The Zigzag March of the Minutemen
Friday, July 22, 2005
One of the most disturbing trends we've observed this year has been the growing mainstream acceptance of the Minutemen, who represent a real incursion of right-wing extremism into the broader body politic. As we've noted, this includes endorsements of their activities both by public officials and the media.
The most recent advancement of this trend came from a top Border Patrol official (the same, it should be noted, who endorsed the Minutemen previously) saying his agency was considering giving official sanction to the Minutemen or similar groups:
- The top U.S. border enforcement official said Wednesday that his agency is exploring ways to involve citizen volunteers in creating "something akin to a Border Patrol auxiliary" -- a significant shift after a high-profile civilian campaign this spring along the Arizona-Mexico border.
Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert C. Bonner told The Associated Press that his agency began looking into citizen involvement after noting how eager volunteers were to stop illegal immigration.
"We value having eyes and ears of citizens, and I think that would be one of the things we are looking at is how you better organize, let's say, a citizen effort," Bonner said.
He said that could involve training of volunteers organized "in a way that would be something akin to a Border Patrol auxiliary."
Bonner characterized the idea of an auxiliary as "an area we're looking at," and a spokeswoman said it hadn't been discussed yet with top Homeland Security officials.
A day later, his superiors at the Department of Homeland Security backed away from any such proposals [via Talk Left]:
- "There are currently no plans by the Department of Homeland Security to use civilian volunteers to patrol the border," spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said in a statement. "That job should continue to be done by the highly trained, professional law enforcement officials of the Border Patrol and its partner agencies."
This mainstream support, uncertain as it may be, has helped the movement continue to spread, even to places with no discernible international borders, like Tennessee:
- MORRISTOWN, Tenn. -- A volunteer movement that vows to guard America from a wave of illegal immigration has spread from the dusty U.S.-Mexican border to the verdant hollows of Appalachia.
At least 40 anti-immigration groups have popped up nationally, inspired by the Minuteman Project that rallied hundreds this year to patrol the Mexican border in Arizona.
"It's like O'Leary's cow has kicked over the lantern. The fire has just started now," said Carl "Two Feathers" Whitaker, referring to the fabled start of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Whitaker, an American Indian activist and perennial gubernatorial candidate, runs the Tennessee Volunteer Minutemen, aimed at exposing those who employ illegals.
Critics call the movement vigilantism, and some hear in the words of the Minutemen a vitriol similar to what hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan used against Southern blacks in the 1960s.
The Minuteman Project has generated chapters in 18 states -- from California to states far from Mexico, like Utah, Minnesota and Maine. The Tennessee group and others like it have no direct affiliation, but share a common goal.
"I struck the mother lode of patriotism or nationalism or whatever you want to call it," said Jim Gilchrist, a Vietnam veteran and retired CPA who co-founded the Minuteman Project 10 months ago. "That common nerve that was bothering a lot of people, but due to politically correct paralysis ... everyone was afraid to bring up -- the lack of law enforcement."
At the Department of Homeland Security, whose authority includes patrolling borders and enforcing immigration laws, response to Minuteman-type activism is guarded.
"Homeland security is a shared responsibility, and the department believes the American public plays a critical role in helping to defend the homeland," agency spokesman Jarrod Agen said from Washington. "But as far doing an investigation or anything beyond giving us a heads-up, that should be handled by trained law enforcement."
As the story notes, the uglier side of the Minutemen's base of support already has begun manifesting itself:
- A group leading patrols of the California border raised concerns from the U.S. Border Patrol last week when they urged volunteers to bring baseball bats, mace, pepper spray and machetes to patrol the border. They backed off the recommendation, but insisted on another weapon when they started patrols Saturday: guns.
"The guns are for one reason -- to keep my people alive," said Jim Chase, a former Arizona Minuteman volunteer who is leading the effort.
It's worth keeping in mind, too, that these kinds of right-wing organizations are prone to implosion and real instability, as they typically involve a lot of high-maintenance egos and paranoid sensibilities. We saw this recently in the internal squabbling that erupted between various factions of the Minutemen:
- Three months after hundreds of people descended on southern Arizona to stage civilian border patrols as part of the Minuteman Project, the anti-illegal-immigration movement has snowballed, with offshoot groups forming along the southern border and in other states.
But as the movement has grown, along with the media attention surrounding it, it has also splintered. Rival factions have emerged, squabbling over issues ranging from political correctness to use of the "Minuteman" name, and even over e-mail etiquette.
Some leaders of offshoot groups have launched verbal grenades at each other in the media and via news releases; others have traded insults online.
One group leader who feels particularly picked on says he has cut ties with Minuteman leadership and plans to operate solo.
And last month, Minuteman Project co-founder Jim Gilchrist dismissed two volunteers -- whom he characterized as "wackos" -- for sending querulous responses after he issued two e-mails to members of his group that threatened excommunication for those who didn't stop sniping at one another.
He signed one of his missives from "An American with better things to do than baby-sit quarrelsome adults."
"It's so counterproductive. It gets people distracted," said Gilchrist, a retired Orange County accountant who presides over Minuteman Project Inc., which he said is awaiting nonprofit status, and hopes to soon pursue employers who hire unauthorized workers.
"If I were to set up some rules of conduct, it would be to stop the argumentative attitude and be pleasant."
... [M]any agree the international media attention showered on the Minuteman Project, while it energized the anti-illegal-immigration movement, has also created a monster of sorts.
"When we left Arizona in April, too many people had seen the glamour," said Mike Gaddy, who is active in a Simcox-sanctioned Minuteman group in Farmington, N.M. " 'Gosh, I was on Sean Hannity. Gosh, I was interviewed by The Baltimore Sun. Gosh, I was interviewed on Spanish radio.' Egos are a terrible thing."
Like several others, Gaddy sees the elbowing as competitive. He says it bothers him that there are people in the movement who have political aspirations.
Gilchrist, for one, is contemplating a bid for Congress.
You have to read the whole thing to see how absurd the sniping gets. One of their opponents had the most accurate take:
- Christian Ramirez of the American Friends Service Committee, a human rights group affiliated with the Quakers that has condemned the Minutemen and their successors, says he's not surprised.
"There has always been bickering among these types of organizations," Ramirez said. "There is always someone trying to become the leader of the anti-illegal-immigration movement, because it is such a fashionable thing. People are just fighting to see who is going to get more media attention."
One of the more interesting feuds has involved the Texas Minutmen, who announced their split from the national group:
- The Minuteman Civil Defense Corp., the national organization led by co-founder Chris Simcox of Arizona, drew attention earlier this year with its patrols of the Arizona-Mexico border.
Last month, Simcox began to organize chapters around the U.S. and Canada. At least four sprouted in Texas, with plans to patrol the 1,200-mile border area as part of a national initiative called "Operation Secure Our Borders."
Some volunteers in Arizona were from Texas, and they returned to form Texas Minutemen LLC, based in Arlington. The group's co-founder, Shannon McGauley, said he agrees philosophically with Simcox but objects to the national structure.
McGauley's group also objects to paying the $50 fee per person that goes toward background checks and use of the national group's consultants, Web site and training.
"We wanted to keep it among Texans," he said. "And we don't charge anything."
Both groups have scouted land and have been gaining permission from landowners to set up lookout stations. Other groups have formed in New Mexico, California and Michigan -- among other border states -- with varying degrees of affiliation with Simcox's organization.
The Texas Minutemen said they will patrol the El Paso area, including Fabens and Fort Hancock. McGauley said his group has formed a loose network with similar organizations in New Mexico and California. He said another Texas group based in Houston is forming and expected to be part of the network.
Two Texas groups could cause problems, said Felix Almaraz, history professor specializing in Texas-Mexico border issues at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
"They're under different commands," he said. "They have a common objective of border security, but they're not coordinating together. It'll end up being selective surveillance."
Because the groups under close watch, any mishap could cause major damage to them, said Jerry Thompson, history professor at Texas A&M International University in Laredo.
"I think we need to be careful," he said. "This Texas individualism can get out of hand. What we need is more Border Patrol agents on the border. We don't need more Minutemen."
Meanwhile, of course, Simcox's national organization keeps bubbling along, despite all the zigzags. According to a news release on its Web site, its plans to organize patrols in four states -- California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas -- for the entire month of October:
- Join fellow Patriot-Minutemen in October for a four state month-long Border Patrol to observe, report and protect the US from illegal immigration in all southern border states
MinutemanHQ.com is the new National Organization for the original Minuteman border project. It is the only group authorized by Chris Simcox and Jim Gilchrist who organized the first border watch.
Contact us immediately to learn about upcoming missions. We are expanding to California, Texas and New Mexico on the southern border. Requests from activated volunteers on the northern border with Canada - Maine, Vermont, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Idaho and Washington State are creating new operations, this is truly an exciting time for Patriots!
"Congress and the U.S. Senate continue to drag their feet on securing our borders with U.S. military and National Guard troops. Meanwhile, thousands of illegal immigrants cross our southern border every week.
Note, if you will, that this release specifically identifies the Minutemen as part of the Patriot movement -- that is, the movement that brought us militias in the 1990s. Indeed, the Minutemen are a direct offspring of an earlier "border militia" movement that was organized by Patriots.
However, you would be hard-pressed to find a mention of these extremist origins -- as well as the pervasive influence of extremists within its leadership and its membership -- in the recent love letter to the Minutemen that appeared in the right-wing Washington Times. The report offers fulsome details on the upcoming fall campaigns, as well as the Minutemen's supposed accomplishments to date:
- More than 15,000 volunteers will man observation posts and conduct foot and horseback patrols this fall along the Mexican border from Texas to California and in seven states along the Canadian border in a new Minuteman vigil to protest what organizers call the government's lax immigration enforcement policies.
Chris Simcox, who heads the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, said volunteers from throughout the country who are "concerned that the U.S. government must be made to act and take control of our borders" are signing up in record numbers for the new monthlong patrols set to begin Oct. 1.
"We want a secure U.S. border and an end to the blatant disregard of the rule of law regarding illegal immigration," Mr. Simcox said. "Nearly four years after the September 11 attacks on America, we should be doing a better job of securing our borders.
"Our government is more concerned with securing the borders of foreign lands than securing the borders of the United States," he said.
Now, you'll want to take the numbers they predict on the border with a large mine of salt. They predicted 10,000 for the Arizona watch and came up with something far short of that (some media observers counted only around 2,500, at best, though of course the Minutemen's "official" numbers are around 8,000).
Simcox's insistence that the Minutemen's mission is focused on securing borders for the "war on terror" doesn't hold a lot of water, either. Most of the Minutemen, when interviewed, tend to talk about how their hometowns and neighborhoods are being overrun with criminal Latinos. It's about Latino-bashing, and the "war on terror" talk is just a fig leaf.
Indeed, Simcox himself will start talking this way if you let him go long enough, as one reporter did:
- "It's a public safety issue because 30 percent of crimes are committed by aliens," said Simcox, who cites no source for the statistic. "There's an explosion of vicious gangs with no respect for human life that target us because of soft laws."
Perhaps in keeping with how things have actually gone so far for the Minutemen, their most recent patrol in California -- organized by Jim Chase, one of the splinter-group leaders -- once again featured more media folk and protesters than actual Minutemen.
Another report of the same event included some worthwhile observations from the people who came there to protest -- and an interesting response from the Minutemen:
- Meanwhile, down a dirt road at the hilly, rugged border fence, protesters barbecued food, chanted and prayed, and stayed out of the sun. When they spotted border watchers, the protesters massed around them, telling them to go home.
"There's no place for you in California," said Bruce Cooley, of Los Angeles. "You are contributing to the deaths of people who are trying to cross to feed their families" back home.
One border watcher, who refused to give his name as he climbed into his Jeep, outfitted with a dirt bike, said he would be back. "It's intimidating to have all those people yell at you," the San Diego resident said. "But we'll come back tonight and just sneak up on them."
Yeah, that open daylight can be an annoying thing.
Reviews from here and there
Thursday, July 21, 2005
My new book, Strawberry Days: How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community, just got its highest-profile review in a paper I've harshly criticized on many occasions in the past: the (ulp!) Washington Times.
Nonetheless, Tom Carter's piece is not just a strong review, but a good read in its own right. Carter, you see, grew up in Bellevue:
- Growing up in the 1950s in a suburb of Atlanta "coloreds only" and "whites only" signs on water fountains and public toilets were fairly common. It never occurred to me that white people might have similar feelings toward "Orientals" until we moved to Bellevue, Wash., a suburb of Seattle in 1962. I remember my parents bewilderment at the openly hostile neighborhood reaction when a Japanese family tried to buy a house in our Mockingbird Hill development.
Riding our bicycles on Bellevue streets, walking to school, swimming in nearby Lake Sammamish, Bellevue was a white and middle-class. We knew nothing of the history, that Bellevue was a small farming suburb hewn from the wilderness, stumps removed, fields made workable and then planted by Japanese immigrants in the early 1900s. And after Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, it was one of many West Coast cities depopulated of Japanese by government order, a forced evacuation that sent hundreds of Bellevue Japanese to internment camps -- ultimately clearing the way for white suburbia.
Be sure to read it all.
And, while I'm at it, it's worth noting that the reviews for the book at the Amazon link were invaded earlier this week by the execrable "Bob," a onetime regular commenter here who not only liked to argue (a la Michelle Malkin) that the internment of Japanese Americans was justifiable but necessary, but eventually, he developed a habit of posting personal smears about local Nikkei, which earned him a deletion and a ban. Then he went away.
Eric Muller recently posted some information about "Bob", who is evidently closely associated with a Bainbridge Island figure named James Olsen (if he isn't in fact Olsen himself). Olsen and his wife, Mary Dombrowski, have been badgering the Bainbridge school district about its history curriculum regarding the internment, a campaign that has, unsurprisingly, earned Malkin's endorsement.
Unfortunately, Amazon deleted Bob's review of my book. I say "unfortunately" not because I endorse Bob's views, of course, but because I do believe in the free exchange of ideas. It's useful to have Bob's explanation of why the internment was justifiable out there in black and white so that anyone can see exactly how thin and, ultimately, groundless -- not to mention profoundly amoral -- their argument really is.
As it happened, I preserved a copy of his review, and so I'll reproduce it here:
- Absolute Garbage! Neiwert's a race-baiting flake!, July 14, 2005
Reviewer: Bob - See all my reviews
It is well-documented that the evacuation was motivated, not by racism, but by information obtained by the U.S. from pre-war decoded Japanese diplomatic messages "MAGIC" and other intelligence revealed the existence of espionage and the potential for sabotage involving then-unidentified resident Japanese aliens and Japanese-Americans living within the West Coast Japanese community.
You can read about MAGIC and it's subseqently being ignored by the reparations commission here.
The actual declassified MAGIC intercepts are here.
The U.S. Congress immediately passed legislation providing enforcement provisions for FDR's Executive Order, unanimously in both the House and Senate, provided under Article 1, Section 9 of the United States Constitution.
Only persons of Japanese ancestry (alien and citizen) residing in the West Coast military zones were affected by the evacuation order. Those living elsewhere were not affected at all.
It is not true that Japanese-Americans were "interned. Only Japanese nationals (enemy aliens) arrested and given individual hearings were interned. Such persons were held for deportation in Department of Justice camps. Those evacuated were not interned. They were first given an opportunity to voluntarily move to areas outside the military zones. Those unable or unwilling to do so were sent to Relocation Centers operated by the War Relocation Authority.
At the time, the JACL (Japanese American Citizens League) officially supported the government's evacuation order and urged all enemy alien Japanese and Japanese Americans to cooperate and assist the government in their own self interest.
It is misleading and in error to state that those affected by the evacuation orders were all "Japanese-Americans."
Approximately two-thirds of the ADULTS among those evacuated were Japanese nationals--enemy aliens. The vast majority of evacuated Japanese-Americans (U.S. citizens) were children at the time. Their average age was only 15 years. In addition, over 90% of Japanese-Americans over age 17 were also citizens of Japan (dual citizens)under Japanese law. Thousands had been educated in Japan. Some having returned to the U.S. holding reserve rank in the Japanese armed forces.
During the war, more than 33,000 evacuees voluntarily left the relocation centers to accept outside employment. An additional 4,300 left to attend colleges.
In a questionaire, over 26% of Japanese-Americans of military age at the time said they would refuse to swear an unqualified oath of allegiance to the United States.
According to War Relocation Authority records, 13,000 applications renouncing their U.S. citizenship and requesting expatriation to Japan were filed by or on behalf of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Over 5,000 had been processed by the end of the war.
After loyalty screening, eighteen thousand Japanese nationals and Japanese-Americans were segregated at a special center for disloyals at Tule Lake California where regular military "Banzai" drills in support of Emperor Hirohito were held.
The Supreme Court of the United States upheld the Consitutionality of the evacuation/relocation in Korematsu v. U.S., 1944 term. In summing up for the 6-3 majority, Justice Black wrote:
"There was evidence of disloyalty on the part of some, the military authorities considered that the need for action was great, and time was short. We cannot -- by availing ourselves of the calm perspective of hindsight -- now say that at the time these actions were unjustified."
That decision has never been reversed and stands to this day.
It should be noted that the relocation centers had many amenities. Accredited schools, their own newspapers, stores, churches, hospitals, all sorts of sports and recreational facilities. They also had the highest percapita wartime birth rates for any U.S.community.
More history for you to consider regarding the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians:
Consider that of the nine commission members, six were biased in favor of reparations. Ishmail Gromoff and William Marutani, relocatees themselves, sat in judgment of their own cases. Arthur Goldberg and Joan Bernstein made sympathetic, pro-reparation statements publicly before hearings even began. Arthur Fleming had worked closely with the JACL (he was a keynote speaker at its Portland convention in the '70s). Robert Drinan was a co-sponsor of the bill establishing the commission.
Consider that notices of when and where hearings were to be held were not made known to the general, non-Japanese public.
Consider that witnesses who gave testimony were not sworn to tell the truth.
Consider that witnesses who were pro-reparation were carefully coached in their testimony in "mock hearings" beforehand.
Consider that witnesses against reparation were harassed and drowned out by foot-stomping Japanese claques, that the commission members themselves ridiculed and badgered these same witnesses.
Consider that not one historian was asked to testify before the commission, that intelligence reports and position papers contrary to reparations were deliberately ignored.
Consider that as a result of the above, the United States Department of Justice objected strongly to the findings of the commission.
Lastly while we've all been educated on the doctrines associated with the rise of Nazism, I would be curious to know if courses are provided teaching the history of the doctrines of Japanese militarism, a belief system similar and equally as insidious as Nazism?
Any clasess on the kokutai? Hakko Ichiu? Any reading of Kokutai no Hongi? Shimin to Michi? The role of Nichiren Buddhism and Japanese "Language Schools" in teaching these doctines of Japanese racial superiorty to ethnic Japanese colonies throughout the word prior to Pearl Harbor?
Those of you learning this history at your public schools and universities should understand you are being taught an extemely biased and partial version of what really happened and why. I would urge you to go beyond the politically correct version of this history as propagated by the Japanese-American reparations movement.
I understand that publishing Bob's remarks helps him circulate those views. But I also believe that seeing them in print helps people understand how these folks think -- and a careful examination reveals their utter bankruptcy.
Ironically, nearly every one of the points Bob raises is in fact addressed and specifically refuted in the text of Strawberry Days, including the very real role of racism in the drama; the actual significance of the MAGIC encrypts; the demographic makeup of the internees; the military signup debate; what was really taught in those Japanese schools; and the significance of the Supreme Court rulings and the fact that Korematsu has never been overturned. (I don't discuss the behavior of some audience members at the Wartime Relocation Commission hearings, but then, it doesn't strike me as particularly significant. Strange, though, how "Bob" isn't equally outraged by the treatment that was afforded anyone who dared speak out against the evacuation at the Tolan Committee hearings in the spring of 1942.) Oh, and incidentally: I have no connection to any "Japanese American reparations movement."
So, how odd is it to post a review of a book whose text specifically refutes everything in your review?
Well, that doesn't matter to people like "Bob" and James Olsen and Michelle Malkin. They are True Believers, and no evidence -- not even a mountain of it -- will move them to admit that they are wrong. (Not that "Bob" will have bothered to actually read the book.) Nor, it seems, do they possess enough self-awareness to recognize just how morally repugnant the upshot of their argument (to wit: those Japanese really were untrustworthy and deserved to be locked up en masse) really is.
The rest of us can judge for ourselves.
The elimination game
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Probably the most striking scene in Patrice O'Neill's excellent P.O.V. documentary currently airing on PBS, "The Fire Next Time," involves my friend Brenda Kitterman teaching her two teenage daughters how to use a handgun.
The girls were more or less forced to learn because Elizabeth, the elder of the two, began speaking out against right-wing hate groups at her Kalispell, Montana, school in emulation of her mom, and was subsequently threatened and had her tires slashed. Their family was subjected to a barrage of threatening phone calls and late-night visitations from strange men in their yard, one of them shouting at the mother to come out. The elder daughter was being followed home from her job every night.
It was part of a campaign of right-wing intimidation of conservationists and "liberals" in Montana's Flathead Valley, a phenomenon I've described in some detail previously. The Kittermans were hardly alone in facing this kind of harassment, but they experienced an especially intense version of it.
So we see Brenda, who is an ex-cop and more than familiar with firearms, teaching her daughters how to hold the gun, aim properly, and squeeze off a shot at a silhouette target. Trisha, the younger of the two, is uncertain whether she can actually pull the trigger on another person, so they sit down to talk about it, and Brenda advises her not to carry a gun until she's sure she can use it. Trisha nods, and agrees, then tucks her face into her arms and silently begins to cry.
This was one of the more vivid sequences in the film's depiction of the dynamic that hits any community when hateful eliminationist rhetoric takes root. Just as striking for me, in a low-key way, was how it demonstrated the chilling and intimidating effect that such thuggishness can have on ordinary people. As the film's advance text explains:
- Nothing was more telling -- and is more disquieting in "The Fire Next Time" -- than the community's reaction to discovery of Project 7, its cache of guns and its hit list. The targets, after all, were not distant officials or outsider bureaucrats. They were everyone's longtime neighbors, including popular Police Chief Frank Garner and Sheriff Jim Dupont. And while many citizens, like Brenda Kitterman and newly elected Mayor Pam Kennedy, felt immediately moved to rally in protest, there was a degree of denial about the potential danger. Those accused of being terrorists were also neighbors, who had carved out a place for their views in public meetings and on the radio. For elected officials like Pam Kennedy and Gary Hall, the daily blast of on-air attacks turns public life into a risky proposition, given the real threat from Project 7. The result was also a spreading fear as people began to weigh the costs of speaking out.
I thought this was particularly embodied in an interview with the family of Mike Raiman, a Flathead Valley conservationist who took a leading role in standing up to the hateful talk that emanated from the likes of local right-wing radio talk-show host John Stokes.
Raiman is a grandfather, and both of his sons are in their early 30s with families of their own, though they work with him and have supported him throughout his ordeal -- in some cases, coming in for abuse themselves. But the elder of the two sons, you can tell, is weary of it all and wary too: he has a family to think about, and their safety is paramount to him. He doesn't know how much longer he can keep it up. You can't really blame him.
That's how eliminationist hate works, regardless of its target: Its aim is to threaten and intimidate not merely the immediate target, but anyone who might think of speaking out on their behalf. This cuts the target off from the community support it might normally enjoy and leaves them feeling even more isolated.
What, really, is eliminationism?
It's a fairly self-explanatory term: it describes a kind of politics and culture that shuns dialogue and the democratic exchange of ideas for the pursuit of outright elimination of the opposing side, either through complete suppression, exile and ejection, or extermination.
I first encountered it in Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners, which is in many regards a problematic text, especially insofar as it describes prewar German society as almost uniquely predisposed to antisemitism. But Goldhagen's text correctly identifies and describes the essence of the Nazi campaign against the Jews as eliminationist in nature, something that was made undeniably manifest in the Holocaust.
But while eliminationism's most startling historical example was provided by the Nazis, it also has a long and appalling history in the annals of American democracy. It was manifest in the genocidal wars against Native Americans, when "the only good Indian was a dead Indian": in the many anti-immigrant campaigns waged by Nativists of many different stripes; in night-riding Ku Klux Klansmen, Jim Crow segregation, and the lynch mobs who murdered thousands of innocent blacks during the heyday of white supremacism; in the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans in World War II; in the continuing march of hate crimes that target various kinds of "undesirable" members of society for terrorization and exclusion; and in the lingering far-right "militias" and related hate groups who scapegoat minorities and immigrants, gays and lesbians, government officials, and liberals generally, making them the targets of both hateful rhetoric and actual violence.
Eliminationism in truth forms the really hateful, violent core of fascism, the facet that distinguishes the real item from its pseudo manifestations (though of course not all eliminationism is necessarily fascist). It glories in violence, in action over intellect, and always insists, of course, that it represents the true national identity.
Rhetorically, it takes on some distinctive shapes. It always depicts its opposition as simply beyond the pale, and in the end the embodiment of evil itself -- unfit for participation in their vision of society, and thus in need of elimination. It often depicts its designated "enemy" as vermin (especially rats and cockroaches) or diseases, and loves to incessantly suggest that its targets are themselves disease carriers. A close corollary -- but not as nakedly eliminationist -- are claims that the opponents are traitors or criminals, or gross liabilities for our national security, and thus inherently fit for elimination.
And yes, it's often voiced as crude "jokes", the humor of which, when analyzed, is inevitably predicated on a venomous hatred.
But what we also know about this rhetoric is that, as surely as night follows day, this kind of talk eventually begets action, with inevitably tragic results.
While in recent years much of this activity tends to be relegated to fringe behavior, it's disturbing to observe this trend treading out of the fringes and increasingly back into the mainstream, as it did in the Flathead Valley -- and moreover, as it is doing on a national mainstream level. It's worth remembering, of course, that there have been many instances when eliminationism was very much part of mainstream American culture, and there's no reason to believe it couldn't happen again.
I was reminded of this the other night when I was talking to the very nice-sized audience that turned out for my reading from Strawberry Days at Ravenna Third Place Books in Seattle. In the front row was an elderly Nisei woman I didn't know, but later found out was Mary Matsuda Gruenewald, who had authored her own book on the internment, Looking Like the Enemy (and an excellent book it is).
I had earlier in the evening discussed how difficult it was for white people in the spring of 1942 to stand up and publicly defend their Japanese neighbors, pointing out that the few who did were subjected to "Jap lover" epithets, sneering attacks on their motives, and in some cases threats.
Ms. Gruenewald asked an interesting question: What, she wondered, would I recommend for people today, in the current environment, should they be faced with a similar choice?
I found myself giving her an answer similar to one I've actually given many times, including during a community gathering in Kalispell the summer after the events of "The Fire Next Time" (the crew was there and filming the event, but the gathering mostly wound up on the editing floor), as well as at community discussions on hate crimes. I can't recall the exact words, but it went something like this:
- I think it's important for people to understand the value of standing up and making their voices heard, regardless of the threats that may come their way. Failing to do so will make our communities less safe, places we don't want to bring our children up in anyway. And when people find the courage to stand up and be counted, they'll quickly realize that they are not alone, that others will be there to stand beside them. We're the true silent majority, and tragedies like the internment only happen because too many of us lack the courage to make our voices heard. If the internment offers us any real lessons for today, it's that we cannot repeat the same mistake.
Now, I have to admit to being amused by Rev. Mykeru's recent takedown of a right-wing intimidation artist who calls himself "Lord Spatula," who has a habit of spewing all kinds of vile eliminationist rhetoric in the direction of a number of liberals who post on the Internet, including various threats of physical harm. Mykeru called him on his bluff, arranged a halfway meeting place, and told Lord Spatula to show up for an ass-kicking. Spatula, of course, backed down.
I can't say I endorse Mykeru's tactics, as satisfying as they might be, since they come down to promising actual violence, and being prepared to carry it out. But it's well worth remembering what his little exercise clearly revealed: Bigmouthed bullies are all, at their core, pathetic cowards. When they are confronted, they run away. They may lob a few shots in retreat, but they always run away. Unless, of course, we cede the field to them.
And eliminationism, in all its myriad forms, is in the end nothing but pure bullying. The sooner we begin confronting it, the more certain we are to halt its spread.