Racial intimidation escalates in Arroyo Grande
August 27, 2011
As the trial date of four alleged white supremacist draws near, intimidation of a mixed race family in Arroyo Grande has escalated.
On Saturday, the alleged victim of an earlier cross burning discovered someone had spray painted the name of a white supremacist gang and a cross on a wall across from her Elm Street home using a pre-made template. The vandalism faced the site of an earlier cross burning.
On March 18, shortly after midnight, an African American teenage girl heard loud noises coming from her yard. She went outdoors and stood on their back porch, but saw no one.
She then went back to her bedroom, turned off the light and saw an 11-foot cross burst into flames directly outside her window. She yelled to her mother, and called police.
The cross had been stolen from St. John’s Lutheran Church in Arroyo Grande on March 1.
The family, which has lived in the area for 10 years, is not being named to protect their privacy. However, for this article we will refer to the mother as Anna.
Earlier today, Anna left her daughter at home to have breakfast with a friend. She arrived home to see the words “Elm St. Woods” with a the “T” looking like a cross on the wall facing the site of the earlier cross burning.
The “peckerwoods” is the name of a California based skinhead gang, known to trade in methamphetamine. A few decades ago, the abbreviated term “woods” entered California prison slang.
Since the cross burning, the family has been the victim of numerous acts of intimidation including arriving home in the evening to find a truck with several people parked in front of their home. Each time, the truck has sped off as Anna and her daughter pull up to their home.
One alleged affiliate of the gang boldly knocked on their front door a few months ago, an action the gang allegedly used to determine if Anna and her daughter still lived in the Elm Street house, Anna said.
And while two other African Americans moved from the street in the primarily white community within a few months of the cross burning, the victims did not.
Anna has worked for the same local employer for 17 years and has good credit. However, she is currently working from home because of a stroke she suffered about a year ago.
Because of this, Anna will need assistance with the move and is having trouble finding an affordable rental and coming up with a security deposit.
Early on, members of the community vowed to help the family, but no one followed through with their offers, Anna said.
Meanwhile, Anna has moved a large dining cabinet in front of one of the homes larger windows and has also brought a dog into the home. But still, she worries how the stress is affecting her daughter, Anna said.
In July, police arrested Orcutt resident Jason Kahn, 36, San Simeon transient Jeremiah Hernandez, 32, Arroyo Grande transient William Soto, 20, and San Simeon transient Sara Matheny, 24. All four are former Arroyo Grande residents.
Each of the suspects is charged with arson, cross burning, terrorism, conspiracy and hate crime enhancements while conspiring with others.
Kahn was also charged with witness intimidation.
There is some evidence that the suspects are connected to organized hate groups, police said.
The four suspects are claiming that they burned the cross as a memorial to Jason Kahn’s father who died almost two decades ago. In 1994, San Luis Obispo Sheriff deputies went to Ricky Kahn’s home and shot and killed a pit bull that attempted to attack officers. The swat team was responding to reports Ricky Kahn was responsible for a man found murdered on the Nipomo Mesa.
Ricky Kahn, an alleged meth addict, rushed out with a knife and was shot by deputies.
Jason Kahn, the suspected leader of the gang of alleged methamphetamine users, sports a swastika tattoo on the back of his bald head. He has a long history of arrests for crimes such as resisting arrest, car jacking and possession of stolen property, according to court documents.
Nevertheless, several of the suspects’ attorneys have successfully garnered some public support because Soto is Filipino-American, Hernandez is Native American and Hispanic and Kahn is sometimes a Jewish name.
The attorneys said racism shouldn’t be considered a part of the case.
In March, Arroyo Grande Mayor Tony Ferrara labeled the burning of the cross outside the home of an African American as a possible prank. At a press conference a week after the cross burning, city officials said there were no known hate groups in the area.
Even so, basic research on the Internet—including Facebook, MySpace, and Stormfront—suggests the skinhead movement enjoys many followers in this South County community.
The four cross burning suspects are due back in court on September 7.