Hating Hispanics: Has Arizona Ignited Firestorm After Decade of Simmering Tension?

"It's given people license," she said. "We think immigration is the politically correct way, at least in people's minds, to talk about it."

Minutemen Project Founder: 'There's a Lot of Resentment Coming From the White Population'

Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minutemen Project, which calls itself an immigration law enforcement advocacy group, said that neither he nor his supporters condone violence, but that they do encourage "peaceful rebellion."

"I think there's a lot of resentment coming from the white population," Gilchrist said. "It goes to heritage."

"The resounding cry I hear is that we are tired of being treated like second-rate citizens in our own country," he said.

In 2001 Americans considered blacks to be the mostly likely target of discrimination, but according to a 2009 Pew Hispanic Center Survey, Americans considered Hispanics the most likely racial or ethnic group to be discriminated against, with one in four saying Hispanics are discriminated against "a lot."

But the same survey noted that 32 percent of Hispanics, about one-third of respondents, reported that they, a family member or a close friend had experience discrimination because of their racial background, down from 41 percent in 2007.

Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, said he believes that the fear of whites losing their majority is what is likely driving a lot of the animosity towards Hispanics, the fastest growing minority.

The U.S. Census prediction that whites will lose their majority by 2050 was a kind of death knell to some.

"It's not about urban sprawl, people taking jobs, which has been repeatedly been shown by real studies to be not be true," he said. "It's about the loss of white majority."

Potok, who tracks hate groups and their activities said the swell of interest in immigration policy in the last decade has created an opening for neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other well-organized hate groups to go mainstream.

"Hate groups have grown pretty much steadily in the last 10 years based almost exclusively on their exploitation of the immigration issue," Potok said, noting a 55 percent increase in the number of hate groups between 2000 and 2009.

And during that time the groups collectively abandoned their propaganda against blacks, Jews, Muslims and gays to go after Hispanics under the guise of supporting anti-immigration measures, he said.

"They were bright enough," Potok said, "to realize that broad swaths of the public agreed."

Documented hate crimes against Latinos have skyrocketed in the last decade.

Potok said the FBI reported a whopping 40 percent increase in anti-Latino hate crimes between 2003 and 2007 and that figure may be grossly underreported and are incredibly weak.

The FBI stats, based on state reports compiled from local law enforcement, showed between 6,000 and 10,000 hate crimes annually.

But a 2005 U.S. Department of Justice survey that looked at 3.5 years of victimization surveys led to a revised estimate of about 191,000 anti-Latino hate crimes each year.

Though the FBI stats show a 5.7 percent decrease in anti-Latino hate crimes in 2008, the most recent year for available data, Potok expects to see those numbers moved up again.

"It's gotten worse and worse more or less over the last year or so," he said of the blatant discrimination aimed toward Hispanics. ""In a sense it culminates in Arizona."

And it could get even more heated.

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