Thursday, August 11, 2005

Minutemen on the march

Shocking news alert: Conservatives are now almost rushing to embrace the Minutemen even as evidence mounts that the funny smell coming from their ranks isn't just a case of bad tamales.

The latest Republican politician to do so (following in the footsteps of Sen. Wayne Allard of Colorado and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a Texas congressman named John Culberson of Houston, who has introduced legislation that would give official sanction, for the first time, to "border militias":
The Border Protection Corps Act, introduced on July 28, would authorize access to $6.8 billion in unused Homeland Security funds to form volunteer border militias that report to their respective county sheriffs.

It is not known when or if the measure would be put to a vote.

Gov. Rick Perry stopped short of endorsing the bill, noting in a prepared statement that illegal immigration was a "pervasive problem."

"Regardless of the mechanism, the federal government must provide a stronger presence along the border," Perry said in the statement issued July 28. "I welcome federal efforts to protect our borders from illegal immigrations and threats from terrorists."

The movement appears to be spreading northward as well. A Minuteman project was recently announced up the road in Bellingham:

A controversial group known for gathering armed volunteers to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border to slow illegal immigration plans to patrol America's northern border as well.
A representative from the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps recently spent two weeks in Washington state, including Whatcom County, to start two chapters here, one on each side of the Cascades, said Chris Simcox, president and founder of the Tombstone, Ariz.,-based organization.

Washington is one of several northern states to which volunteers want to bring the border-guarding effort, Simcox said.

"We've had an overwhelming response from people along the northern border, who feel we need to do the same thing there," he said.

All this is occurring even as concerns mount over the extent to which the Minutemen are not only attracting extremists to their movement, but are in danger of having their direction reflect that kind of activist core.

Indeed, a number of human-rights monitors have pointed out the extremist origins of the movement, rooted as it is in the "militia movement" of the 1990s -- as well as the white supremacists who preceded that movement:
Devin Burghart, who monitors anti-immigrant movements with the Illinois-based human rights group, the Centre for New Community's Building Democracy Initiative, is not surprised by the growth of the vigilante movement -- or its potential for internal strife.

"we are seeing a similar trajectory today with the Minutemen movement that we saw with the militia movement in the early 1990s," Burghart told IPS.

However, Burghart maintains that the Minutemen are in a much better position then the militias were because "they appear to be mostly relying on a number of already established anti-immigrant networks and activists to spread the word."

Twelve years ago, the Militia of Montana, the Michigan Militia and a number of other like-minded groups appeared to spring up out of nowhere. In short order, they captured the nation's attention as well as the media's spotlight.

Militia leaders such as Montana's John Trochmann and Michigan's Norm Olsen became oft-quoted spokespersons for what was at first portrayed as an amorphous collection of anti-government activists.

"In the early 1990s, it didn't take long for new militia groups to start springing up, many of which weren't even organised by the originators of the concept," Burghart pointed out.

"The establishment of local militia groups took on a life of its own, becoming somewhat of a mass movement. Even older and pre-existing Christian Patriot groups started calling themselves militias. It sounds like we could be on the verge of that happening with the Minutemen phenomenon."

... "The Minutemen of today and the militias of a decade ago have many commonalities ideologically,” Burghart said. "Despite all their 'law-and-order' rhetoric, they both rely on illegal paramilitary vigilantism and intimidation to push public policy."

"They both appear to be expressions of Middle American Nationalism -- the notion that 'middle Americans' are being squeezed from above by the economic elites, and from below from the multicultural hordes that are sucking the lifeblood from the productive middle."

"Both the militias and the minutemen create a demonised 'other' based on citizenship status: The militias had the 'sovereign citizen' concept, which divided people into (white) state 'sovereign' citizens and so-called '14th Amendment' citizens. The Minutemen do it the basis of perceived immigration status."

He noted that "both are rife with conspiracy theories. For example, the militias were concerned about the New World Order, while the Minutemen have La Reconquista, which contends that there is a secret plot to re-conquer the American southwest for Mexico."

Moreover, both the militias and the Minutemen have something in common with the Posse Comitatus, an anti-Semitic white supremacist group that sprung up in the 1970s. Latin for "power of the county," the Posse Comitatus was founded in 1971 by retired army lieutenant colonel William Potter Gale.

Gale "believed that all white, Christian men had an unconditional right to take up arms to enforce the principles of a 'Constitutional Republic,' and challenge various 'unlawful acts' of the federal government, including integration, taxation and the federal reserve banking system," Daniel Levitas, the author of ”The Terrorist Next Door. The Militia Movement and the Radical Right” (St Martin's Press, 2002), told IPS.

The extremist roots of the movement are laid out in some detail in a new SPLC report on the Minutemen, which notes that Chris Simcox and Jim Gilchrist, the movement's two leading figures, specialized in racist Latino-bashing prior to taking their organization national:
While Gilchrist is newly prominent on the anti-immigration front — he recently joined the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, a hate group whose leader routinely describes Mexicans as "savages" — Simcox has been active since 2002, when he founded Civil Homeland Defense, a Tombstone-based vigilante militia that he brags has captured more than 5,000 Mexicans and Central Americans who entered the country without visas.

"These people don't come here to work. They come here to rob and deal drugs," Simcox told the Intelligence Report in a 2003 interview. "We need the National Guard to clean up our cities and round them up."

But that was the old Chris Simcox talking, not the new, spiffed-up, buttoned-down, ready-for-primetime Chris Simcox.

The old Simcox described Citizens Homeland Defense as "a committee of vigilantes," and "a border patrol militia." The new Simcox — the one interviewed for dozens of national TV news programs and major newspaper articles about the Minuteman Project — characterized his new and larger outfit of citizen border patrollers as "more of a neighborhood watch program."

The old Simcox said of Mexicans and Central American immigrants, "They have no problem slitting your throat and taking your money or selling drugs to your kids or raping your daughter and they are evil people." The new Simcox said he sympathizes with their plight, and sees them as victims of their own government's failed policies.

The report also makes clear just how serious the Minutemen really are about weeding out extremists from their midst -- as well as limiting their firearms:
Early this year, white supremacist and neo-Nazi Web sites began openly recruiting for the Minuteman Project. In response, Gilchrist and Simcox proclaimed that neo-Nazi Skinheads and race warriors from organizations such as the National Alliance and Aryan Nations were specifically banned from participating. Pressured by journalists to explain exactly how they planned to keep these undesirables out, the two organizers said they were working with the FBI to carefully check the backgrounds of all potential Minuteman volunteers, only to have the FBI completely deny this was the case.

Gilchrist and Simcox then claimed they were personally checking out each and every potential volunteer using on-line databases. Even if this were true, one of Gilchrist's computers crashed the morning of April 1, wiping out the records of at least 75 pre-registered volunteers. As a result, the registration protocol in Tombstone rapidly degenerated into a free-for-all, and virtually anyone who showed up and gave a name was issued a Minuteman Project badge and told where to go the next day to be assigned to a watch post.

Gilchrist and Simcox further claimed to the media prior to April 1 that the only volunteers who would be allowed to carry firearms would be those who had a concealed-carry handgun permit from their home states, an indication that they had passed at least a cursory background investigation. In fact, virtually no one was checked for permits.

While most of the Minuteman volunteers were not organized racists, at least one member of Aryan Nations infiltrated the effort, and Johnny and Michael said they were two of six members of the Phoenix chapter of the National Alliance who signed up as Minuteman Volunteers. They said the other four had arrived separately in two-man teams in order to cover more ground and be less conspicuous. They said the Alliance members came out to support the Minuteman Project, but also to recruit new members, and to learn the remote hot zones for border crossers in Cochise County. They said they intended to return and conduct small, roaming, National Alliance-only vigilante patrols in the fall, "when we can have a little more privacy," as Johnny put it.

Perhaps the most chilling part of the report, though, were the quotes the SPLC's investigators obtained from Minuteman participants:
At Station Two, Minuteman volunteers grilled bratwursts and fantasized about murder.

"It should be legal to kill illegals," said Carl, a 69-year old retired Special Forces veteran who fought in Vietnam and now lives out West. "Just shoot 'em on sight. That's my immigration policy recommendation. You break into my country, you die."

Carl was armed with a revolver chambered to fire shotgun shells. He wore this hand cannon in a holster below a shirt that howled "American bad asses" in red, white and blue. The other vigilantes assigned to Station Two included a pair of self-professed members of the National Alliance, a violent neo-Nazi organization. These men, who gave their names only as Johnny and Michael, were outfitted in full-body camouflage and strapped with semi-automatic pistols.

Earlier that day, Johnny and Michael had scouted sniper positions in the rolling, cactus-studded foothills north of Border Road, taking compass readings and drawing maps for future reference.

"I agree completely," Michael said. "You get up there with a rifle and start shooting four or five of them a week, the other four or five thousand behind them are going to think twice about crossing that line."

I don't think the Minutemen or their apologists can claim any longer that these kinds of attitudes are the exception in this movement. There are too many instances of them cropping up.

Which raises the question: Why exactly are ostensibly mainstream Republicans adopting their cause?

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