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White supremacists, immigrant rights activists face off

March 19, 2011 |  4:16 pm

About two dozen white supremacists took to the streets in Claremont on Saturday to protest what they view as an unbridled flow of illegal immigration into the region, including the small college town. 

Their demonstration along Foothill Boulevard was interrupted by a counter-protest by more than 200 immigrant rights activists, who decried the group as racist. 

The screaming confrontation appeared to be tense but nonviolent. Dozens of officers from several police agencies watched over both sides, but Claremont police could not be reached for comment on whether anyone was arrested.

Jeff Hall, southwest regional director of the National Socialist Movement, said his group was concerned about protecting U.S. borders.

"We patrol the borders, we see the devastation, we see the drugs, we know the reality," Hall said.

He added that his group sends people to monitor the border and tries to prevent immigrants from coming in. But he said the group also has helped several migrants trying to cross the border illegally by giving them water before handing them over to U.S. Border Patrol officials.

But immigrant rights activist Ernesto Ayala, a member of the Brown Berets and La Raza Unida, said Hall and his fellow demonstrators had "backward and racist beliefs." 

"We’re not going to stand by and let them roll over peoples’ rights," he said.

On its website, the National Socialist Movement states its core principals as defending the rights of white people everywhere, preserving European culture and heritage, and reforming illegal immigration policies, among other positions.

The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the organization as one of the largest and most prominent neo-Nazi groups in the United States, and says it is notable for "its violent anti-Jewish rhetoric" and "its racist views," among other stances.

Hall said his group had been invited to rally in Claremont by the group's local members, who are concerned about what they view as the city's overly liberal policies of protecting illegal immigrants. These include allegedly allowing students who are in the country illegally to easily enroll at Claremont Colleges; and allegedly supporting illegal day laborers.

On Saturday, Hall and his cohorts gathered on a street clutching a banner adorned with the letters of the National Socialist Movement and a swastika in the middle. Some in the group wore black battle uniforms. Others were shirtless sporting heavy tattoos. Many had shaved heads.

Student Chuco Felix, 21, said he attended the rally "to protest the neo-Nazis in Claremont."

They are promoting white supremacy and hate against all people of color," Felix said. "I think I am making a difference. Every voice counts. My word is my weapon."

-- Ann M. Simmons,  Lorraine Wang and Irfan Khan