Last week, several churches from Arizona, followed by a number of religious officials, sued AZ Patriots and Patriot Movement AZ for harassing a group of volunteers. The volunteers were providing illegal immigrants with necessities, such as food and medical care. The two extremist organizations in question were accused of violation of civil rights, trespassing, and defamation.
Among numerous churches that sued AZ Patriots and Patriot Movement AZ are Iglesia Alfa y Omega, Iglesia Apostólica, Iglesia Apostólica De La Comunidad, Alliance of Christian Leaders of the East Valley, Iglesia Nueva Esperanza, Iglesia Monte Vista, Iglesia Cristiana El Buen Pastor, and Helping With All My Heart. Several pastors joined the churches in the lawsuit.
The churches are seeking two things — damages and a court order that would prevent these groups from trespassing. D. Dinielli from SPLC has officially informed the public of the plaintiffs’ legal goals. Dinielli explained that the primary purpose of this lawsuit was to prevent any similar unfortunate development in the future. He had also stated that the majority of those involved feared the outcome. Later, an anonymous user that seemed to speak for the PMAZ wrote a Facebook message as an answer to the latest developments. The user said that since the Southern Poverty Law Center is an illegitimate group, the PMAZ is not going to comment on their frivolous lawsuit. Unlike PMAZ, AZ Patriots didn’t make any public statements or comments.
The problems between these extremist groups and churches in Arizona began last year as the number of undocumented asylum-seekers increased. The immigrants flooded the border, and soon, churches volunteered to help. Groups of donors, volunteers, and religious officials provided aid for the immigrants and helped them get in touch with the American sponsors. These volunteers would provide asylum-seekers with shelter, food, and basic health care. Afterward, they would escort the asylum-seekers to rail and bus stations. It was precisely at these spots — stations and drop-offs — that members of these extremist groups found opportunities to, among other things, make their video recordings. These video recordings would later end up on social networks as a part of these groups’ propaganda. In these videos, members of the extremist groups accused volunteers of assisting and enabling human trafficking.
However, the accusations of participation in human trafficking are not the only statement made by these extremist groups that the churches found unsettling. One of the video recordings documented a member of one of these radical groups provoking an act of physical violence against one of the volunteers. In the other video, the founder of AZ Patriots alluded that migrants were prone to acts of sexual violence and child abuse. There was also a suspicion that one of the PMAZ members allegedly harassed one of the pastors while carrying a firearm. Later, a testimony was demanded by the accused member himself. The member of PMAZ stated that he had never harassed the pastor and had left the church premises immediately after the pastor asked him to leave.
The video recordings in question gained popularity on social media. The plaintiffs stated that they had to reduce the number of volunteers and the amounts of donations out of concern that any increase in their activities would cause more issues. They also said that they were intimidated into terminating the aid programs aimed for undocumented migrants. In his public statement, one of the pastors associated acts of these AZ Patriots and PMAZ to terrorism. Besides this, he has pointed out that the actions of these groups saddened and emotionally hurt migrant children.
Besides religious officials, one of the volunteers joined the lawsuit since he was outraged by a photo that PMAZ published on the internet. The volunteer claims that the caption on the photo and the photo itself took his humanitarian act out of context. The photograph insinuated that this volunteer was trafficking migrant women and girls, and the caption above alluded at the same thing. The insinuation clearly aimed to undermine the ethicality of church volunteers’ activities.
This is not the first time that these extremists gained media attention or made it to headlines. Leaders and members of these groups were under the media spotlight on various occasions during the past two years. These anti-immigrant movements usually made it to the news because of their disturbing allegations, verbal insults, and carrying a firearm in public.