The Arizona Republic this morning, featured a news item about a woman tried, convicted and now sentenced for her part in a burglary in March of last year of a mosque at the Islamic Community Center of Tempe, Arizona. The defendant, Tahnee Gonzales, 32, was sentenced by Superior Court Judge Mark Brain, to 225 hours of community service and 24 months of supervised probation. One condition of the arrangement was that she personally author a letter of apology to the Islamic community of Tempe.
Islamic Community Center, Tempe Burglars
To give context to this, some insight can be gained by reciting the conduct that led to Ms. Gonzales and the other person involved in the incident, Elizabeth Dauenhauer’s arrest on charges of “disorderly conduct and permitting life, health and morals of a minor to be imperiled by neglect, abuse or immoral associations”.
The video, posted in real time on Facebook Live, that both women used as a promotional tool to advance their arguments about the illegitimacy of Islam and its’ practitioners, features some notable comments and behavior. Among them:
- Dauenhauer refers to Muslims as “Satan-worshippers” and likens them to “animals”.
- Gonzales, complains about Sharia law and said Muslims engage in bestiality and are “destroying America”, additionally claiming that “they don’t work”.
- Dauenhauer captures Gonzales and some children (believed to be Gonzales’) sitting on a wall of the center, giving the “thumbs down” sign. One child repeats what she most certainly heard a parent discuss, saying of Muslims, “they smell like goats”.
- The children were climbing on a funeral services van, after which both women told the children not to stand on the bumper – not because it was disrespecting someone else’s property, but because, according to Dauenhauer – “Muslims have been on there”, along with a comment that “dead Muslims” and “sex goats” have been in the vehicle.
- At another point, 12 News Phoenix reports, Gonzales warns the kids not to touch the playground equipment because it’s “disease-ridden.”
- Evidence that the women have implanted racism and religiously motivated hate in the minds of the children, include a warning from one of the girls to another child, to, “Be careful, because Muslims are waiting to rape you.” The children shown in the video appear to be of kindergarten and grade school ages.
The final scenes of the video recording, feature an encounter between the women and a man leaving the sanctuary. One of Gonzales’ dogs approaches and greets the man, who in answer to Gonzales’ question if he is a practicing Muslim, responds in the affirmative. Gonzales warns the man, “Stay away from our dogs, please. Don’t eat them.” The man replies, “really?” and affirms that he follows the way of peace and doesn’t understand what is behind Gonzales’ attitude.
An edited and condensed summary of the original video that seems missing from the internet, highlights some of the indignities committed by the women, not only to the Islamic Community Center, but to the children themselves – is embedded below:
Gonzales’ sentence (and a similar one for Dauenhauser) can reasonably seen as appropriate. Ms. Gonzales has no previous criminal record, has expressed contrition for her actions, both to the court and the victims – and as a mother, jail time serves no purpose or benefit to society.
Her attorney, Marc Victor, in his arguments for restorative justice rather than punitive incarceration, sought to convince the judge that Ms. Gonzales’ actions were motivated less by pure criminal intent and cultural hatred, than they were by the condition of ignorance.
Gonzales told Judge Brain that she now reflects on her crime as “vile” and that she deeply regrets the shame and the bad example she has imposed on her children. It turns out that Ms. Gonzales’ children were in tow during the event which she and the other individual, Elizabeth Dauenhauer, filmed for posterity, thus providing prosecutors damning evidence leading to her conviction.
Ms. Gonzales stated in recognition of the court’s decision to set aside a harsher consequence, “I thank you again for this opportunity to publicly say I am sorry for my decision to attack one of the most sacred of all liberties that I hold near and dear to my heart”.
Presumably, she is referring to the sacred liberty upheld by our system of laws that protects the right of people of other creeds to worship and serve God, free from molestation and attack by others who don’t share it.
Some might dismiss Ms. Gonzales’ contrition as part of a strategy on her behalf and that of the defense counsel, to obtain a more lenient outcome. While no one can know for certain whether her pleadings to the court are genuine and to what extent; Judge Brain showed wisdom in giving Ms. Gonzales the benefit of the doubt.
No one can know with certainty at this point, the degree, if any, of Gonzales’ change of heart, but it’s hard to see that there is any risk in the community service or probation arrangement. Time will be the most accurate reflection of her repentance. And repentance is what the young woman is pledging.
Gonzales told reporters that her actions were “reprehensible” and “abhorrent”. Is it likely that those adjectives are normally in currency in her vocabulary? Probably not. Does she understand their essential meaning? Quite likely.
Ms. Gonzales offered an explanation of the emotions that she was caught up in leading to her actions. “I was taken by the sensationalism of the media coverage on a conservative media outlet. I am deeply remorseful for my actions that brought my misdirected passionate patriotism into question.”
What this statement brings into question, is a subset of additional questions. First, was this public statement crafted in large part by the defense attorney? The wording seems to indicate that. But more significant are the implications of the term, “misdirected passionate patriotism”. What is authentic patriotism?
Can it be said that internalizing resentment, fear, distrust, hysteria and animus toward religious minorities, in this case Muslims, is legitimately categorized as patriotism – “passionate” or otherwise? Is she saying that the sentiment and condition of patriotism is a risk factor for bigotry and crime against others?
At her sentencing hearing, Ms. Dauenhauer stated to the court that, “I’m very sorry and ashamed of this whole situation. I’ve created a complete mess of my life and I’m very sorry to the people that I’ve hurt.”
So, while we ponder whether either of these women are sincerely contrite, or just staged a performance for the judge – there is one more actor in this tragedy; the militant right wing nationalist groups and media platforms that foment the angst, alarmism and animosity leading to vigilante action of which those of Gonzales and Dauenhauer are a relatively minor example.
One of these groups is Patriot’s Movement AZ, a collection of militant nationalist supporters of Donald Trump, whose leader, Lesa Antone is noted to have said, “Islam is our enemy.” Patriot’s Movement has tactically disavowed affiliation with Gonzales and Dauenhauer, but is known as a group that is organized around the goal of opposing most immigration.
The organization has been sued by Phoenix area churches for persistent harassment on the basis of their assistance to displaced asylum seekers from Central America.
Ms. Antone has said,“Right now, there is no bigger threat to the security of the United States of America and every single citizen, and that is the threat of illegal invasion. That is the threat of the planned, funded, organized invasion of our nation.”
The judges handling the sentencing had some closing comments to both of the women. Dauenhauser was told, “Well I suppose the good news is that you are ashamed, because you ought to be. It’s a horrible thing.”
Judge Brain told Gonzales:
“I hope your attorney is right that you’ve figured this out, that Muslims are not all terrorists any more than Christians are all Timothy McVeighs”, referring to the infamous Oklahoma Federal Building bomber. He added, “I guess I don’t know where the kind of hatred that got us here, comes from, but hopefully you’ve sorted it out and are going to make a change.”
We are not confused about where the hatred came from, but we join the judge in his hope that there will be a change of heart. Time will tell.