IV. Authoritarianism and Anti-Latino Violence

‘My message to them is, not in two weeks, not in two months, not in two years, never! We must be clear that we will not surrender America and we will not turn the United States over to the invaders from south of the border[[.] ‘

“Invaders, that's what they are. Invaders on the American sovereignty and it cant [sic] be tolerated.”

The authoritarian lens provides a contextual view that draws together the separate lenses of racism, nativism, and the black/white binary to examine violence against Latinos in a deeper and more nuanced manner. It is essential to view such violence through the broader scope of authoritarianism because it examines the personal pathology of the abuser in addition to the cultural influences. Many, if not all, of the theories seeking to explain the continued mistreatment of Latinos have proceeded on the basis of either racism or nativism alone. For example, various scholars have argued that anti-immigrant sentiments are strictly “focus[ed] on racism [in] the absence of nativism . . . [which] reflects a historical amnesia of the recurring patterns of nativism across previous eras of anti-immigrant sentiment in the history of the US.” Thus, in supporting a theory that attempts to unify all posited theories related to the violence against Latinos, it is imperative that the theory not cloud or eliminate the socio-historical landscape in which the contemporary acts of violence against Latinos took root. Indeed, convincing connections should be made between the motivations behind the murder of Varela by Kelley in 2010 and the lynching of Jesús Romo by Anglo settlers in 1874 or that of the Sleepy Lagoon murder. While more than one theory may be necessary to explain the intricate motives behind violence against Latinos, the authoritarian theory focuses on personal pathology as a way to explain the origins of an individual's prejudice towards certain groups. The theory is, in that sense, eclectic - it intermingles with the individual's other beliefs, including racism, nativism, and the general fear of the Other.

Authoritarianism is the over-arching frame and lens for seeing Latinos and the impact of racism, nativism, and the black/white binary. Whether on a conscious or unconscious level, we all have been shaped by authoritarian upbringing and practices, which ingrained in us a need for authority, as well as a belief that punishment is in order for those who defy authority. For some, the need for authority may have stemmed from their relationship as the obedient child to their authoritarian parent. For others, the need for authority may have arisen from the drive to find stability in an otherwise disorganized world. For example, during times of economic recession, loss of employment, divorce, or death of a family member, authoritarianism, as an expression of traditionalist ideals or values can provide us with a sense of predictability and order in an environment that has become uncontrollable. It may be when we feel threatened or uncertain that we seek authority and become vulnerable to authoritarianism. And yet for all, “authority may simply fulfill the function of other needs[,] ” and not itself be the need which needs fulfilling.

At the apex of the Holocaust, social scientists sought answers to explain the success of German fascism, in addition to anti-Semitism and social discrimination. The work hypothesized “a personality profile--that is, relatively stable and pervasive characteristics and tendencies that form a coherent pattern--of ‘the potentially fascistic individual, one whose structure is such as to render him particularly susceptible to anti-democratic propaganda.”’ Thus, there emerges the authoritarian personality (TAP) that is obedient to authority because it developed from a “weak and dependent individual who has sacrificed his [sic] capacity for genuine experience of self and others in order to maintain . . . order and safety[[,] ” but nevertheless took authority to repress, punish, and oppress human beings who did not follow his own order-based reality.

For authoritarians, obedience “provided permanence, stability, and certainty.” In the United States, authoritarian movements were connected to traditional moralism, defense of the status quo, belief in the necessity of maintaining order, and hostility toward new ideas. In turn, authoritarians, as obeyers of rules, do “not hold independent judgments about the goodness or value of [the] rules. Obeyers simply believe that any challenge to rules is deeply threatening . . . .” Authoritarians are “rigid, inflexible[,] and intolerant of difference . . . . [and] ambiguity, [[and] . . . . likely to be prejudiced against racial, religious, and ethnic” groups who are not members of their own authoritarian group. Typically, authoritarian individuals have difficulty dealing with their own deviant impulses, such as aggression, fear, weakness, and sex within the constraints of social relations. Thus, ill equipped to confront such feelings directly, authoritarians displace their unacceptable urges onto others, particularly members of disempowered groups, and attribute to others what is so intolerable to themselves.

While authoritarian personalities can be extreme or mild, several core attributes of authoritarianism have remained constant and proven useful in understanding the social science behind prejudice. First, authoritarians need groups other than their own to maintain a sense of self. “Having failed to develop internally a consistent . . . set of values, [[] authoritarian[s] gravitate[] toward[s] external sources of behavioral control, simultaneously both craving the comfort of externalized responsibility and resenting the resulting stultification of identity and inhibition of impulses.” Thus, Kelley, unable to accept his own feelings of fear and anger, whether due to his joblessness, loneliness, or helplessness, turned his hostility outward. Varela became the target of Kelley's internal conflicts; Varela became the representation of those hostilities. This provided the ideological construct from which Kelley developed his hierarchal relationship with Varela. Varela embodied the negative feelings, ideas, and images Kelley sought to repress, which to Kelley became the basis for his hostile action toward Varela. Therefore, Varela represented the opposite of everything Kelley believed he was: clean, conventional, well-mannered, and disciplined. By degrading Varela, Kelley demonstrated his inability to distinguish between the good and bad characteristics of an individual such as Varela.

Second, authoritarian personalities need groups other than their own to be the vehicles by which they assert dominance. Thus, authoritarians are more prone to seek groups of lower social status. Their victims tend to adhere less to Anglo-sanctioned and defined convention and conventional values, and therefore, are more likely to be considered to violate the (Anglo-made and monitored) rules. As suggested by one writer, authoritarians see human relationships in terms of “justified applications of power[,] ” where, in a just world, the Other only “frustrates the processes of justice and fair play[.] ” Thus, authoritarians are “justified in resorting to facially unjust measures[] ” in order to make the world just again. In turn, authoritarians have greater opportunity to control those victims who are deemed to have demonstrated their unruly behavior and feel justified to destroy those victims “to prevent them from destroying” the authoritarian. While Kelley and Varela were likely similar in terms of class, they were dissimilar racially. They were also dissimilar in their experiences with social prejudices and bigotry that stemmed from their racial difference. Certainly, Varela was of a racial group that, in Kelley's eyes, represented a threat to Anglo convention. Moreover, where authoritarians tend to only “associate [themselves] with the ‘right kind of people[,] ”’ including individuals who are of an “‘accepted’ . . . social status,” Varela had little hope of becoming a real choice of friend to Kelley. Like other perceived foreigners who do not share the same physical features and cultural traits as the Anglo nativists, Varela emerged as a destructive force for the Anglo national identity in Kelley's view. In turn, Kelley believed it was his duty to rectify the destructiveness that Varela represented for him by murdering Varela.

Third, authoritarian personalities are close-minded. Because authoritarians view the outside world as disorderly and threatening, they have a close-minded belief system that resists change if it is not specifically tied to or endorsed by authority. Kelley may have found Varela intolerable because he represented the opposite of everything Kelley believed he was, and therefore, he was impervious to seeing Varela as a human being. In addition, Kelley could have been easily persuaded by Anglo nativist social influence, if such influence was commanded by a person with authority and power. Kelley more than likely was exposed to such anti-Latino sentiments as: ‘Mexican men have a reputation for leering and worse at little girls, which shouldn't surprise us, since sex with children is socially acceptable in Mexico.‘ When this type of rant was publicized and publicly espoused by state legislators, Kelley may have sought to submit himself to such authoritative demands and, thereby, to provide himself with a moral justification to murder Varela--a perceived and singled-out threat to national unity simply because he was perceived morally weak and culturally inferior.

Authoritarianism provides a relevant, unifying, and corollary insight to the theories of racism, nativism and the black/white binary that leads to Latinos' racial ambiguity. This insight is useful in explaining the motives behind violence against Latinos. Without the addition of authoritarian theory and application, the analysis of the Varela murder, the Sleepy Lagoon trial, and the Zoot Suit Riots can easily disappear from public memory because they do not fit neatly into the traditional black/white binary that dominates legal discourse.