Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Minutemen in my backyard

The concept of the Minutemen expanding their "citizens border patrol" concept to the Canadian border is laughable on its face -- but unfortunately, that hasn't stopped them from doing it anyway.

Right here in Washington state, no less.

So, let's be clear: There is no "illegal alien" problem of any kind of magnitude coming from the Canadian side of the border. The biggest problem on the 49th Parallel is the illegal drug trade, which is not a "war on terror" problem, either. The only reason for the Minutemen to gather on the northern border is to give a bunch of bellicose right-wing extremists an opportunity to organize and spread their far-right ideology.

However, in keeping with the media performance so far, their arrival last week was greeted with big wet kiss of a feature from the Seattle Times.

That was countered more recently by reportage of resistance in Bellingham in the form of a city council resolution lambasting the Minutemen's presence:
"We're hoping that Gov. Gregoire takes a serious look at this and make it clear that militia and the Minutemen with their violence and racism are not welcomed here," said Bellingham Councilwoman Barbara Ryan, who sponsored the measure. She said the city has sent the resolution to Gregoire's office urging her to adopt a similar position for the state.

"The presence of these folks is disturbing because we have a long history of militia activity that has targeted people of color," said Ryan. "This is not the image we need here."

Actually, as I documented in my first book, In God's Country, Whatcom County has a long history of militia-oriented activism from a steady contingent of Patriot movement followers, including a bunch of them who wound up doing federal time in the late 1990s for building pipe bombs and concocting various schemes to use them. (See also Jane Kramer's excellent Lone Patriot for even more details.)

This same faction -- particularly one Ben Hinkle, who was in the thick of organizing local militias, but who managed to escape any known involvement with its more violent elements -- appears to be involved with the new Minutemen, which, of course, are simply a variation on the 1990s militia concept.

Like the old militias, they vociferously deny harboring radicals or representing a racist agenda:
Claude LaBas, one of the local organizers, said the case against them is based on lies and driven by fear.

"In the end, the government will either assign a civil-defense corps to assist in guarding the border or some other measure will be taken. That's our goal. Period. And then we can go back to living our lives."

On the local airwaves, KIRO-AM's new morningtime host, Frank Shiers -- with whom I worked at the Bellevue Journal American in the 1990s (he was one of our political cartoonists) -- has been defending them along similar lines. Earlier this week, Shiers was asking his listeners whether the Minutemen had been associated with any actual violence.

Well, as a matter of fact, there have been two shootings near Tijuana that were perpetrated by masked men who, obviously, weren't claiming open affiliation with the Minutemen, but were clearly inspired by their vigilante style of border activism.

But the possibility of violence is only the end result of this kind of activism, and may not occur at all if there's enough public awareness and prevention. The most immediate problem with the Minutemen is their endorsement by public officials like Arnold Schwarzenegger and mainstream media figures like Shiers, as well as fluff jobs like that in the Times.

Because it is an open endorsement not just of vigilantism, but of real extremism. Would any of these people endorse the Montana Freemen or the Militia of Montana? Because the Minutemen operate on the same plane.

You can see how the continuum operates in the Whatcom County case: the Bellingham council action that has outraged Shiers has also apparently drawn the interest of the white supremacist organ American Renaissance, where the comments from the audience included someone who posted the home address and phone number of the councilwoman who sponsored the resolution.

It's not a matter of whether the Minutemen have committed violence -- yet. Because standing up to them is intended to prevent them from getting that far.

And standing up to them, as the Bellingham council has done, is a simple matter of standing up to extremism and letting its proponents know that their ideology -- which, at its core, is indeed racist and anti-democratic -- will not be condoned in this community. Shiers, I am sure, would endorse standing up to the Klan, even before it actually committed any violence; and the reality is that the Minutemen are not a great deal removed from the Klan in terms of both their vigilante pose and the racial animus they embody.

The Minutemen's extremism and underlying racism, of course, has been well documented here: the way the movement attracts extremists to its ranks; its innate vigilantism; how, in spite of this, mainstream conservatives are buying into the image of the Minutemen as "jes' folks"; how the suckers include prominent and powerful elected Republicans. All this despite the fact that the evidence is overwhelming that not only are the Minutemen's chief organizers real extremists, their ranks are riddled with white supremacists and various kinds of far-right extremists.

All these red flags, you'd think, would warn off their apologists in the mainstream media. Unfortunately, they haven't.

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