The footage from Aug. 12 is shocking.
Five white men surround a young black man curled in the fetal position and beat him with sticks. Some of them back off when another unidentified man in a white tank top and red hat jumps in to continue attacking 20-year-old DeAndre Harris, who is writhing on the ground in the entrance to a Charlottesville, Virginia, parking lot.
Along with footage and images of a car plowing into a crowd of demonstrators and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer, the video of Harris’ beating defined the violence that gripped the nation that day when white nationalists descended on the college town. Harris, who had been counterprotesting the “Unite the Right” rally, was left with a broken wrist and eight stitches in his head.
The clashes in Charlottesville catalyzed the American public’s reckoning with the budding white nationalist movement, which had accelerated after Donald Trump’s election. Afterward, the wave of public shaming of the violence in Charlottesville led at least one “Unite the Right” marcher to insist his participation in the rally was misinterpreted as racist. Others who attended quickly lost their jobs after online campaigns exposed them.
But the eventual identification of the man in the white tank top and red hat shook many: He was revealed to be a 33-year-old Puerto Rican resident of Georgia, originally from the Bronx. “I’m the only brown Klans member I ever met,” Alex Michael Ramos joked in a Facebook Live video before he turned himself into police Aug. 28. The Facebook post has since been taken down.
But Ramos wasn’t the only “Unite the Right” marcher with a Hispanic background.
Christopher Rey Monzon, a 22-year-old Cuban-American, is associated with the League of the South, which the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies as a neo-Confederate hate group. Monzon was arrested weeks after Charlottesville for charging at protesters in a separate Florida demonstration. And Nick Fuentes, a 19-year-old student who hosts an alt-right podcast called America First, said he had to leave Boston University in the aftermath of the Charlottesville protests after receiving death threats over his participation.
The presence of these Latino men at the largest white nationalist event in recent memory underscores the complicated racial position of Latinos in the United States. Latino white supremacy, it turns out, might not be a contradiction in terms.
Increasingly, Latinos are identifying racially as white. In fact, more than half did so in the 2010 U.S. Census. A March 2016 report from Pew Research Center found that 39% of Afro-Latinos also identified “as white alone or white in combination with another race.” With a current population of around 58 million, Latinos make up the second-largest ethnic group in the U.S., just behind whites.
Another Pew Research Center study from December found that 59% of U.S. adults with Latino heritage who identify as white believe others see them as white, too. Over time, the study found, descendants of Latino immigrants stop identifying with their countries of origin and consider themselves more and more American.
Fuentes — who says he’s about 25% Mexican — identifies as white, not Latino. In an interview with Mic, Fuentes also said he believes multiculturalism threatens white national identity. Monzon, meanwhile, has called for South Florida to secede from the U.S. His ties to the League of the South are generational, as his parents have also protested with the white supremacist fringe group, according to the SPLC. In a Facebook profile the SPLC has attributed to him, Monzon goes by “Ambrosio Gonzalez,” the name of a Cuban general who fought as a Confederate colonel in the Civil War.
Ramos, however, rejects any notion that he’s racist, insisting he went to Charlottesville in defense of free speech and as a show of force against left-wing groups like Black Lives Matter and Antifa.
During the nearly hourlong video Ramos posted to Facebook, he became agitated at users who challenged him for marching with the KKK and jumping a black man.
“Yeah, I stood side-by-side with racist people, but they weren’t racist to me,” Ramos said. “They did not call me a ‘spic,’ they did not call me a ‘fucking wetback,’ they didn’t say nothing as such. We stood for the same common goal.”
Despite his stated goals, the brutal violence in the video from that day was enough for judges in Charlottesville to twice deny Ramos bond.
“The victim was defenseless,” Judge Richard Moore of the Charlottesville General District Court said at Ramos’ bail hearing in November. “Mr. Ramos rushes into something where people are pummeling Mr. Harris. He is an unreasonable risk to others.”
Ramos is facing a malicious wounding charge and could spend up to 20 years in prison if convicted, according to local station WVIR-TV. Through his attorney, Ramos declined to be interviewed.
Other alleged perpetrators include Daniel Patrick Borden of Ohio, who was identified online and arrested in connection to Harris’ attack. Like Ramos, he was also denied bond. Authorities arrested another suspect, Arkansas man Jacob Scott Goodwin, in October and extradited him to Charlottesville the following month.
Harris himself was later forced to turn himself in when Harold Ray Crews, an attorney and resident of Walkertown, North Carolina — and the state’s chairman for League of the South — claimed Harris injured him in the same scuffle. Though Harris’ felony charge for unlawful wounding was dropped in December, “there are still misdemeanor charges pending,” according to the Root.
Fuentes is, in many ways, representative of the ideas of the so-called alt-right, which the Anti-Defamation League defines as a “loose network of racists and anti-Semites.” His Twitter feed shows equal disdain for conservative commentator Ben Shapiro and the South Side of Chicago, which has seen a sharp increase in gang-related murders in recent years. Though he decried Heyer’s murder at the “Unite the Right” rally during his interview with Mic, he also equated it with antifa violence.
Fuentes did acknowledge there isn’t much reconciliation between his stance on multiculturalism — simply put, it’s bad and should be avoided — and his own cultural background: His Mexican ancestors immigrated to the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century. Intermarriage has created a “beige, rootless mass,” he said, and he rejects any notion that Latino immigrants can assimilate.
“I don’t buy the idea that if you come to a country and your kids learned the language, you’re from that country,” Fuentes said. “You have to understand that America is an exceptional nation; it’s the proposition nation. That’s why the identity question is so big here. America was obviously settled only very recently. If I moved to China and I filled out the paperwork, would that make me Chinese? Of course not. I would maybe be a part of the People’s Republic.”
“They demonize the ‘other,’ but the irony is that they were once the ‘other.’”
Fuentes’s own standard — that learning English and settling in the U.S. does not make you American — disenfranchises himself and his parents, a fact he acknowledged. From the perspective of someone who sees the U.S. as a foundationally European nation, as Fuentes does, being anything less than white is the same as being a nonentity.
“You rob children of something very fundamental when you take away a common and coherent identity,” he said. “I look at my Eastern European people from high school and they have their food and their special clothing from their home country. But when you have race mixing, you rob them. I do pause at that. This is not an experience I wish to replicate. I don’t know if I wish I could turn back the clock and change things, but ideally there wouldn’t be mixing.”
Joanna Mendelson, senior investigative researcher and director of special projects for the ADL, sees growing anti-immigrant views from the descendants of Latino immigrants as a unique conundrum.
“It’s this idea that, ‘we did it right, we did it legally,’” Mendelson said in an interview with Mic. “They’re not just addressing illegal immigration — which would be one thing — but they’re against refugees and Muslims and legal immigration. They demonize the ‘other,’ but the irony is that they were once the ‘other.’”
On Aug. 20, days after the Charlottesville protests, Juan Cadavid, a Colombian-born Californian who now goes by the name Johnny Benitez, led an “America First!” rally in Southern California he described as a vigil for victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. Dozens of supporters were drowned out by nearly 2,500 counterprotesters, the Los Angeles Times reported.
In an interview with NPR in December, Benitez shared how he went from Occupy Wall Street protester and Bernie Sanders supporter to alt-right nationalist, claiming he was exiled from Occupy and called a bigot after he questioned the need for the group to support transgender people. He insisted he was not a white supremacist, but an advocate for what he called “white identity politics” — which includes embracing the 14 Words slogan used by white supremacists: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”
Benitez also told NPR he pushes for a United States that is “Italo-Spanish” white, to make room for the descendants of southern Europeans (which he considers himself to be). White nationalists such as Richard Spencer have said white Latinos could theoretically be part of a white ethno-nationalist state, but they still have mixed feelings about assimilation.
“In some instances you are rejected from the host culture, made to feel not American,” Benitez said of being an immigrant in the U.S. “And if I go back, I’m definitely not Colombian. You know, I didn’t live there, you can hear that I have an American accent, things like that, when I speak Spanish.”
Benitez’s girlfriend, Irma Hinojosa, cohosts The Right View, a YouTube talk show hosted with four other women who call themselves the “Deplorable Latinas.” The show features conservative Latinas commenting on the news from a point of view that conversation about Latinos and immigration focuses on the undocumented versus those who entered the country legally. Hinojosa also has her own YouTube channel where she livestreams protests and alt-right events. She was the only woman to speak at a June “Freedom of Speech” rally featuring Spencer and other alt-right figures.
In California, Latino white nationalists have found camaraderie in the state’s large prison-gang subculture, where white supremacist gangs and Latinos work together to control criminal enterprises.
“In some ways, they will overlook any discrepancies in order to expand their numbers. And Latinos are, in some way, kind of the one group that is allowed a kind of a pass. Not Jews, not blacks, not Asians,” Mendelson said.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Nazi Low Riders, a prison gang made up of inmates housed by the California Youth Authority who served as foot soldiers for the Aryan Brotherhood. The gang, which the ADL says is scattered among other states like Arizona, Colorado, Florida and Illinois, has embraced the Cholo gangster imagery of the Mexican prison gangs. It has been less active since 2008. Several members of the gang have Latino last names, according to the ADL, and it’s acceptable for other members to have Latina wives and girlfriends.
“You must have at least half white blood, but no black blood,” one former NLR member told ADL researchers.
While blurring of racial and ethnic lines inflates gang membership, beyond that, in white nationalist settings, Latino members serve as a means to an end.
“Latinos who are in this movement create a justification or lower significance for their heritage,” Mendelson said. “It’s not a factor or a salient element of their identity. For white supremacists to overlook it, they have found someone who helps them in their larger cause, who will push back against this rising tide of color. There’s a larger white narrative.”
While some white supremacist groups might find common cause with Latinos, many of them remain virulently xenophobic, Mendelson added.
For his part, Fuentes told Mic that while none of his white nationalist cohorts have a problem with his Latino heritage, users on 4Chan’s politically incorrect subthread have made an issue of his ethnicity. He said it doesn’t bother him.
“There’s no way to know who these people are or what their intentions are,” Fuentes said. “I’ve met [white supremacists] Jared Taylor, Richard Spencer and many of the more extreme elements on the alt-right, and none of them had an issue with that.”
Still, the alliance of some Latinos with white nationalist groups remains confusing for some on the right.
“I have reviewed the passenger manifest of the Mayflower and there is not a single ‘Fuentes’ to be found,” the National Review’s Kevin D. Williamson wrote after Charlottesville. “Indeed, the rowdier white-power element in Texas, where I live, would very much like to see every man bearing the name ‘Fuentes’ set down on the southerly side of a muddy little river that runs through Laredo.”
Despite such sentiments, some Latinos are still drawn to radically conservative, white-nationalist groups. But mainstream America is becoming more Latino — and influence goes both ways.
“In the middle of the 20th century, the predominant language kids studied was French, and German was way up there,” Richard Alba, professor of sociology at the City University of New York Graduate Center, said. “Now there’s no contest. Spanish is, by far, the most studied language. Why? Because people want to know the language that is spoken around them.”
Of course, with greater numbers comes greater visibility. More Latino politicians will be reaching positions of power in America, and Latinos will continue to see growing influence through films, music and literature.
“Look at the Italian experience,” Alba said. “How did that become so visible? Well, it was through Italian-American artists. As soon as we start seeing [more] Latino directors, we’ll see more of that as well.”
But that shift has really already begun. And as America changes, Latinos who decide to identify as white nationalists may find themselves still on the fringe.