A political party that advocates for white people plans to run a candidate for an East Valley office - and perhaps other elected positions - next year.
Ralph Brandt is seeking a City Council post in Mesa, the same community where J.T. Ready sought the same office five years ago only to later be pictured at a neo-Nazi rally.
Brandt is the Arizona leader of the American Third Position, a political party that is making a push to run candidates in all 50 states.
He said modern-day McCarthyism is at play against people who promote European heritage, and he's gotten unfriendly responses at times when handing out brochures.
"One reaction I get quite often is if I'm a member of the KKK or a Nazi or something like that - all the usual stereotypes," he said. "Blacks have the NAACP, Mexicans have La Raza but there's no political group representing the political interests of white people. There's a tremendous gap which we have the potential for filling."
The party formed in 2009 and has quickly grown in strength and its activity, said Heidi Beirich, the Southern Poverty Law Center's director of research. The nonprofit civil rights organization said the white nationalist party was founded by skinheads but now is headed by professors and a corporate lawyer.
"The leadership is more highbrow today but the basic principle of the party is to make this a white country. As a result, we list them as a hate group," Beirich said. "They've got some really high powered white nationalists on there."
Brandt scoffed at the hate group label. He said the poverty center applies the term too broadly.
"The party essentially promotes the ethnic interests of white people," Brandt said. "We believe that neither political party is serious about controlling our border so that's a major part of our platform."
The party's website says it represents the political interests of whites and that the nation needs to be restored to its "rightful owners." It also is trying to organize in every state and boost its profile by having members seek elected offices. Brandt joined the party a month after it was founded and its website highlights him as the kind of leader the party wants in every state.
Brandt's potential candidacy brings concern to a community where racial tension has increased with the illegal immigration debate. Mesa Republican Russell Pearce, the state Senate president, is the target of a contentious recall in part for his creation of SB 1070, the law that makes it a crime to be in Arizona illegally.
The city's association with Ready also hurt the city's image, said Mesa Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh.
"Certainly it brought a lot of negative publicity to the community and I thought it was a very divisive campaign," Kavanaugh said.
Kavanaugh represents council District 3, which is where Brandt lives.
Ready is one of Brandt's friends on Facebook.
Ready ran for City Council in 2006. His candidacy was marred by resume exaggerations and omissions, including a bad conduct discharge from the U.S. Marines. He was active in The Arizona Minuteman Project, which places civilians along the border to watch for illegal crossings. Ready placed second, with 24 percent of the vote.
"I think people were surprised that he finished second in the race," Kavanaugh said. "I honestly attribute that to his being endorsed by most of the legislators who were serving Mesa at that time. A lot of people may have voted for him without doing a background check."
Ready was booted from a low-level leadership role in the Republican Party in 2008, after the neo-Nazi revelation.
Despite the Facebook link, Brandt said Ready is "an embarrassment to our case."
To qualify for the ballot, Brandt must submit 233 signatures to Mesa by May 30 for the August council elections. He said he plans to work on that and he's also organizing a statewide effort to get the American Third Position Party on Arizona ballots. That requires more than 23,000 signatures. If successful, the party would appear on ballots with Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, the Green Party and the most recent addition, Americans Elect.
Kavanaugh said fringe parties tend to run for state and national offices, not local races. But he said a local election can advance their cause, too.
"It gets them publicity, notoriety, perhaps even win an election and kind of elevate the reputation of a group," Kavanaugh said. "That's a classic community organizing type of approach."
Beirich said Arizona has been a hotbed of nativist sentiment, but that a police crackdown a year ago has helped.
Nationwide extremist groups are on the rise, going from 202 in 2000 to 1,002 today, Beirich said. She attributes the increased activity to the economic downturn, immigration's changes to the nation's demographics and the election of Barack Obama as the first U.S. black president.
"There's always resentment when people are thrown out of work and upset," she said.
Brandt said Obama has helped the party because its members view the president as a Marxist who plays the race card.
Anti-minority activity tends to rise in tough economic times, said Phil Austin, president of the Mesa Association of Hispanic Citizens. An extremist candidate isn't good for the city's image but he said some good things came out of Ready's candidacy.
If social trends trigger more fringe candidates, Austin said that can create opportunities for the public to examine values.
"In a way I think it's good that occasionally we have some people who come up and promote things that are antithetical to our beliefs because it galvanizes those who are maybe laid back to think," Austin said.
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