PAHRUMP, Nevada – Retiree Sam Jones wakes up each day and puts his graying hair in a ponytail, a .45-caliber automatic pistol on his right hip and the U.S. Constitution in his back pocket.
He is a man who knows how to make a statement.
So Jones, and others like him in this desert outpost, were all in favor when town leaders decided to send a message to Pahrump's growing immigrant community.
"This is America, and in America we speak English," Jones, 55, said in offering his interpretation of Pahrump's new English Language and Patriot Reaffirmation ordinance.
In approving the ordinance this month, a town best known for its proximity to legal brothels thrust itself into the United States' immigration debate.
The fast-growing community 60 miles down a two-lane road from Las Vegas made English its official language and barred residents from flying a foreign flag by itself.
The new ordinance does little, if anything, to change business for Pahrump's 33,000 residents. But it has done much to reveal simmering frustrations in this town in transition.
"What bothers me is that people who don't speak the language, they feel threatened and afraid," said Carmen Ruiz, a Hispanic real estate agent. She said the English-only rule has Hispanics wondering if they can speak Spanish on the streets. (They can.)
Since the debate over immigration heated up last spring, several local governments across the country have taken their own steps. English is now the official language of one Maryland town and a Dallas suburb. Earlier this month, voters approved a measure making English the official language of Arizona.
Supporters of Pahrump's new law say its intent is to encourage assimilation, though they acknowledge it is mostly symbolic. The ordinance provides exceptions for any official communication that the federal government requires to be translated, meaning few, if any, changes.
As for the flag rules, "you've heard of a paper tiger? This is a paper kitten. You can't enforce it," said Sheriff Tony DeMeo. "The flag has been considered a statement of freedom of expression. If someone wants to fly one, there's not too much you can do to tell them to take it down."
About 11 percent of Pahrump's residents are Hispanic. The number has been growing steadily, like the town, as retirees and young families come from Las Vegas and California in search of more affordable homes and a quieter way of life in what was once just a farming and ranching outpost.
Driven by the housing boom in Pahrump, Nye County was the sixth fastest-growing county in the nation last year. But Nye County still has a lot of the Wild West left in it. Casino gambling and prostitution are legal. It is not uncommon to see people carrying guns.
The ordinance was approved by the town board 3-2 at a Nov. 14 meeting attended by only a few Hispanics.
Board member Michael Miraglia, a 67-year-old retired Illinois state employee and the ordinance's chief backer, said TV images of Hispanic protesters carrying Mexican flags at May Day rallies angered him. He said Hispanic immigrants are different from people coming from other countries: They seem to resist assimilating.
"I don't know why. Maybe pride, maybe they don't want to give up their culture, maybe they don't want to become Americans," he said.
Miraglia originally proposed to bar businesses from offering housing or lending money to illegal immigrants. But the measure was watered down after businesses objected. The ordinance bars the town from providing social services to illegal immigrants, but that is largely meaningless, since the county provides most such services.
The American Civil Liberties Union has called the section dealing with the flag a violation of constitutional free speech rights and said it may sue.
The three politicians who voted for the ordinance were not elected, but appointed by a Republican governor to replace board members who had retired or, in one case, stepped down after being convicted of shoplifting at Wal-Mart. Newly elected members who take office next month said they plan to rewrite the law.
"Whatever measures we take, they have to be something that means something, and certainly they have to be constitutional," member-elect John McDonald said.
In the meantime, Ruiz is planning community meetings and encouraging people to report cases of discrimination or harassment.
"This is my town now. This is where I live, where I spend a lot of money. I'm not leaving, so I've got to do something about it," she said.