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Gail Williams recalls the day she first wandered down the main drag of this two-stoplightlight Mojave Desert town, marveling at the rock-strewn beauty of the landscape, taking in deep breaths of clean country air.

For the North Carolina transplant, exploring the isolated community turned into love at first sight. But she soon suspected the feeling was far from mutual. There were dismissive looks from store clerks who rolled their eyes and refused to wait on her, bottles thrown at her home, a mailbox ripped from its base. Cars screeched past her house, their occupants shouting racial epithets.

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When called about the ruined mailbox, local authorities assured Williams the incident was merely the work of troubled kids and suggested she get a post office box. Williams and other minorities in this remote San Bernardino County desert community say they have faced rising racial intolerance in recent months.

In October, an 8-foot-high swastika was set afire at the home of a Latino family. Three local men later pleaded guilty to the crime, with one sentenced to three years in prison for racial terrorism. Earlier that month, in what authorities termed a race-related crime, a white resident was charged with assault after brandished a metal pipe at an African American man who was visiting his apartment building.

Last year, another black resident said, youths lit crosses outside her home, prompting her to move back to Los Angeles.

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And a local black minister recently had the throats of several of his cows slashed. Experts say such incidents are becoming more common in isolated areas across California and the nation as longtime residents have begun to feel threatened by minorities moving from cities to escape crime and violence.

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Statistics documenting racially motivated crimes in small towns are scarce, but national experts say the trend toward violence is both evident and alarming. In many cases, the first spike of bias-motivated incidents comes immediately after the first nonwhite family moves into a white neighborhood, Levin said. In many areas, the targets of the violence are those perceived as uppity blacks from the city.

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Still, outlying communities have not developed a method of classifying such crimes. And experts say rural victims fear reprisal if they report such incidents. Kids are driven from schools. The minority population of San Bernardino County has risen dramatically sincewhile the percentage of whites has declined, according to U. Census figures.

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Between andthe year of the last census, the percentage of white residents in San Bernardino County dropped from Several race-related incidents have been reported recently in isolated communities across San Bernardino County. In August, an African American man was beaten by skinhe as he bought gas at a station in Hesperia. A year-old black man remains in a coma after he was beaten in October by three whites in what officials suspect is a hate crime.

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While racial tensions are common in small-town America, the geographic isolation of places like Joshua Tree--population 12, a quarter of whom are minorities--contributes to intolerant attitudes toward minorities, officials say. Ron Perret, who is stationed in Joshua Tree. County officials and local prosecutors say that while racially motivated crimes do take place in the area, they remain the exception rather than the rule.

Meanwhile, Michael Gennaco, civil rights coordinator for the U. Because we know they happen out there. Please leave me alone. On a moonlit desert night in October, Laura Molina awoke to a blast of heat outside her Joshua Tree trailer. She relocated her mother and two sisters several years ago to escape L. They want you to come outside so they can beat you up.

The men charged are neighbors they often greeted on the street. Days after the swastika incident, 75 people gathered for an anti-violence vigil organized by resident Elia Arce--who said she herself has been the victim of racial prejudice in town. Those in search of isolation find Joshua Tree the perfect spot. The unincorporated community sits alongside the popular Joshua Tree National Park, but still remains a lonely-looking place, a dusty eye-blink along California 62, a town on the road to someplace else. Many are scattered outside town along the surrounding rocky hillsides.

More than three-quarters of Joshua Tree residents are white. Since the economic recession of the early s, said Levin, the Northeastern University sociologist, many small-town residents have faced financial hardship and have felt ignored by their government, which they believe has concentrated its resources on the inner city. And when these people from the urban areas show up on their doorstep, the mood is right for retaliation. Susan Chaney, editor of the Hi-Desert News, calls the area a magnet for those wanting to drop out of society.

They want to be left alone. Barbara Grady, who is black, agrees. Moving here two years ago, she found locals standoffish, and winced when her kids faced racial slurs at school. Grady reported the incident to the FBI, but officials would not confirm whether they are investigating the matter.

For 20 years, Wiley Burton, an area minister and husband of singer Nancy Wilson, says he has felt an Mojave CA escort classified of racial tension. Recently, someone slashed the throats of several of his cows and spray-painted racial slurs on nearby telephone poles.

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While he says most of his neighbors condemn such behavior, a few bad eggs cause trouble. There are vultures who prey on low self-esteem. But Sandra Moore, an activist for the L. Does somebody have to get killed? Karen Callahan is one white resident who has felt the racial sting in Joshua Tree. Gail Williams believes the tension in Joshua Tree runs deeper than a couple of confused .

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John M. He covered a large swath of the American West, writing about everything from people to politics. He has also written extensively about California. He teaches a journalism course at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Glionna left The Times in All Sections.

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