Members of one of the “Patriot” movements have agreed to stop harassing migrants and the volunteers at churches and non-profit organizations that are trying to provide some services.
But the lawsuit remains against others.
Under the terms of a consent decree, four individuals in the AZ Patriots have agreed to stay off the property of several Phoenix area churches and will not block access to the facilities.
The deal, approved Friday by U.S. District Court Judge John Tuchi also specifically says the defendants who settled have agreed not to abuse, grab, touch, push or shove anyone entering or leaving the properties or direct others to do the same. And they will not use bullhorns, megaphones and amplifiers.
The defendants also have promised not to photograph or film anyone while standing within 50 feet of the churches.
And potentially most significant, they said they will not state or imply that any of the churches or the people who work with them are involved in human trafficking, sex trafficking or harboring fugitives. They also agreed to scrub their social media accounts to remove statements already posted.
Attorney Larry Wulkan said this isn’t an attempt to silence those who object to the efforts by members of the Alliance of Christian Leaders of the East Valley along with several churches and pastors who have been helping migrants.
“They can report the truth,” he told Capitol Media Services.
“But what they can’t do is unfairly taint our clients in a false light by suggesting that they’re human trafficking or sex trafficking or harboring fugitives, all of which is defamatory and false,” Wulkan said. “It’s a narrative that they have pushed in order to try to garner support from like-minded people.”
The lawsuit stems from the practice of Immigration and Customs Enforcement dropping off migrants who crossed the border illegally at Phoenix area churches and congregations. That has been particularly true of families as there are restrictions on how long ICE can hold minors in custody.
These churches and their pastors and volunteers, in turn, have offered help, often housing them for a night or two until they could board a bus to meet relatives or sponsors elsewhere.
According to the lawsuit, the members of both the Patriot Movement AZ and AZ Patriots, a smaller breakaway group, sought to “intimidate” the churches and their leaders and volunteers “to stop them from assisting the immigrants,” trespassing on church property and yelling at the people who were working at the churches. They also accused the groups helping the immigrants of criminal conduct and of profiting financially.
All that, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is representing the plaintiffs, amounted to civil rights violations, defamation, trespass and invasion of privacy.
Wulkan said the settlement with AZ Patriots is an important step.
“We’re hopeful that AZ Patriots and Jennifer Harrison (the group’s leader) will abide by the court order that prevents them from harassing, intimidating and trespassing on our clients’ properties,” he said.
Calls to the attorney for AZ Patriots and its members were not immediately returned.
The consent decree does not cover the other defendants, particularly Patriot Movement AZ. Wulkan said the problem so far is getting them into court.
He said that group members have so far avoided being served, a necessary first step in the litigation. As a result, Wulkan said he is asking the court for permission to have them “served” through publication of a summons in the newspaper.
“We are hopeful that when Lesa Antone and Patriot Movement AZ come out of hiding and finally appears in court that we can have an injunction entered against them to ensure that their harassing and intimidating our clients stops,” he said. Antone is listed in the lawsuit as one of the founders of Patriot Movement AZ in 2017 along with Russel Jaffe.
In messages through Facebook, Patriot Movement AZ declined to comment about either the decision of the other group to settle and its own decision not to follow suit. But the unidentified spokesperson who controls the Facebook page did want to comment on Wulkan’s comment that the organization and its members are purposely avoiding being served with the lawsuit.
“Nobody is avoiding service and nobody is in hiding,” the spokesperson said. “All unserved defendants are living their normal lives waiting to be served.”
When the lawsuit was filed, Angel Campos, the pastor of Inglesia Monte Vista told reporters there has been an emotional toll from confrontations with those protesting the churches and the volunteers.
“It’s terrifying,” he said. “It’s like terrorism and absolutely not acceptable.”
And Campos said that those offering to help should not be subject to such attacks.
“We are not breaking any laws,” he said. “We do this because of our faith.”