced him to cut broadcasts of his radio program. He muses about writing a book, finding a saner way to savor his retirement. “I’ve got to have a life,” he says at the end of a long morning in his high-tech nerve center. “This is very, very stressful. I sit here and see all this stuff coming down.”
The dissatisfaction is palpable as the rally in Westwood winds down and the faithful disperse. “I think there’s a sense of impending doom,” Spencer says, his voice heavy with weary resignation. Soon, he and his assistant gather up the signs and flags and sound equipment and head back to Sherman Oaks, back to the suburban aerie from where he surveys the damage inflicted on a once-familiar homeland, more alien with each passing day.