For anyone who has more than a passing familiarity with California’s history on matters of race and ethnicity, the arrests of four white supremacists Tuesday — three of them from the Los Angeles area — on riot charges stemming from last year’s violent neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va., will sound neither unprecedented nor utterly shocking. Racism has been part of California’s history since the arrival of the Spanish and Father Junipero Serra’s creation of the Catholic mission system that in effect enslaved Native Americans. Ancient history? No. More of a harbinger.
But someone needs to tell that to Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), who told supporters last week that the kind of historical racism that in many ways defined the South had no connection with California, or present times. “We’ve done a lot of bad things in this country. So what?” Hunter said. “We didn’t do it. My generation sure as heck didn’t do it. I was born in San Diego. Sorry, Southerners. You guys had some issues back in the day. Didn’t happen out here on the West Coast.”
Unfortunately, it did. California might not have been a member of the Confederacy during the Civil War, but it allowed slavery before statehood, tolerated it into the Civil War, and since then has been home and host to its share of deplorable acts of racism. These did not just target African Americans and Latinos; anti-Chinese and anti-Japanese laws and practices were the norm for the state for generations, including mob attacks on Asian homes and businesses. A two-day riot in 1877 in San Francisco killed at least four Asian men and burned to the ground scores of buildings, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.
The Ku Klux Klan became a force in Southern California in the 1920s, taking political control of the city of Anaheim with Klansmen patrolling the streets in their robes. In the 1940s, Wesley A. Swift and William Gale helped popularize the modern Christian Identity church in Los Angeles, preaching a racist theology invoked later by the Aryan Nations and other white supremacist organizations. For decades the Western Division of the American Nazi Party was based in Glendale and El Monte.
In fact, Hunter need look no further than Fallbrook, in his own district, which for years was home to former Klan leader Tom Metzger and his White Aryan Resistance, a white supremacist group whose incitements led to the beating death of a black man in Oregon in 1988. Or the white supremacist skinhead movement in Orange County beginning in the 1990s. Or the story of Wade Michael Page, the Midwestern kid who moved to Orange County to be part of the “hatecore” music scene and returned to Wisconsin, where he massacred six Sikhs as they were leaving a religious service in Oak Creek six years ago. And remember, the 1969 murder spree by Charles Manson’s family of acolytes was intended to launch a race war. Nothing says West Coast like that horrific episode.
Hunter is one of the House’s most conservative members. In the same speech last week, he suggested that his challenger in the November election, Ammar Campa-Najjar, was a “radical Muslim” trying to infiltrate the U.S. government. Campa-Najjar, of Palestinian and Latino heritage, is an American-born Christian who worked in the Obama White House. Hunter went on to complain that schoolchildren in San Diego were being encouraged to honor Islam.
So intolerance lives on in California. For proof of that all Hunter needs to do is look in the mirror.