Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Minutemen return from the undead as nativist Tea Party zombies

-- by Dave

I was one of the first to report on the looming demise of the Minutemen border-patrol movement that caught the media's eye a few years ago, and as I explained then:

Today the Minuteman movement is beyond mere disarray; it is in the early stages of complete decay. The arc of the Minutemen's decline and fall happens to trace almost precisely that of previous right-wing populist movements, notably the Klan of the 1920s and the militias of the 1990s. The pattern goes like this: The group is beset by financial manipulators who seem naturally drawn to them. Then, following an initial wave of popularity, the group splinters under the pressure of competing egos into smaller, more virulent entities who then unleash acts of public ugliness and violence that eventually relegate them to the fringes.

That, of course, was before Shawna Forde and her killer Minutemen went "tactical" and killed an American citizen and his 9-year-old daughter. It shortly emerged that, not only was Forde linked in tightly with some of the biggest racist kooks on the Minuteman scene, she was also tied closely to Minutemen cofounder Jim Gilchrist.

So it was no big surprise when -- even as founder Chris Simcox was being accused of more domestic violence -- his outfit, the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, finally called it quits this summer.

But as Gaiutra Bahadur at AlterNet explains in a startling and important piece, that is really just the beginning of a new incarnation for these border vigilantes:

The publicity surrounding the [Shawna Forde] case enabled Garza to recruit hundreds, including former Minutemen, to an alternative group he soon created, The Patriot's Coalition. "A lot of people felt, well, you're a Minuteman, you're a killer," Garza told me, at a truck stop near his home in Cochise County, Arizona. "The name Minuteman has been tainted by organizations that didn't want us at the border, that say we're killers, that we've done harm." Fortunately for Garza and others, their desire to reinvent coincided with a unique opportunity to do so—the emergence of the Tea Party movement on the national political horizon.

As Bahadur explains, the Tea Parties are proving to offer ample recruitment ground for a new generation of Minuteman-style nativists:

Nonetheless, the flirtation between nativists and Tea Partyers that began during the healthcare debate last summer, as coverage for illegal immigrants became a flashpoint, has intensified. The lines between the movements are blurring, as members overlap at the grassroots and leaders make official appearances at each other's events. Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, spoke at the Tea Party's first convention in February. "There's a whole lot of cross-pollination between the Tea Party movement and the anti-immigrant movement," says Marilyn Mayo, co-director of right-wing research for The Center on Extremism at the Anti-Defamation League, which monitors nativist groups. "We're starting to see a lot of focus on immigration in the Tea Party. It's the next step for them after healthcare."

SB-1070, the Arizona law that requires police to ask for proof of legal residency from people they believe could be undocumented immigrants, has been a catalyst. Activism around the law this summer showcased the chemistry between nativists and various Tea Party groups. The Tea Party Patriots gathered thousands of signatures in favor of the law. The Tea Party Nation co-sponsored a rally in Phoenix on June 5, which proclaimed the backing of the broader patriot movement. The slogans on the T-shirts and buttons for sale there broadcast a wide array of messages and causes not related to immigration, including: "Dictators Prefer Armed Citizens" and "Karl Marx Was Not A Founding Father." An overwhelming 88 percent of Tea Party "true believers" in Washington also back the law, according to a University of Washington poll.

... This affinity with the Tea Party, to the extent that it also leads to backing from a movement with growing political momentum and grassroots energy, promises to lend more clout to anti-immigrant leaders. Take the victory of a dark horse candidate for state assembly in California. The odds were so long for Tim Donnelly—a former Minuteman leader who runs his family's plastics supply business in Twin Peaks—that he couldn't even hire a campaign consultant. But various Tea Party groups went to work for him, and in July he managed to win the Republican primary in a district that votes Republican. He said he couldn't have won without Tea Party volunteers walking precincts and knocking on doors. "It was the way we reached people," he said. "We didn't have the money to reach people in the conventional way." Donnelly said he realized, in the crush of a crowd of thousands at a tax protest in 2009, that the Tea Party movement would far outstrip the Minutemen in reach. It has allowed him to situate anxiety about undocumented workers in the context of a broader anger against a federal government he compared to "King George who kept taxing us, taxing us, taxing us, but never wanted to hear from us." Donnelly campaigned on reproducing Arizona's immigration law in California. It is first on his agenda if elected.

And yes, Donnelly was indeed elected.

It will be interesting to see what the Tea Parties do with the immigration issue over the next couple of years. One would think they would read the 2010 election results and back away from their natural and growing inclination to indulge in nativist Latino-bashing for awhile.

But it's in their natures. They won't be able to resist.

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

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