Friday, March 31, 2006

That racism thang

Max Blumenthal has an excellent piece up at The Nation regarding how conservatives have co-opted so much of the longtime white supremacist agenda that now the extremist right is looking for new ways to attract followers:
Back in those good old times, in 1982, explaining the Klan's anti-immigrant advocacy, Duke said, "Every new immigrant adds to our crime problems, our welfare rolls and unemployment of American citizens.... We are being invaded in the southwest as if a foreign army were coming over the border.... They're going to take more and more hard-earned money from the productive middle class in the form of taxes and social programs." And Duke called for the deportation of all undocumented immigrants and harsh penalties for businesses that employ them. "I'd make the Mexican-American border almost like a Maginot line," he said, referring to the militarized barrier France constructed between itself, Italy and Germany after World War I.

At the time, Duke was widely dismissed as little more than a turbo-charged version of the paranoid style--"the Klan's answer to Robert Redford," as reporter Patty Sims described him in 1978. But today his anti-immigration rhetoric sounds not so remote from one of top-rated CNN host Lou Dobbs's fulminations during his daily "Broken Borders" segment. Duke's Klan Border Watch, meanwhile, served as the forerunner and inspiration of the Dobbs-touted Minutemen groups that have proliferated from the Mexico border to Herndon, Virginia, the city that hosted the American Renaissance conference, where disgruntled locals hold regular protests outside a day-labor center. Under pressure from Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo, chair of the House Immigration Reform Caucus, and with sponsorship from House Judiciary Committee chair James Sensenbrenner (tough-talking heir to the Kotex fortune), the Republican-dominated House has approved a bill that makes it a felony to be in the United States illegally, mandates punishment for providing aid or shelter to undocumented immigrants and allocates millions for the construction of an iron wall between the United States and Mexico. Duke may have fallen short on the national stage, but his old notions have gained a new life through new political figures.

"Tancredo, he's pretty good. I would probably vote for him for President," Duke told me.

For self-proclaimed white nationalists, however, the mainstreaming of some of their ideas has created new challenges. "Immigration was the white nationalist movement's hot issue, but it's really left beyond them," said Devin Burghart, director of the Building Democracy Initiative at the Center for New Community, a Chicago-based civil rights group. "They've gone through this before, where they've had to reinvent themselves. Now, they're searching for a new issue to take them forward."

The clearest example of the way these far-right memes have invaded the conservative mainstream is provided by Michelle Malkin, particularly in her latest column:
Two weeks ago, I wrote about Autum Ashante, the precocious 7-year-old black nationalist poet, who said white people are "devils and they should be gone." If this daughter of a Nation of Islam activist father had instead been an Aryan supremacist child of a Klan activist, she'd still be all over the network news and pages of pop culture magazines (as a pair of white nationalist teen pop singers, Lamb and Lynx Gaede, have been since last fall). But with rare exceptions, nobody wanted to touch Autum's spoon-fed hatred with a 10-foot-pole. That would be, you know, "intolerant." We have to "respect diversity."

Of course, it always helps to understand that the Nation of Islam is also widely considered to be a racist hate group, and in fact is designated that by the Southern Poverty Law Center. So perhaps it shouldn't surprise us that the daughter of one of the group's leaders is penning racist poetry. And saying so is the opposite of "intolerant."

It should also be noted that her characterization of the treatment of the Gaede twins neglects to mention that their story was originally presented in Teen People without any mention of the fact that they are neo-Nazis.

But the really egregious stuff is what follows:
Aztlan is a long-held notion among Mexico's intellectual elite and political class, which asserts that the American southwest rightly belongs to Mexico. Advocates believe the reclamation (or reconquista) of Aztlan will occur through sheer demographic force. If the rallies across the country are any indication, reconquista is already complete.

The problem is, as I've pointed out previously, the whole notion of "reconquista" as a plot to invade America is just another far-right conspiracy theory that has floated about among extremists for years and is now surfacing, like the fetid turd of an idea it is, in the mainstream punch bowl.

Alex Koppelman at Dragonfire explores this point in some depth:
You might expect Malkin to give her readers some evidence that Aztlan really is "a long-held notion among Mexico's intellectual elite and political class," but she never does.

Why? Because Aztlan and reconquista these days aren't, for the most part, ideas held by Mexicans: they're ideas held by white supremacists and neo-Nazis. The myth of reconquista stems from a misreading of one of the founding documents of the Chicano movement, "El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan."

In much the same way that the Black Power movement meant the words "Black Power" in a metaphorical sense, that is, as a call to African-Americans to recognize after years of being stigmatized that they too were people with something to contribute to society, "El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan" was an appeal to nationalism as a means to achieve a greater self-awareness and self-esteem.

But that's not the way some white supremacists, fearful of a brown mass ready to take over the United States, has interpreted it.

A simple Google search shows that the people talking about Aztlan and reconquista are predominantly not Mexican (though there are some radical fringe groups) but white supremacists.

Moreover, as I explained in some depth, it's really a fairly simple thing to distinguish racist hate groups from ethnic-heritage groups: the former are almost exclusively obsessed with degrading and demonizing "out" groups, while the latter are largely about lifting up and promoting the group they represent (this is, in fact, the chief factor in the SPLC's "hate group" designations). Just as the Klan reveals itself more through its actions than its words, so do groups like MEChA:
For those who would argue that a group like MEChA is only nascent in its racism, and could eventually wreak such horrors if its agenda flamed out of control, it is worth remembering that racist organizations nearly always display their true colors almost immediately. The Klan, as just seen, was violent and terroristic from the start; so, too, were the European fascists, particularly during the fascista and SA years.

And what has MEChA done? Advocate for increasing the numbers of Latinos in higher education. Organize student rallies. Emphasize self-determination.

Here is how one commenter named "cat" on Atrios' boards put it:

MeCHA has been an integral part of student life for decades; many, if not most, of my Chicano friends and acquaintances were involved with it; it was then and probably is now an advocacy organization which worked to bring Chicanos (now Latinos) into the educational institutions, to feed and clothe underprivileged children in the community, including those of the migrant farmworkers, was involved with Caesar Chavez in advocating for better working conditions for the migrant workers, and provided tutoring, mentoring, and fellowship for students, as do many other student organizations.

This view is one expressed consistently by people who have experience with MEChA. Among these is O. Ricardo Pimentel, a columnist for the Arizona Republic, who recently penned a column addressing the current campaign from the right, "California coup plays a race card on Bustamante":

But let us acknowledge that MEChA was born in the racial turmoil and rhetoric leading up to 1969. Its founding historical documents, El Plan de Aztlan and El Plan de Santa Barbara, contain incendiary language.

But the truth is, few joining even back then were thinking of overthrowing government. They were talking about changing society, for the better.

"We all understood the history of MEChA," says Loredo, a MEChA president at Phoenix College in 1987. "We took it in the context of the times, 1969 (the founding year)."

To liberate Aztlan, Loredo and other MEChistas pushed to get more Latinos into college and performed community service. Many, like Bustamante, entered public service.

MEChA elsewhere also led walkouts and protests to form Chicano studies programs and to push for more Chicano faculty hires.

Indeed, Republicans who wish to push the argument that MEChA is racist might want to talk to Mike Madrid, an advisor to the GOP on Latino affairs (and someone for whom this meme is probably the biggest nightmare since Proposition 187), who had this to say in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle:

"It's bizarre to assume this is some kind of radical group, seeking to overthrow part of the United States," said Mike Madrid, who has worked on Latino affairs for the state Republican Party. "It was part of the Brown Beret and Chicano studies movement, but it's mainly a social group and has been for years. To suggest it's involved in paramilitary training or some underhanded conspiracy is ludicrous."

In spite of this, Malkin goes on to argue:
Apologists are quick to argue that Latino supremacists are just a small fringe faction of the pro-illegal immigration movement (never mind that their ranks include former and current Hispanic politicians from L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to former California Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cruz Bustamante).

But you'll never hear or read such forgiving caveats in the mainstream press's hostile coverage of the pro-immigration enforcement members of the Minutemen Project—who are universally smeared as racists. For what? For peacefully demanding that our government enforce its laws and secure its borders.

Actually, the Minutemen are not "smeared" as racists for peacefully demanding that our government enforce its laws and secure it borders.

They're accurately described as racists and extremists because their ranks are riddled throughout with racists and extremists, something similarly reflected in their leadership. Because their agenda and their rhetoric is predicated on demonizing Hispanics. Because of their origins in the militia movement. Because their vigilantism is the mark not of civic activists, but of violent extremists.

But then, it's not surprising that Malkin continues to defend the Minutemen while continuing to spread far-right conspiracy theories. After all, this is part of a well-established pattern:
Malkin, in fact, has numerous dalliances with right-wing extremists -- the real ones that she claims conservatives are busy policing.

The most vivid instance of this is her long association with VDare, which has been designated a hate group by the SPLC, and for good cause:

Fast forward to 2003. Once a relatively mainstream anti-immigration page, VDARE has now become a meeting place for many on the radical right.

One essay complains about how the government encourages "the garbage of Africa" to come to the United States. The same writer says once the "Mexican invasion" engulfs the country, "high teenage birthrates, poverty, ignorance and disease will be what remains."

Another says that Hispanics have a "significantly higher level of social pathology than American whites. ... In other words, some immigrants are better than others." Yet another complains that a Jewish immigrant rights group is helping "African Muslim refugees" come to America.

Brimelow's site carries archives of columns from men like Sam Francis, who is the editor of the newspaper of the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens, a group whose Web page recently described blacks as "a retrograde species of humanity."

It has run articles by Jared Taylor, the editor of the white supremacist American Renaissance magazine, which specializes in dubious race and IQ studies and eugenics, the "science" of "race betterment" through selective breeding.

As I've said before, Malkin's In Defense of Internment is likewise of a piece of this same willingness to indulge views that are by any measure bigoted, and in some cases, extremist, by ignoring the latent bigotry and its broader ramifications.

These are hardly the only instances. Let's not forget her link in a blog post to an anti-immigrant site operated by an extremist Holocaust-denial organization. (The link is still up.)

Then there are the Minutemen, hailed by Malkin as "the mother of all neighborhood watch programs", and defended with regularity on her blog. As I've observed numerous times, the Minutemen are a magnet for the most extreme racists and xenophobes in America, and their claims to be "weeding out" such extremists are so much hooey.

After all, not only is the Minuteman Project directly descended from the militia movement, the Minuteman leader have a history of extremism. And they haven't changed their stripes, their media makeover notwithstanding. Jim Gilchrist, one of the Minuteman Project cofounders, is currently running for Congress under the banner of the far-right Constitution Party -- which itself is closely bound up with promoting the militia movement. And then there are the charming folks who show up for Minuteman parties.

Given Malkin's extraordinarily high tolerance for right-wing extremism -- indeed, her open participation in advancing their agenda -- it's probably not any wonder that the presence of right-wing extremism, and its positive embrace by the mainstream conservative movement, is simply left out of her narrative.

After all, if you think racial hygienists like Jared Taylor and Steve Sailer and the rest of the VDare gang are "normal," well, then what "real extremists on the right" remain for people like Michelle Malkin to denounce?

Malkin has never explained her continued association with VDare, and it's plain why. Much of her career of the past five years has been built on these associations. Playing a bogus race card is a handy way of disguising that.

Perhaps Malkin can spare us the lectures on racism -- at least until she explains her own behavior. Maybe then we'll have some sense whether she actually understands what racism is about.

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