[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]
Back in August of last year, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the folks from Tea Party Nation exercised their inner Nativists by holding a big rally near the border in Cochise County. What was little noted at the time was where the rally was held: On Glenn Spencer's ranch. The same ranch where, a year before, Minuteman leader Shawna Forde had been arrested for the murders of a nine-year-old girl and her father.
David Holthouse at Media Matters has the whole story -- including the big picture:
Grinning on the sidelines behind mirrored sunglasses was Glenn Spencer, the leader of the border vigilante group American Border Patrol and the owner of the Tea Party Nation rally site.Spencer's border-watching activities well predated 2002; he was actively organizing such vigilante action back in the early 1990s, when his American Patrol outfit was a player in the Patriot/militia movement, and his vicious rhetoric earned his organization a hate-group designation by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Spencer's founding of American Border Patrol in 2002 pre-dated the first Minuteman "civilian border patrols" by three years. Before his ranchland became a Tea Party rallying point it served as both meeting grounds and temporary housing for high-ranking members of various border vigilante factions. Minuteman American Defense leader Shawna Forde lived on the property in an RV owned by Spencer in the summer of 2008.
Over the past two years, more than a dozen former border vigilante leaders have taken on key roles in the Tea Party movement. Some, like Spencer, continue to maintain their hard-core nativist personas. Others have sought to separate themselves from their Minuteman identities in pursuit of mainstream political legitimacy.
Spencer is no bit player in the Nativist movement. He has, in fact, been the wellspring of many of the most cherished lies about immigrants, Latinos and the immigrant-rights movement over the years, including the time he spread false rumors that immigrants were carrying the Ebola virus into the USA. Spencer is the original source of the false claim that MEChA is a racist organization, as well as the accompanying phony Reconquista! conspiracy theory.
Above all, Spencer was one of the first people organizing vigilante border patrols -- serving in many ways as the original inspiration for the Minuteman movement, and he indeed continued to play a major leadership role in the movement until its sudden demise at the hands of Shawna Forde. Her conviction in February for the murders in Arivaca signalled the death knell for a movement already on its last legs, splintering into renegade subgroups like Forde's with no accountability, no restraints, and no conscience.
These border watch groups don't call themselves "Minutemen" anymore. Now they use newer, Tea Party-friendly monikers with lots of Patriotic references.
As Holthouse explains:
"The Forde killings really made the whole movement sordid and these guys [Minuteman leaders] needed to find somewhere else for their ambitions," said Heidi Beirich, co-director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, which tracks extremist groups. "Rebranding themselves as Tea Party figures is their effort to stay relevant. They saw the rising populism as a good thing to latch onto, so they just toned down their anti-immigrant messaging a bit and synced themselves with the larger Tea Party agenda."Be sure to read the whole thing.
Internal rivalries and financial scandals had already crippled the anti-immigration vigilante movement by the time of the Arivaca murders. The murder of a child begging for her life at gunpoint by Shawna Forde generated massive negative publicity for the entire Minuteman movement and hastened the decline of once-powerful vigilante outfits like the Minuteman Project and the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps.
The Tea Party offered a broader political agenda that appealed to rank-and-file Minutemen. Their concerns over border security and non-white immigration had been equaled if not displaced by distress over the financial meltdown and the election of President Obama.
As Spencer explained, "Many of the so-called Minuteman groups died off, mainly due to lack of focus of the organizations. Sitting on the border in a lawn chair does not fire the hearts of men. Those who were drawn into the political arena by the border issue naturally gravitated towards better organized groups of people concerned with the overall failure of our government to work in the interests of the people, of which the failure to secure the border is just one example."
Of course, the Minutemen tried desperately to distance themselves from Shawna Forde, even though she had been closely associated with Spencer for over a year, and was also tight with Minuteman Project cofounder Jim Gilchrist right up to the day of her arrest.
Unsurprisingly, the talking heads at Fox lapped up these laughable claims, but reality kicked in. The Minuteman brand name has been permanently tainted.
This has never stopped these folks, however. They just change their stripes and find new ways to worm themselves into the mainstream. Look for Glenn Spencer to turn up alongside Sheriff Arpaio sometime soon on Fox.