Friday, October 07, 2005

Coddling extremists

The issue of immigration -- and particularly the activities of the so-called Minutemen and their cohorts -- continues to be an active ground for mainstream conservatives to commingle with genuine extremists, and thereby become more extremist themselves.

The latest example occurred recently in Arizona, during a visit by Republican legislators from Colorado to a ranch owned by a figure closely associated not just with the Minutemen, but also bona fide hate groups:
The tour was organized by Glenn Spencer, whose home is about 1,000 feet from the border. He recently organized a number of border-watching activities, including a few with the Minuteman group.

Spencer said he had been a military researcher who worked at the Pentagon before moving to Arizona to set up a nonprofit group that investigates illegal immigration.

He showed aerial photographs and videos of immigrants crossing the border illegally near his home. He also showed visitors a miniature reconnaissance plane with a camera attached to it that he spent $40,000 to develop and build.

"We do this to expose the malfeasance of U.S. border patrol officials, who have failed us in protecting our borders," he said. "What can U.S. citizens do to help? A lot."

Spencer also told the Colorado legislators and a group of Republican political candidates from Arizona about a volunteer who crossed the border into Mexico and brought back a "simulated weapon of mass destruction."

"We did it to see if anybody would try to stop us," Spencer said. "This happened supposedly along the most heavily policed border area in the United States."

Yes, this is the same Glenn Spencer whose organization, American Patrol, has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center:
Glenn Spencer, one of the hardest line anti-immigrant ideologues now operating, founded the Voices of Citizens Together (VCT, which is also known, like his web site and radio show, as American Patrol) in 1992.

In 1994, VCT lobbied hard for passage of California's controversial Proposition 187, which would have denied educational and other benefits to illegal immigrants and their children. (Although it passed, 187 was later thrown out by the courts.)

Four years later, Spencer claimed 3,500 subscribers to the VCT newsletter. Spencer takes a hard line on immigration, demanding that the armed forces seal America's southern border. He also displays a bigoted and vulgar side quite openly.

On his web site, he attacks Mario Obledo, a leading Latino activist and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, as "Pinche [literally, fucking] Cockroach and 1998 Asshole of the Year." A cartoon character is depicted urinating on Obledo's picture.

Spencer posts dozens of immigration-related articles but replaces the words "illegal immigrant" with "illegal alien," among other editing touches. In a 1996 letter to The Los Angeles Times, Spencer wrote: "The Mexican culture is based on deceit. Chicanos and Mexicanos lie as a means of survival."

He posts material on his site from such men as H. Millard, an infamous columnist for the racist Council of Conservative Citizens who once bemoaned the "slimy brown mass of glop" that immigration and interracial relationships were making of the U.S. population.

Spencer sent every member of Congress a copy of his videotape -- "Bonds of Our Nation" -- that purports to prove the Mexican government and Mexican-Americans are plotting to take over the American Southwest and create the nation of Aztlán. Hand-delivering the videos was Betina McCann, the fiancé of neo-Nazi Steven Barry.

On a weekly radio show that airs in several cities, Spencer has hosted a series of guests like Kevin McDonald, a professor who accuses Jews of devising an immigration policy specifically intended to dilute and weaken the white population of America.

Odd that the reporter for the Rocky Mountain News neglected to inform his readers of any of this information.

This extremism is also apparent throughout the Minutemen organization. The Center for New Community's Building Democracy Initiative has a new report out titled "Shell Games: The 'Minutemen' and Vigilante Anti-Immigrant Politics [PDF file], which lays bare the history behind the "border watch" concept:
The strategy of border vigilantism as a political spectacle did not originate with the Minutemen Project, Glenn Spencer's American Border Patrol, Ranch Rescue, or even the militia groups that inspired Chris Simcox. Instead, the "men of this calibre" who hatched the idea were leaders in the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, more than a quarter century ago.

The Klan Border Watch was launched on Oct 16, 1977 at the San Ysidro, California Port of Entry by Grand Dragon Tom Metzger and Imperial Wizard David Duke, who claimed that the patrols would stretch from California to Texas. It was conceived to recapture the Klan's glory days. With nearly 4 million members in the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan was highly influential in the passage of the 1924 National Origins Act, thereby making racism part of official US immigration policy until the passage of the Immigration Act of 1965.

While Metzger handled the California operations, the Texas side was run by Louis Beam (who would go on to terrorize Vietnamese fishers in Galveston Bay a few years later.) They predicted that thousands would participate, though only dozens materialized. To Duke, a Klan Border Watch was a necessary part of "the battle to halt the flow of illegal aliens streaming across the border from Mexico."

More important than actually stopping border crossers, the Klan Border Watch was conceived as a way to "arouse public opinion to such a degree that they [the Federal Government] would be forced to better equip the beleaguered U.S. Border Patrol."

The underlying extremism of the founders of the current Miunteman Project is also laid quite clear. Cofounder Chris Simcox began -- like most of the current border agitators -- by applying the 1990s far-right concept of militias to the border situation; his first border group called itself the Tombstone Militia.

Likewise with cofounder Jim Gilchrist:
Under Gilchrist's guidance, the Minuteman Project has tried to rhetorically distance itself from both paramilitarism and racism. Yet Gilchrist himself is prone to hysterical remarks about immigrants and to conspiracy mongering, as evidenced by these remarks:

From what I have seen in videos, to me there is a clear and present danger of insurrection, sedition and succession by those who buy into the fact that this really is Mexico’s territory and doesn’t belong to the United States and should be taken back.

Gilchrist's words are a succinct statement of the so-called reconquista conspiracy theory which holds that Mexico is quietly infiltrating a fifth-column of revolutionaries into the United States with the purpose of territorial conquest. Moreover the infiltration is being accomplished with the treasonous collusion of various "liberal elite" institutions, e.g. the Catholic Church and the Ford Foundation, and the applause of muddle-headed multiculturalists.

Gilchrist's conspiracist formulation of the problem he sees with undocumented immigration is only an extreme form of the basic xenophobic arguments repeating the time-tested formula of bigoted fear-mongering. In the early years of the twentieth century it was the "yellow peril" -- which led to laws excluding those of Asian descent from immigrating to the United States. In the wake of the Civil War, and with the failure of Reconstruction, it was Jim Crow and anti-miscegenation laws, intended to keep the races forever separate and distinct.

In a May 2005 speech to a meeting of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, a hardcore anti-immigrant group which promotes the reconquista conspiracy theory, Gilchrist said, "I'm damn proud to be a vigilante." He believes that, "Illegal immigrants will destroy this country." At a Memorial Day 2005 "summit" of anti-immigrant leader in Las Vegas, Gilchrist commented, "Every time a Mexican flag is planted on American soil, it is a declaration of war."

Finally, the report lays out the extent to which the Minutemen are attracting large numbers of racists, white supremacists, and other extremists to their ranks -- a subject discussed often here.

Meanwhile, California's Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, recently defended the Minutemen again, comparing them to a "neighborhood watch":
"It's no different than if you have a neighborhood watch person there that's watching your children at the playground," he responded. "I don't see it any different."

Except, of course, that most neighborhood watches don't call themselves -- and organize themselves -- as militias. Nor do they rhetorically attack minorities. Nor do they attract neo-Nazis to their ranks.

But oh well. For today's Republicans, it seems, Barry Goldwater's old adage has now been altered: "Extremism in the pursuit of our political base is no vice."

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