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They're angry, tough, resentful, good Christians, flush with family values, and full of loathing for Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas. They are zealous and perhaps, according to detractors, a little paranoid. They also may soon be running this town.
Their public presence is Take Back Miami-Dade, a political coalition dedicated to destroying the county ordinance that outlaws sexual orientation-based discrimination in the areas of housing, finance, and public accommodations. This family represents a historic alliance of two groups formerly at great odds: Cuban Americans still enraged at Reno over the Elian affair, and Bible-thumping black Baptist ministers still enraged at the Devil. To be fair, this convergence was partially responsible for Miami's new Civilian Investigative Panel, designed to put homicidal cops in check. The organization has been able to amplify its influence via mass media, including radio and the monthly El Nuevo Patria (The New Fatherland). The recent referendum campaign revealed that it now has full control of one AM radio station, La Poderosa WWFE-AM (670), which has provided it with almost unlimited air time. It owes much of its success to the brute force of its rhetoric.
The group has had several recent setbacks, however. In August state authorities arrested four Take Back operatives, including one capo and one minor, on various felony charges related to petition fraud. They are awaiting trial, and with the exception of the minor, face up to three years in prison. On September 10 Take Back narrowly lost a referendum to repeal the anti-discrimination ordinance, 53 to 47 percent.
But this organization is not going away. In fact last week's election, troubled by Florida's peculiar penchant for voting machines that misfunction, has emboldened its leaders to expand their aims. Alleging that systematic fraud cost them victory, the family is demanding that Supervisor of Elections David Leahy be removed along with millions of dollars of new computerized voting machines. Next they want the head of Penelas, as well as those of other enemies who opposed their repeal effort: Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, and all the editors of the Miami Herald. In the words of underboss Eladio José Armesto, their current motive is to end "the corrupt political establishment that is controlling county hall, pandering to homosexualist extremists who are nothing but grown-up crybabies, who are trying to disguise themselves as victims of discrimination when indeed their discrimination is a total hoax."
1. David Caton, Capo di Tutti Capi? The extent and nature of Caton's contacts with Take Back Miami-Dade are uncertain. May only provide monetary and moral support. (But he may be the boss of bosses.) As a leader of Take Back Tampa, Caton, age 46, led a successful drive in 1992 to overturn a municipal law prohibiting sexual orientation-based discrimination. But the Florida Supreme Court later annulled the vote in light of evidence the group had submitted referendum petitions with invalid signatures. A local court threw out a similar question before a 1995 vote owing to problematic wording. Caton is president of the nonprofit Florida Family Association, whose purpose is to "educate people on what they can do to defend, protect, and promote traditional Biblical values." For tax year 2000 the FFA reported $284,316 in revenue. Of the proceeds $64,200, or 22 percent, went to Caton's salary.
FFA is a faithful financer and supplier of the Miami group. Year 2000 campaign treasurer's reports indicate in-kind contributions totaling $2000 in the form of pens, clipboards, photocopies, and ink. FFA contributed a $500 check this past May. More recent records were not available. (Take Back Miami-Dade reported no activity in its account in 2001.)
Gay-rights proponents suspect Caton may have at least spiritual ties to the new director of Florida's scandalized Department of Children and Families, Jerry Regier. Regier insists he has broken with the Family Research Council, a close ally of FFA parent the American Family Association; and with the Coalition on Revival, whose Website says Regier endorsed a 1999 document stating: "We affirm that repentant homosexuals who, recognizing the reality of their sin, call upon Jesus Christ for his salvation ... and become born again are saved from eternal judgment." No specific relationship between Regier and the Miami family is known. Take Back consiglieriRosa Armesto, however (see below), is employed by the DCF.
2. Eladio Armesto-Garcia, Don. The 65-year-old Armesto-Garcia has avoided the limelight since July, when state prosecutors charged his youngest daughter Maytee, a Community Council 12 member, with putting a false address on her candidate certification form. Authorities targeted Don Eladio last year for privately discussing a zoning case with Angel Gonzalez (now a Miami commissioner) while they were members of the City of Miami's Code Enforcement Board. But the don beat the rap. Has settled into a behind-the-scenes role advising his two older children, Eladio José and Rosa.
3. Eladio José Armesto, Underboss. The 45-year-old Armesto has served as Take Back Miami-Dade's communications director since its 1998 inception. Also an officer of the small but vocal Democratic League of Dade County, he has criticized Republican President George W. Bush's war on terrorism. Armesto, however, has adapted the basic concept of the Bush Doctrine into what might be called the Armesto Doctrine: There is no distinction between homosexuals and those who harbor them, that is, homosexualists. Moreover, homosexualist politicians and officials who commit electoral fraud to protect gays and lesbians are more dangerous than any al Qaeda thug. Denouncing these foes on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary, Armesto told a Channel 51 reporter: "America will wake up on September 11 more united than ever to combat not just terrorists who kill persons and destroy buildings but also the terrorists who kill the human spirit." The next night he expounded alongside host Matias Farias at the La Poderosa studio. "The national security of the United States is at stake here," Armesto proclaimed. "The legitimacy of a government falls when its population doesn't have a way to prove who has been elected or how," he added, referring to Florida's new computerized voting machines. "Those who commit this type of fraud," he continued, "are much more frightening than any terrorist who destroys a building or kills a citizen, because what they are undermining is not a building or human being but the institutions of an entire nation."