Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Exposing Gun Toting vigilantes. They are back. Know they are against Mexicans but before in the 1850s, they lynched Irishmen; in the 1870s, they terrorized the Chinese; in the first decade of the twentieth century, they murdered striking Wobblies; in the 1920s, they organized “Bash a Jap” campaigns; and in the 1930s, they welcomed the Joads and other Dust Bowl refugees with tear gas and buckshot…. Vigilantes have always been to the American West what the Ku Klux Klan was to the South; vicious and cowardly bigotry organized into a self-righteous mob. Almost every decade, some sinister group of self-proclaimed patriots mobilizes to repel a new invasion from some threat or other.
Continuum of hate
IN TEXAS, two men brutalize and sexually assault a Hispanic teenager, dousing him with bleach and stubbing out cigarettes on his skin.
In Tennessee, a former Klansman and corrections officer is arrested with five pipe bombs intended to blow up a bus of Mexican workers, “They are over here illegally and nothing gets done to them,” he argued.
On the border, at the notorious Ranch Rescue-a group instrumental in establishing the Minutemen co-founder Chris Simcox's first group, the Civil Homeland Defense-two undocumented El Salvadorian immigrants are illegally detained at gun point, where, according to their testimony, they are pistol-whipped and harassed by trained attack dogs.
According to a recent report by the Anti -Defamation League, these are just a few examples of the more than 2,500 hate crimes against Latinos documented by the FBI since 2001; violence that has been spawned by a bipartisan-endorsed, media-driven climate of hate, bankrolled by right-wing forces.
Two contrasting currents are coursing through the country in the wake of the mega-marches last spring, polarizing the immigration debate and forcing the issue into mainstream American discourse. One embodies a millions-strong, immigrant-led, grassroots mobilized civil rights movement, recently formed into a National Alliance for Immigrant Rights, which coordinated Labor Day actions throughout the country. The other is marked by an anti-immigrant hysteria incessantly perpetuated by the political establishment and mass media alike-which has galvanized the Right-contributing to a dramatic increase in hate groups and the savage crimes they perpetrate.
Since 2001, this hysteria has given rise to far-Right hate groups, including the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi organizations, increasing by 33 percent from 602 to 803.4 Festering like an open wound, white supremacist, skinhead, and Nazi rallies are springing up throughout the country, using anti-immigrant rhetoric as their wedge issue. The Minuteman Project has spawned sixty spin-off groups, drawing leadership directly from the extremist ranks of the Patriot militias that had collapsed after the Oklahoma City bombing, while continuing to increase their membership.5 The Minutemen and their defenders claim that linking them to Nazi hate groups is“guilt by association.” As co-founder Jim Gilchrist put it, “We are not racists. We don't endorse racism, and we're not a hate group.” The reality, obscured by a complicit media, is that the Minutemen--advocates of gun-toting vigilantism--have attracted to their banner a range of far-Right fanatics, including those who openly advocate for the assassination, lynching, and murder of Blacks, Latinos, and other minorities.
In order to disrupt the growth of these vigilante forces and prevent the further violence that will come in its wake it is important to recognize the role the Minutemen actually play in weaving together right-wing forces and creating the political climate that fosters such acts.
This means: 1) exposing the Minutemen as racists serving a xenophobic agenda that has provided real fascist elements, neo-Nazi and skinhead groups, a chance to bolster their own ranks;
2) exposing the Minutemen as extremists with direct involvement from the Patriot militia movement;
3) demonstrating that such extremist scapegoating arises from legitimate political and economic concerns, but uses racism and nationalism as a means of preserving the status quo;
4) demonstrating that the media and both political parties have a vested interest in “mainstreaming” acceptance and support for the Minutemen to feed anti-immigrant scapegoating to serve their own agenda.
Not even Gilchrist's 2005 congressional bid encouraged him to part ways with openly fascist groups. A number of his campaign volunteers were from skinhead and white nationalist organizations, working the phone banks and computers while distributing neo-Nazi propaganda. Cliff May, a former campaign volunteer who left after his concerns over the affiliation with white supremacists, stated: “Gilchrist had assured the media several times he had a zero-tolerance policy toward white supremacists. But from what I saw from the inside, it was more like, 'Don't ask, don't tell.'”7
Since the Minuteman Project's coming out party in April 2005, when they first emulated the 1977 Ku Klux Klan Border Watch for a month-long “patrol” of the Arizona-Mexico border, its ties to open white supremacists have been well-documented. At least six members of the National Alliance--who openly recruited for the “border patrol”--and one from the Aryan Nation were among the early all-white recruits. Gilchrist explained to the media, “We've told white supremacists they're not welcome here, and we've kept them out,” but in reality they did nothing to back up this claim.
Speaking on behalf of the estimated 150-200 predominately white and heavily armed men, Gilchrist made the absurdly audacious claim that, “We can do this peacefully, the same way Martin Luther King sought justice for American Blacks.” He added, “We're followers of Gandhi and Martin Luther King.”
Johnny and Michael, two members of the neo-Nazi National Alliance, strapped with semi-automatic pistols and standing alongside Gilchrist, were more to the point: “We're in a race war, not a peace march.” Michael elaborated on his own immigration policy: “You get up there with a rifle and start shooting four or five a week, the other four or five thousand behind them are going to think twice about crossing that line.”
Such savage sentiment was shared even by those who were not organized racists, “It should be legal to kill illegals,” another volunteer outfitted with a revolver specially chambered to fire shotgun shells expressed, “Just shoot 'em on sight.”
These truths about the nature of the Minutemen have been omitted from media coverage. A recent American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report that surveyed 581 articles and editorials about the vigilantes found “six areas of consistent misperception and inaccuracy,” including “the extremist and xenophobic motivations” of the group; an underreporting of participation and promotion of the Minuteman Project from the white supremacist community”; and an almost complete omission of the “violence and illegal activity” perpetrated by the Minutemen and other vigilante groups.
The twenty-first century Paul Revere Riders, a Minutemen on motorcycles spin-off group, set out on a six-figure funded, forty-eight state tour of hate in 2006. The tour was headed by Frosty Wooldridge, a right-wing “nativist” and author of such racist gems as Immigration's Unarmed Invasion: Deadly Consequences, which dubs immigrants a “disease jihad.” Wooldridge rails, “I don't want to see my country taken over…and have them make the Southwest a slime pit Third World country like Mexico.” This language is echoed almost verbatim not only on the Web site of California's Minuteman suburban counterpart, Save Our State (SOS), but also on placards hoisted by the National Alliance.
In fact, SOS had confederate flags, swastikas, and Hitler-era “sieg-heil” salutes on display at a July 2005, demonstration at a day laborer center in Laguna Beach, CA. The group's leader, Joe Turner, justified lamely: “Just because one believes in white separatism, that does not make them a racist.”
In a chat room for the white supremacist Web site Stormfront, the story was painted somewhat differently, as one online contributor wrote, groups like SOS are a “Trojan horse” for hardcore racists to enter more legitimated, “mainstream” anti-immigrant politics. “This is a movement that every WN [white nationalist] should support and be active in.” Underscoring this point, the site has jumped to 52,000 users since 2005, even garnishing an uncritical nod from a FOX news affiliate.
Turner, for his part, has been instrumental in drafting the rash of draconian anti-immigrant local ordinances pending in thirteen states and passed in five cities, including: Hazelton, PA.; Valley Park, MO; and Riverside, NJ, which threaten to fine landlords who rent to undocumented immigrants, penalize businesses that hire them, and declare English as the official language of these local governments.
The Tucson, AZ-based Border Guardians take things a step further. Founder Laine Lawless, in an e-mail to Mark Martin, the “SS commander” of the Western Ohio unit of the National Socialist Movement, outlined eleven tactics, “some legal and some not-so,” for ways Martin's “warriors for the race” could terrorize undocumented immigrants. These include, “steal[ing] the money from any illegal walking into a bank or check-cashing place” and “creat[ing] an anonymous propaganda campaign warning that any further illegal immigrants coming here will be shot, maimed, or seriously messed-up upon crossing the border.”
In a recent Time magazine article, Martin bragged about harassing day laborers and disrupting the May 1 pro-immigrant rally in Dayton. “After the rally, the Klan called us,” Martin said. “Now we've started working together more often.”
In some localities, the Minutemen have attempted to publicly deflect criticism of their racism by forging dubious partnerships with non-white conservatives.
In Chicago, for example, the local Minutemen chapter hooked up with a single libertarian preacher, Rev. Anthony Williams, pastor of an Englewood church, who worked on conservative Christian Alan Keyes' Senate campaign.18 The press has obliged the Minutemen by giving coverage to these stunts, while downplaying the presence of hard-core fascists in their ranks.
ACLU investigators found that only 1 percent of the articles in their survey reported the presence of right-wing militia members within the Minutemen--including, for example, Bob Wright, commander of the First Brigade New Mexico Militia, who now serves as director of national training in the national office of the Minutemen.
In fact, before developing his media savvy, Chris Simcox, Minutemen co-founder, regularly described the group as “a committee of vigilantes” and “a border militia.” A news release issued on his Web site explicitly stated, “Join fellow Patriot-Minutemen in October to observe, report and protect the U.S. from illegal immigration in all southern border states.”
Yet, only three articles and editorials surveyed by the ACLU illustrate these ties. “It appears that militiamen have given themselves a makeover to appeal to mainstream media in an attempt to win public support for their extremist agenda,” the report concludes.
Even their name, Minutemen, while conjuring up the Americana mythos surrounding the Revolutionary War, has a different resonance in right-wing circles. In the 1960s, the Minutemen were a paramilitary splinter of the far-Right John Birch Society, underscoring their vehement anti-communist paranoia with violent ambitions. In 1965, they were affiliated with a plot to use 1,400 pounds of dynamite to assassinate Martin Luther King, Jr. during an Anti-Defamation League convention.
This set off a chain reaction of arrests and unraveled terror plots the following year, including a plan to bomb three summer camps in the New York metropolitan area that they believed to have been infiltrated by communism.
The historical legacy linking these earlier terrorists to the patriot groups is widely recognized.
A number of other human rights groups have noted the parallels between the new Minutemen and militias as well. The Center for New Communities Building Democracy Initiative, an anti-nativist watchdog group, points out: “The Minutemen of today and the militias of a decade ago have many commonalities ideologically. Despite all their 'law-and-order' rhetoric, they both rely on illegal paramilitary vigilantism and intimidation to push public policy.”
Historically, this is the role vigilante bands have always fulfilled. Their violent rhetoric often accompanied by extreme action serves the system in an effort to terrorize those with the confidence to fight back, while attempting to push the mainstream argument further to the right. As historian, author, and activist Mike Davis explains:
The vigilantes are back. In the 1850s, they lynched Irishmen; in the 1870s, they terrorized the Chinese; in the first decade of the twentieth century, they murdered striking Wobblies; in the 1920s, they organized “Bash a Jap” campaigns; and in the 1930s, they welcomed the Joads and other Dust Bowl refugees with tear gas and buckshot…. Vigilantes have always been to the American West what the Ku Klux Klan was to the South; vicious and cowardly bigotry organized into a self-righteous mob. Almost every decade, some sinister group of self-proclaimed patriots mobilizes to repel a new invasion from some threat or other.
More specifically, the right-wing populism of the vigilantes, whether in their patriot garb or Minutemen posture, deflects attention away from the actual systems of power and exploitation, scapegoating its most vulnerable victims, and reducing social and economic explanations to conspiracy theories.
The appeal of the vigilantes' anti-immigrant rhetoric is based on real concerns--workers' wages are falling, poverty is increasing, and American society is experiencing the most significant class stratification since the late 1920s--but their conclusions are informed by racism, fear, conspiracy and nationalism.
In this sense, the ideology of the Minutemen is the ideology of the middle class--resentful of the rich and powerful and hateful toward the poor and oppressed.
The Minutemen are in a much better position then their militia predecessors. While the media and the establishment remained mute throughout the patriot peak in the mid-1990s prior to the Oklahoma City bombing, they often act as outright cheerleaders this time around.
This has opened a door to the far Right to step into the mainstream, emboldening openly fascist, racist, and white supremacist organizations and making their extremist, once marginal views, appear legitimate.
CNN anchor Lou Dobbs and Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) seem to be leading the charge in this “mainstreaming” of extremist views, both consistently lavish praise on the Minutemen and their ilk.
Dobbs has regularly conducted interviews with these self-professed immigration experts while omitting their ties to white supremacist groups. He conducted two interviews, for example, with Glenn Spencer, the head of the anti-immigrant group American Patrol. If that wasn't bad enough, he failed to mention Spencer's connections to the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a hate group once dubbed “the uptown Klan” for leading the fight to maintain segregation, or his links to American Renaissance, a neo-eugenicists group that argues the genetic superiority of whites.
Dobbs used their source material to feature a segment on reconquista conspiracy theory--the idea that Mexican immigrants are an “army of invaders” intent on re-annexing parts of the Southwest, displaying a CCC map of the immigrant invasion.
His nightly “Broken Borders” segment has referred to immigrants as smugglers, drug traffickers, and carriers of deadly diseases.
Worse yet, following the events of May Day 2006, CNN put Dobbs on camera as an immigration expert, giving him run of the network in a stretch from his show to The Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer; Larry King Live; Anderson Cooper 360, and so on, providing a full evening of rabid anti-immigrant mania.
Tom Tancredo is among the GOP's most outspoken anti-immigration zealots. A keynote speaker at numerous anti-immigrant events where a spectrum of anti-immigration forces from Nazis to Buchananites to right-wing Republicans come to compare notes, he once told audiences that “illegal aliens…need to be found before it is too late. They're coming here to kill you, and you, and me, and my grandchildren.”
He was the keynote speaker at an anti-immigration conference in Las Vegas during Memorial Day weekend 2005. The conference displayed perfectly the threads that tie the full spectrum of the anti-immigrant forces--from fascists to GOP conservatives--together. Among the other speakers were California Coalition for Immigration Reform spokeswoman Barbara Coe, a key backer of anti-immigrant Proposition 187 in California, who proclaimed that undocumented workers are “illegal barbarians who are cutting off heads and appendages of blind, white, disabled gringos.”
Outside, members of the fascist group the National Alliance held up signs reading “Stop immigration, Join the National Alliance.” What emerges clearly in these gatherings is the way opposition to “illegal” immigration slides quite easily and comfortably into racist opposition to all immigrants from south of the border. According to a report in the American Prospect:
As evidenced by events in Las Vegas, a single--but not seamless--web connects ideological white supremacists, armed border vigilantes, nativist think tanks, political action committees, and Republican Party officeholders in an anti-immigrant movement of growing significance. Formal policy deliberations may include debates on the fiscal costs of providing social services to undocumented workers, the supposed downward pressure immigrant labor exerts on the marketplace, the net costs and benefits of immigration, and the national-security problems evinced by holes in our borders. But at gatherings like these, the raw issues are race and national identity.
Differences between legal and illegal immigrants fade into a generalized belief that a brown-skinned, Spanish-speaking tidal wave is about to swamp the white-skinned population of the United States.
The attempt to stop undocumented workers at the borders morphs into a campaign to end immigration altogether, to save our supposedly white nation from demographic ruin. As Tancredo told interviewer John Hawkins, “[If] we don't control immigration, legal and illegal, we will eventually reach the point where it won't be what kind of a nation we are, balkanized or united; we will have to face the fact that we are no longer a nation at all…”
The Democrats have helped to bolster the Right's dominance over the immigration debate in the media. Fearful of appearing soft on security issues, they play into the anti-immigrant hysteria, endorsing draconian measures--further militarization of the border, building a 700-mile wall, as well as increasing detention and deportation--with enthusiastic zeal.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton took a hard conservative stance on immigration opening an interview with WABC radio stating: “I am, you know, adamantly against illegal immigrants.” She then put forward an argument for an “ID system even for citizens.”
Senator Barack Obama of Illinois followed this up with, “The first priority of any immigration reform should be to secure our nation's borders…. In that respect, the president's proposal has merit as a temporary solution.” And no mainstream Democrat will challenge the prevailing fallacy of a “crisis on the border.”
In their final act before the November 2006 pre-election campaigning break, twenty-six Democrats lined up alongside Republicans in the U.S. Senate to approve construction of a 700-mile high-tech wall on the U.S.-Mexico border but not against Canadian Border..
In short, a whole host of culprits, from media conglomerates to politicians on both sides of the aisles, have contributed to making anti-immigrant backlash part of the mainstream debate, and thereby opening up the floodgates for racist filth to spew forth.
With both parties contributing to the political climate that fosters dehumanizing anti-immigrant hysteria and gives rise to racist violence, the only means of opposition is to confront them wherever the far Right demonstrates.
Contrary to the argument that many liberal organizations put forward, that protests will only draw attention to them, the Minutemen will not go away on their own--in fact they will continue to grow. And the same leaders who claim that ignoring them is a strategy are the same people in many cases who have insisted that the immigrant rights movement put its faith in the Democratic Party, which, as we can see, has hardly acted as a bulwark against the backlash.
The key to defeating the Minutemen and their ilk lies in building activities that “undermine their confidence and delegitimize their activities.”
This could involve a several-pronged strategy. First, the Minutemen's links to fascism must be exposed through systematic propoganda, along with their racism and violent vigilantism. But we must also expose the complicity of the “mainstream” in creating both the economic conditions and the political climate in which they have a space to organize.
Secondly, they must be confronted. The vigilantes thrive on intimidation. Everywhere they go they get positive media exposure and official recognition. Ignoring them hasn't changed this. On the contrary, for obvious reasons, it has emboldened them. But the Minutemen and the far Right can be pushed back and relegated to the margins by counter-organization and counter-protest.
Strong counterprotests discourage their “soft” supporters from turning out, helps to shift the political climate against them, and give confidence to those who despise them but are intimidated. The Minutemen will think twice about public mobilizations of any kind if they know that on each occasion they will find a larger contingent out to counter them and defend immigrants and their rights.
Finally, we must build genuine political alternatives based on the common class solidarity of native and immigrant, and between documented and undocumented workers. To their preaching of hate between different languages and nationalities, we must promote anti-racist, pro-immigrant working-class solidarity and unity on the basis of fighting for better wages, working conditions, and social services. Such a movement must be independent of both mainstream political parties, for the simple reason that both parties are largely responsible not only for attacks on the working class as a whole, but for stoking the anti-immigrant climate that they use to deflect anger at those attacks. A movement to challenge the Minutemen should be seen as a component part of the struggle to resist the government-led, bipartisan attack on immigrants-an attack that hurts all workers.