SANTA ANA, Calif. — Southern California’s progressive activists are uniting in outrage over the failure of the Orange County district attorney and the Garden Grove police department to charge Minuteman Project supporter Hal Netkin for allegedly ramming his van into peaceful immigrant rights demonstrators May 25.

Instead of arresting Netkin, the police instead arrested and charged five young men among the immigrant rights demonstrators with felony assault.

The controversy arose when Minuteman Project co-founder James Gilchrist spoke at the Women’s Civic Club in Garden Grove, where he called for deporting millions of undocumented immigrants. He said he was “damned proud to be a vigilante” patrolling the border. About 200 immigrant rights activists protested his appearance outside.

On his way in to the event, Netkin reportedly rammed his minivan into the demonstrators without provocation. Demonstrators immediately chanted “Arrest him!” said defense group spokesperson Theresa Dang, who herself was hit by Netkin’s vehicle.

Netkin was later picked up by police but was subsequently released without charges.

Dang said the five pro-immigrant-rights demonstrators were arrested about two hours later when the activity broke up, about the same time police say they declared the gathering an unlawful assembly. All five are students. One is white, another Asian American, and three are Latinos.

On June 1 about 100 immigrants rights, peace, student, Latino, labor and community activists picketed the Santa Ana office of Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas as representatives of the newly formed May 25th Legal Defense Committee. They called on Rackauckas to drop charges against the five demonstrators, bring charges against Netkin and initiate an independent investigation of police bias in the case.

Defense committee spokes-person Refugio Valle of the Chicano student MECHA group at the University of Calif-ornia–Irvine said the five students “were voicing opposition to hate and discrimination against the undocumented” and were victims, not perpetrators, of assault.

Also at the picket was Susan Andres of San Gabriel Neighbors for Peace. She said she, too, was hit by Netkin’s vehicle on May 25, and observed no violence or threats directed toward him. When she tried to report the incident to the authorities, “the police were hostile. One asked, ‘Couldn’t it have been an accident?’ I said, ‘Not unless he was blind.’” Others at the picket gave similar testimony.

Arturo Cambron, another defense committee spokesperson, said California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comments welcoming Minutemen vigilantes to the state have “opened the doors and emboldened them and must have some influence on the police, press and prosecutors.”

The group said it will wait for a response to its demands until June 8, when further actions will be decided upon.