Four years after they began highlighting their opposition to illegal immigration, Framingham brothers Joe and Jim Rizoli are continuing to generate controversy with local Brazilian immigrants and the town's top officials - and now, with a national antihate group.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based nonprofit organization that tracks extremist groups, published a report last month linking the brothers' group, Concerned Friends of Illegal Immigration Law Enforcement, to organizations that the law center identifies as hate groups.
To back up its assertion, the center pointed to postings on the Concerned Friends group site on Yahoo.com by such individuals as Mark Martin, the head of the Ohio division of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement.
Prominent local Brazilian activists said the law center's report was not a surprise.
"CCFIILE does a disservice not only to the Brazilian community, but to the community at large because they spread hate," said Manoel Oliveira, pastor of the New Life Presbyterian Community Church. "And that's been happening for a long time."
However, Jim Rizoli blasted the law center's report and denied that his organization has any ties to hate groups.
"What makes a hate group?" Rizoli said. "We hate illegal immigration and people who break the law. The Brazilians are upset because we've exposed their crooked ways."
Rizoli said he doesn't have anything against Brazilians. "They're good people, but they're misled," he said.
In one message, according to the report, Martin talked about putting a "bounty" on the head of "every minority" and "shoot them for sport."
"We don't ascribe to that viewpoint," Rizoli said. He added that he only found who Martin is when the law center published its report, and that when he read the postings, he immediately deleted at least 10 of them.
The law center report defined CCFIILE as a "nativist, extremist group," said Mark Potok, editor and director of the law center's Intelligence Project, which published the report.
He said the report's authors did not mean to suggest Rizoli knew Mark Martin or the other controversial posters. "What we're pointing out is the kind of talk that goes on in his own forums," Potok said.
Martin said he had been posting on CCFIILE for about six months. He said he posted the comment highlighted in the Southern Poverty Law Center's report, but denied that the National Socialist Movement is a hate group.
"I don't care what the SPLC says," he said. "It's not about hate, it's about love for our own race and country."
The law center's report included interviews with several Brazilian leaders and town officials in Framingham.
Police Chief Steven Carl, who was quoted in the report, said in an interview with the Globe that he doesn't think the Rizolis' group is a white supremacist organization, "but what they say can easily be perceived as hateful.
"I'm worried that people they attract to their cause could be members of hate groups," Carl said.
Ilton Lisboa, a well-known figure in the Brazilian community, said of the comments by Jim Rizoli, "American laws allow him to say that and it's important to educate our community about that." However, he noted, "It's difficult for our community to understand that."
Some leaders in the local Brazilian community see the law center report as confirmation of their concerns about the Rizolis. Vera Dias-Freitas, a local business owner who has been targeted on the brothers' local-access cable television show, Illegal Immigration Chat, calls the report "a milestone." Dias-Freitas, a high-profile advocate for the Brazilian community, also said town officials have known about the Rizoli brothers for years and have done nothing to stem their attacks on the Brazilian community.
But Carl said the town has been proactive in working with the immigrant community - especially Brazilians - by hosting a townwide dialogue and having his department conduct workshops that covered everything from immigration laws to driver's licenses.
Carl said he understands the frustration felt by some Brazilians, but that there's only so much the police can do.
"We're doing everything within our lawful authority, given the protections of the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights," Carl said. "The Rizolis, even if we don't like what they say or how they say it, are entitled to their opinion."