Saturday, April 19, 2008
Alarming internal emails within the San Diego Minuteman Group. They called immigrants “cockroaches,” “wetbacks” and other slurs.
An immigrant rights organization released this week alarming internal e-mails circulated among members of the San Diego Minutemen, considered one of the most aggressive, anti-illegal immigrant groups in the United States.
Although this group publicly maintains that it is not racist and opposes only illegal immigration, the candid communications among its members frequently describe immigrants as “cockroaches” and “Third-World animals,” among other pejorative terms.
One e-mail from June 2007 says group members would “need a portable battery operated freezer...for store of filets, hams and ribs of well-marbled border crossers ” during an outing to stop illegal border crossers.
The release of the e-mails comes at a time when protests carried out by The Minutemen and their sympathizers have started to pick up, ending a lull after the October wildfires.
In recent weeks, group members have picketed sites in San Ysidro, Lemon Grove, Santee, Carlsbad, Bonsall, Vista, and Oceanside, mainly where Latino laborers gather to seek work. They also protested in front of the Mexican Consulate in downtown San Diego and at a “mobile” consular event in San Marcos.
A protest took place April 12 at a church in Fallbrook, the site of a previous tense clash between a man and a protestor who was videotaping him.
Law enforcement authorities worry that these kinds of confrontations have the potential to turn violent, even deadly.
The California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation is an organization that monitors the actions of The Minutemen and off-shoot groups. Its director, Claudia Smith, said she obtained the e-mails from a person on The Minutemen distribution list.
She called their content “classic racist language.”
“Don’t ‘trespass’ into the parking lot proper , even though the degrados (sic) are permitted to swarm there like human cockroaches,” reads an e-mail by Mike Spencer, a cofounder of The Minutemen, to other group members apparently preparing for a protest on June 9, 2007.
He did not return phone calls.
The messages date from June 2006 to March of this year and can be read on the foundation’s website, at minutemenuncensored.com.
Jeff Schwilk, founder of the San Diego Minutemen, said some of the e-mails made pubic by the foundation “look familiar”, but denied that his group called immigrants “cockroaches,” “wetbacks” and other slurs.
“We send out thousands of e-mails and the fact that they selectively took a couple and then they pull out one sentence out of context and say, ‘oh, it proves this’ is wrong,” Schwilk said.
“Nobody has been able to prove to me that we are racists in three years,” he added.
He hung up the telephone when asked to explain how his group’s web page maintained that it did not tolerate racism while some of its members and supporters referred to Latino immigrants using ethnic slurs.
Smith has videotaped a series of encounters between Schwilk and his supporters and day laborers and their supporters.
The clips show the tactics used by the Minutemen against the people they are targeting and their response. They include yelling insults at the people and shoving and yanking on them. Group members can be seen wearing caps with the insignia of the federal agencies Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Border Patrol.
In one video, after exchanging screams and insults in front of St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Fallbrook, a man is seen destroying a camera belonging to a Minuteman sympathizer, who responds by dousing that person’s face with pepper spray.
Óscar García, the Deputy District Attorney who heads the hate crime unit, has investigated Schwilk and other Minutemen members in connection with the vandalism committed at a several camps for homeless laborers in Rancho Peñasquitos early last year.
The investigation continues, and a $10,000 reward is being offered to obtain information about who slashed the clothes, blankets and other personal belongings at the canyon camps.
Garcia worries about what one of these protests might provoke.
“I wouldn‘t be surprised if one day I read in the paper or see on the news that there has been a serious injury or death resulting from all the hostilities of the day labor sites,” he said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a leading organization that tracks hate groups on a national level, categorized the San Diego Minutemen as an “nativist extreme” organization, one that goes beyond opposing issues like illegal immigration and that hounds and threatens individuals it disagrees with.
Mark Potok, who compiled the list of extremist organizations for the center, said the San Diego organization is one of the most aggressive and active of the 150 or so anti-immigrant groups nationwide classified as “nativist extremists.”
“They qualify probably more than any other group,” he said from Washington, D.C. “it‘s a form of low-level terrorism, harassing people who they disagree with.”
The San Diego Minutemen were founded in October 2005 after similar groups drew national attention by setting up watch camps in the Arizona border in the spring of that year.
Their website says the organization has 800 members in San Diego and Orange counties.
These days, protests by the San Diego Minutemen range from a couple to several dozens. They visit day labor sites as well as areas near the border. They are usually followed by activists who monitor the encounters between the Minutemen and the laborers.
However, both groups have become increasingly aggressive in engaging each other.
Schwilk has been the target of several lawsuits, including one by a Korean-American activist who accused him of libel after The Minutemen circulated messages and photos that characterized her as a prostitute.
This year the Minutemen sued Caltrans to reclaim a stretch of highway it had “adopted” near the San Clemente immigration checkpoint.
The state agency changed that stretch of Interstate 5 for a section of Route 52, citing safety concerns, saying that someone could stop on the side of the heavily traveled freeway to protest or support the Minutemen if group members were picking up trash in that spot.
The next hearing in that lawsuit is scheduled for May 5.
For now, the San Diego Minutemen and other like-minded groups have increased their presence.
Lt. Álex Domínguez, of the Sheriff’s substation in Fallbrook, where many of the clashes between the two sides have taken place, said the Minutemen sympathizers reappeared last week for the first time since the October wildfires at a gas station where day laborers tend to congregate.
“For us it’s a challenge to balance public safety and freedom of speech,” he said. “It worries us (that something serious could happen someday), and that’s why we invite people to be courteous and obey the law