U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures during a news conference at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, U.S., May 31, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson(reuters_tickers)
By Emily Flitter
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Donald Trump's attacks on a federal judge of Mexican heritage have ignited hundreds of postings on social media about an advocacy group for Latinos that some Trump supporters are calling a terrorist organisation.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has said that U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, an Indiana native whose parents are Mexican immigrants, is making unfair rulings against him as the presiding judge in a class-action lawsuit over Trump University because of his plans to crack down on illegal immigration, including a promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
As evidence of what they say is Curiel's bias, Trump and some of his supporters have pointed to the judge's membership in La Raza Lawyers of San Diego, a local group for Hispanic lawyers that is affiliated with the Hispanic National Bar Association.
Some Trump supporters have incorrectly linked La Raza Lawyers to the National Council of La Raza, a 50-year-old civil rights group that has been strongly critical of Trump's proposals on immigration, as well as his idea to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States.
The NCLR's non-profit designation bars it from engaging in political campaigns, and the group's website describes it as a "nonpartisan voice for Latinos."
A conservative blog, GotNews.com, first noted Curiel's membership in the lawyer's group, which it identified simply as "La Raza," on May 31. A day later, another conservative website, The Daily Caller, made a link to the NCLR.
After the NCLR was first named, Trump fans on Twitter began attacking it. "Judge #TrumpHater #GonzaloCuriel is a member of the #TERRORIST group #LaRazza #BANLaRazza #GonzaloCuriel #RESIGN," wrote a user @WillysBaldSpot, whose profile describes her as a Trump supporter.
"I would never have known the "La Raza" organisation existed without Trump's controversial comments. #genius," wrote @asamjulian, another self-proclaimed Trump fan.
TRUMP: "HE'S GOT BIAS"
Trump on Sunday repeated his attack on Curiel in an interview on CBS's "Face the Nation."
"He's a member of a club or society very strongly pro-Mexican, which is all fine. But I say he's got bias," Trump said in the interview.
"This judge has treated me very unfairly. He's treated me in a hostile manner, and there's something going on," he added.
The words "La Raza" translate from Spanish to mean "the race," which Trump fans cite as proof the NCLR is a group of people who hate anyone who isn't Hispanic.
Lisa Navarrete, an NCLR spokeswoman, rejected that interpretation, saying that "thousands" of groups had names that included "La Raza" as a "nod to our common heritage."
The attacks on the advocacy group are the latest signs of the increasing racial tension in the 2016 presidential race. Critics have said Trump's calls to deport undocumented immigrants and ban Muslims amount to racism. His supporters say he's defending the country from terrorism and violence.
Some supporters of the New York businessman have blamed the NCLR for the violent clashes between anti-Trump protesters and Trump fans at a San Jose, California, rally last week.
"Thank you La Raza for putting California into play for Trump," wrote another supporter, @magnifier661. "Your violent fascism turned off the voting class #MAGA (a hashtag meaning Make America Great Again)."
The NCLR has been criticized in the past for its leaders' statements on immigration - the group supports a path to citizenship for people who entered the United States illegally - but Navarrete said it has never before attracted the ire of a presidential candidate.
Over the past week, she said, she and other NCLR officials have been calling journalists and pundits they believe are mischaracterizing the group.
"We've been doing a lot of correcting the media and making sure they're not repeating what supporters of Mr. Trump are saying," she said.
"We're sitting around arguing the minutiae of banking regulation, not running around in hoods.'"
Hope Hicks, Trump's spokeswoman, declined to comment.
(Reporting by Emily Flitter; Editing by Leslie Adler)