Pomona City Hall became the site of angry protesters and counter-protesters last Saturday when around 50 members of the National Socialist Movement (NSM), an American neo-Nazi organization, marched through town and clashed with counter-protesters, including students of the Claremont Colleges. The primary motivations for the NSM demonstration were the area’s large presence of immigrants and the recent passage of the California DREAM Act.
The NSM march, which it advertised as a “rally,” follows a March demonstration in Claremont with a similar focus. Saturday’s march, like its predecessor, attracted far more counter-protesters than participants, in a ratio of about 150 to 50. The proceedings lasted approximately one hour and a half and consisted primarily of speeches from group leaders. No arrests or injuries occurred, but tensions between citizens, law enforcement, and NSM members were high.
NSM is the largest neo-Nazi party in the country, with 61 chapters in 35 states. Although the organization lifts its name and insignia from the political party led by Adolf Hitler, NSM leader Jeff Schoep said the group carries no racial motivations and is simply concerned with the rights of white Americans. One NSM member, Butch Urban, justified NSM’s existence during an interview with the Southwest Riverside News Network.
“The blacks have the NAACP, the Hispanics have their organizations, and all that is okay. Well, our group is a white rights organization,” he said.
According to the NSM website, the group’s membership is restricted to “non-Semitic heterosexuals of European descent,” and it is founded upon “25 Points of American National Socialism,” which include demands for the prevention of “all non-White immigration” and a requirement of “pure White blood” for citizenship. Although the group is currently most focused on the issue of immigration, the “25 Points” include other tenets associated with American conservatism, such as the criminalization of abortion and the elimination of the welfare state.
According to two Pitzer College students who attended the demonstration as counter-protesters, one of the most alarming aspects of the event was the large police presence.
“[The march] really highlighted the police state we live in,” said one of the students, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for this article. “You have City Hall, which is supposed to be a public space, and these Nazis who don’t even live in Pomona… but there were 50 to 100 riot police on horns and pepperball guns facing the counter-protesters… Who is City Hall for?”
“The city did not even have the resources to keep the city library open, but somehow they magically acquired all the funding in the world to protect Nazis,” the other student said.
The two Pitzer students also accused law enforcement officers of brutality at the event. According to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, there were “small skirmishes” between police and counter-protesters at the event. “Hundreds of counter-protesters… began throwing items at deputies and police officers who blocked their way,” the paper reported in a Nov. 5 article. “One man was struck with a baton from a horse-mounted deputy after pelting her in the face with an object,” it read.
A key target of Saturday’s march was the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. The federal DREAM Act, which would provide a path to conditional citizenship for illegal immigrant minors of “good moral character,” has yet to pass the U.S. Congress, but a version specific to California received Governor Jerry Brown’s signature on Oct. 9.
The California DREAM Act allows illegal immigrants who entered the country before age 16 and who do not have a criminal record to apply for financial aid from the state’s public universities and community colleges. A second section of the DREAM Act, enacted in July, had already granted students, who were living in the state without documentation, rights to private scholarships and loans. Opponents of the law claim it drains state resources from legally-documented California residents.
Although the 5Cs are private institutions and thus exempt from the DREAM Act, Pomona College assumes eligibility for financial aid in its application process, thus permitting undocumented students to receive aid if they are accepted to the college. As of Oct. 2009, Claremont McKenna College (CMC) and Pitzer also abided by policies providing conditional aid to undocumented students.
The two Pitzer students argued that local members of NSM are motivated in part by these policies at the 5Cs and at other local universities.
“They were in Riverside first, and then they came to [the area around] Claremont specifically because of the undocumented students at the 5Cs,” one of the students said.
Leaders of NSM said they chose Pomona as the location for their march because of its status as a “sanctuary city” that they say shelters illegal residents and subverts federal immigration law. Pomona does forbid its law enforcement officials from asking for a resident’s immigration status, but according to the Immigration Policy Center, the term “sanctuary city” is a misnomer meant to politicize normal community policing procedures. In a report titled “Debunking the Myth of Sanctuary Cities,” the center writes, “Community policing policies are about providing public safety services, not sanctuary, to both immigrant residents and the entire community.”