Even a board specifically appointed to promote harmony and mediate opposing viewpoints has a rough time getting residents -- or themselves, for that matter -- to see eye-to-eye in Lake Worth. Harsh words were exchanged Monday night when the Lake Worth Community Relations Board heard from activists about local hate groups.
Lake Worth politics have become so contentious that the most visible local activists are barely on speaking terms these days. So it wasn't too surprising that Brooke Bailey's Powerpoint presentation would strike a few sparks. The diminuitive and sweet-voiced Bailey, who said she comes from five generations of Lake Worth citizens, gave a 15 minute lecture to a packed room of citizens and the year-old CRB, charging that at least four "hate groups" operating in the Lake Worth area have an influence on local public policy and need to be monitored.
Bailey said the presentation was "the culmination of conversations"
had during an informal reading group at the Night Heron Community Center over several months. They'd identified four major groups working in the area, among them, Stormfront, a white nationalist organization headed by ex-KKK grand wizard Don Black and his son Derek, who now has a radio show on WPBR -- the younger Black has made several runs for a seat on the Palm Beach County Republican Party's Executive Committee.
Bailey also identified NordWave, an extremist offshoot of Stormfront, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), and Floridians for Immigration Enforcement (FLIMEN) as hate groups that had "consistently advocated public policy decisions." In Lake Worth, Bailey said, FAIR had opposed temporary protective status for Haitians affected by the earthquake, and added that on its web site FAIR boasts about its influence on Lake Worth officials. Bailey also pointed to Jessica Deitrich, a Lake Worth resident who heads the group "White Revolution Florida." Deitrich, who self-identifies as a "racialist," has said that gays have made the city of Lake Worth and its schools "recruiting grounds."
What went unsaid, at least in the early part of the meeting, was that local activists had long accused sitting City Commissioner Scott Maxwell of having strong ties to FAIR, and perhaps to more virulent racist groups, via his radio program "Connecting the Dots," a show devoted to immigration reform. Maxwell suspended the program when he ran for his commission seat last November. Although Maxwell and his supporters have vigorously denied charges of racism, Maxwell has avoided making lengthy public statements on the subject of his FAIR ties. The board discussed inviting Maxwell to come before them and publicly submit to questioning on the subject, although the idea was eventually dropped.
Two members of the audience took issue with Bailey's characterization of FAIR and FLIMEN as "racist" or "hate groups." Both local blogger Lynn Anderson and Mary Lindsey, who ran for the District 2 seat on the City Commission against Cara Jennings in 2008, contested the notion that FAIR and FLIMEN are racist.
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Bailey summarized the issues this way: the presence of hate groups, apart from any political pressure they may exert, results in "hate crimes, wage theft, racial profiling, and a general climate of fear and mistrust."
After much discussion, the board agreed to host a special meeting on May 24th to discuss Palm Beach County's new ICE-backed "Secure Communities Initiative," a program "that will help identify and remove criminal aliens from the United States." At least, that's how ICE puts it.
Bailey and her reading group think the initiative will further terrorize Lake Worth residents. And as we saw last week when an innocent Pompano working man was picked up during an ICE raid and held in detention for eight days, there's room for error in these enforcement actions.
The psychological effect of seeing friends, family, and neighbors dragged into white vans in the early morning hours is another story. It's a story Bailey and her group may tell in future talks with the CRB.