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?

'Make them disappear'

Len at Blogesque had a noteworthy post the other week about a bizarre incident in Fairfield, Ohio, in which a car belonging to the mother of a soldier recently killed in the Iraq war was set on fire by vandals who lit 20 small American flags, gathered from the lawn in front of their house, under it.

Predictably, the right was all afroth over the case, assuming the fires had been set by America-hating libruls, and even suggesting that it represented a "hate crime." Er, not quite.

But, as usual, the Free Republic was the forum where the froth rose to fresh heights. The vandalism was variously ascribed to "anti-qar 'PEACE' people" [sic], "liberal losers trying to make a statement," "Democrat, Liberal Sh*t Eaters," "the pot-smoking, Commie Left," and "the socialist culture as professed by the anti-American-secular-left-wing." One poster finally cut loose with what everyone seemed to be thinking:
Actually, I think lynching should be brought back. And now I'm not being sarcastic. I hope I don't get in trouble for writing this. But I think people who do things like this should just go away, if you know what I mean? Find them and make them disappear.

No one contradicted him.

Then it turned out that a couple of local teenagers were charged with the crime: ages 15 and 13. There's no evidence at all that it was a political act; as far as anyone can tell, they just wanted to set something on fire and the flags were handy as a firestarter.

Hard to tell if the Freepers still want to lynch them; there hasn't been any further commentary from the right.

Update: Seems the mental wizards at Wizbang leapt to the same conclusion, naming their link to the original story, "Leftist Vandals Attack Family Of Slain Soldier." And of course, they haven't bothered to correct it. Standard MO for that crowd. Hat tip to s9 in comments.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The base line

Anti-illegal immigration activists keep insisting that there's nothing the least racist about their efforts to crack down on the problem. It's only illegal immigration they oppose. Really. It has nothing to do with race or ethnicity.

So maybe they can explain why, in Denver, anti-illegal immigration activists have mounted a protest against the city librarian because the library has (gasp!) expanded its collection by adding large numbers of Spanish-language books, including, evidently, some with racy pictures inside.

This elicited the following response from one of the protest organizers:
"You always hear they want to come and work," said Robert Copley of the Colorado Minuteman Project. "Well, they also want to come and kill, and destroy wages, and just demean our quality of life."

It's pretty clear Mr. Copley's concern is not with illegal immigration -- though we're sure he can rhapsodize at length on that subject as well -- as it is with Latino immigration. And it's kind of funny how that theme keeps cropping up a lot.

Again, none of this is surprising. I've argued consistently that people who think the solution is to harass immigrants who come here illegally are, almost without exception, concerned more with the racial (and cultural) aspects of the current immigrant wave than they are about, say, the war on terror (though they sound that theme frequently enough) or the fact that most of these immigrants are here illegally.

It may seem that the two are not logically connected, but when you think about it a bit, they are.

Illegal immigration is a serious problem, not least for its effects in spreading a Wal-Mart economy to the working classes, as well as the way it depresses wages. It requires serious and thoughtful solutions that change the framework of how we deal with both the nuances and the fundamentals of the problem. Blaming desperate Mexicans -- millions of whom have been thrown out of work and off their lands because of NAFTA -- for wanting to come here for jobs is not going to solve anything.

But that's exactly what the Minutemen and their ilk are proposing to do: Harass illegal migrants as they cross the border. This has also created a predictable spate of freelance Minutemen conducting their own version of a border watch. (In two recent cases this escalated to someone shooting a couple of Latinos.)

It's called scapegoating, and it is the hallmark of American right-wing extremism. The paranoid mindset always insists on a scapegoat: Jews. Blacks. Mexicans. Gays. In the 1920s, it was Catholics. They always insist that someone is conspiring to bring harm to them and to America. They describe them as vermin, and urge their elimination. It is a story that has repeated itself many times.

This is why, when you hear someone talk about organizing a border watch, you can bet that, if you hang around their campfires long enough, you'll start hearing a lot of talk about Latinos. How they're ruining the country. Causing crime. Crowding the hospitals. Pretty soon the usual slurs come out too.

It isn't about whether they're legal or not. It is, in the end, all about the color of their skin.

'Death on the Fourth of July'

I've been sorely remiss (what with my energies focused on Strawberry Days) in mentioning that the new paperback edition of my second book, Death on the Fourth of July : The Story of a Killing, a Trial, and Hate Crime in America is now out on the bookshelves as well.

For anyone who has hesitated to plunk down $30 for the hardcover edition, this one retails at $15.95 and may thus be more within reach.

While you're at it, you may want to check out the nice review of DOTFJ from Janinsanfran at Happening-Here?:
Death is really two books. One theme is an extremely well researched, exhaustively argued, explication of bias crimes legislation, the laws that enable courts to name and give enhanced sentences when they find that perpetrators were motivated by bigotry. Neiwert covers all the bases here. He describes the origin of the effort to criminalize bigotry with anti-lynching laws in the 1920s and 30s(we never got a federal law!) and continues up through modern right wing insistence that protecting gays from bias crimes would create "special rights."

If I were a neutral Martian I'd be really fascinated by all of this, but I'm not (either a neutral Martian or fascinated.) The creeps who don't want hate crimes laws haven't changed much since they were repressing uppity Negroes in the old South after the Civil War -- they enjoy being top dogs; they don't want to share; and they make up any intellectually specious nonsense (all pretty much cut from the same legal-rights-for-moral-white-folks cloth) that enables them to hang on to superior status.

I was much more interested in Neiwert's other narrative describing the sequence of events which left a Confederate flag waving white man dead and an Asian immigrant on trial for manslaughter in a small Washington state beach resort town. As a pretty visible dyke, I've known what it is to be afraid of the locals in slightly seedy vacation spots where bored local kids sometimes get their kicks by harassing the "wrong kind" of tourists. That kind of scene is trouble waiting to happen. What was unusual in this case was that, not only did someone end up dead, but, almost accidentally, it was the bully who was killed while his intended victim walked away (though certainly not unscathed.)

The book has, frankly, kind of stiffed at the box office; that's the price, I suppose, of writing on unpopular topics. But it continues to garner good reviews, and I know that (as with In God's Country) a number of communities have turned to it as a reference when dealing with these crimes. That's satisfaction enough.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Minutemen: A home for extremists

This is a recent Minutemen rally. And yes, that's a Nazi flag there, third from the right.

Well, I've been saying all along that the Minutemen's core demographic is constituted of right-wing extremists, including many outright racists.

At a recent anti-immigrant rally in Laguna Beach, the connection was made explicit.

The rally was held July 30. It apparently was a follow-up of sorts to a similar rally held in the same locale on July 16, in which a local anti-immigration activist decided to protest a local arts festival's financial support for a day labor center for undocument workers. This rally drew the participation of the Save Our State campaign (an ostensibly mainstream anti-immigration organization) and the Minutemen's Jim Gilchrist. It also drew a contingent of neo-Nazis.

A Live Journal account gives a quick overview of what occurred:
Save Our State and founder of the Minutman project Jim Gilchrist organized the protest at the Day Labor Center to oppose the hiring of day laborers by city residents two weeks after some members of SOS attended an unofficial rally at the Laguna Beach Arts Festival. There they protested the event's contribution through rental space sale to city coffers, which in turn pays out $21,000 to the group that operates the Center. That original anti-immigrant protest organizer, known as OCAngel, has publicly disassociated herself from the Minutman Project/S.O.S. after neo-Nazis stood with S.O.S. members threatened her due to her Jewish background.

Another account can be found in this Indymedia post, which also provided the above photo.

Interestingly, an account of what happened from the other side can be found at the neo-Nazi Stormfront forum, where one of the participants described how the neo-Nazi flags appeared:
The flags came out in the last few moments of the protest. The commies were chanting "Nazis Go Home" for hours on end non-stop, so I and everyone present on the street in the hot sun, facing hostile commies, browns, and who-knows-what greenlighted the flag idea. We will stand behind our decision.

If anyone wants to do it differently, come with us and tell us then and there.

Besides, this is America and if they can fly their commie flags, burn the US flag, fly their brown flag, we can fly anything we want.

Here's a shot of two of the flag bearers:

What's going on, of course, is that the Minutemen provide an ideal opportunity for white racists to "mainstream" their agenda, using the relatively benign "average citizens" that Lou Dobbs exclusively observes in their ranks as just so much cover. An online report from the July 16 rally discusses this in some detail:
By OCAngel's accounts, the rally she worked hard putting together was indeed a smashing success. More than sixty people showed up, while only five counterdemonstrators appeared to oppose them. Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist, an Aliso Viejo resident, dropped by for awhile to pay his respects. Barbara Coe, the venerable Chairwoman of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform (CCIR) and co-author of Proposition 187, was also there. And Don Silva (aka "OldPreach"), one of Joe Turner's close allies, was running around dressed in camouflage again, waving around an American flag (for matter of record, the rally itself was not officially endorsed by S.O.S.). {3}

But members of the National Alliance, an avowedly white supremacist organization, appeared to be out in full force that day. In fact, somebody who calls herself occutegirl, perhaps unbeknownst to her at the time, posted a photograph she took of two reputed members of that group on the "Save Our State" website. The photo shows a young woman (alleged to be "dixieland_delight" on the Stormfront White Nationalist Community website) and a man suspected of being her boyfriend holding up a blue banner reading, "DEPORT ILLEGAL ALIENS," with the words, "," emblazoned just underneath them in much smaller type. {4}

After realizing that a good number of "white nationalists" had attended her rally, OCAngel, to her credit, took some steps to distance herself from them. In one cryptic posting on the "Save Our State" website, she hinted publicly to a person who apparently had sent her a private message that they had "an agenda I do not agree with" and would "have preferred your group [possibly the National Alliance] to set up further and separate from us [on Saturday, July 16th], and not aligned yourselves with us in any way. I appreciated that you did not openly flaunt your views ..." {5}

But the truth is, despite OCAngel's apparent despair over all the National Alliance members who showed up to her Laguna Beach rally, evidence is rapidly mounting that white supremacists from across Southern California are trying to work hand and glove with "Save Our State" and its members in every protest and demonstration they organize; in fact, in some circumstances, it appears some white supremacists are active members of that group.

None of this should be terribly surprising. I've long held that immigration reform is an important issue that requires serious discussion, but I don't believe for a moment that scapegoating and harassing border crossers is going to provide any solutions. My experience has been that if you scratch beneath the surface of those who do, you quickly find that they are more likely to be concerned with Latino (or any nonwhite) immigration, not illegal immigration per se, though of course they pay lip service to the latter.

The Stormfront forum is especially enlightening, since it is a specifically neo-Nazi chatroom. Especially noteworthy were the many posts questioning the use of the Nazi symbology at the rally, since it would "turn off" many whites. It's worth remembering that most dedicated racists take care not to let it show publicly -- unlike these fellows. But the whole thread makes clear to what extent these extremists now move among allegedly "mainstream" right-wing operations and not infiltrate them, but fully hijack them.

And as much as they might disguise themselves in the process, the vicious nature of this contingent eventually manifests itself.

It appears to have done so recently near Tijuana, where two Mexican men were shot in separate incidents while attempting border crossings:
Carlos Alfonso Estrada Martinez, 38, was one of two Mexican citizens shot in separate incidents during the early hours of Saturday in the border region between Tecate and Campo.

In statements he made to officials, Estrada had said he was about 200 yards inside the U.S. when he was hit about 1 a.m. A second man who was shot about an hour later said he was assaulted just south of the border fence in Mexico.

... The second man, Jose Humberto Rivera Perez, a 32-year-old native of Guadalajara, was shot just below the left knee. Interviewed earlier this week as he recovered at the Centro de Salud hospital, he said he was shot by a man who had his face covered as Rivera and several others waited to cross the border roughly 20 yards south of the fence.

When they tried to flee, the man shouted at them in Spanish not to run and fired, hitting Rivera.

A statement released earlier that weekend by Mexican immigration officials blamed the shootings on bandits rather than on cazamigrantes, Spanish for "migrant hunters." Since mid-July, armed civilians have been watching the border in the area surrounding Campo, patrolling between Jacumba and Tecate.

The reporters also spoke to a Minuteman leader:
Jim Chase, the Oceanside resident who organized the three-week border watch, said none of his people have fired any weapons. But he added that while he turns away people he considers extremists, he has been running into people conducting their own patrols who are not with his group.

"It doesn't scare me, but it is scary from the standpoint of these are people who have not gone through me to pledge to be nonracist and nonviolent," Chase said earlier this week.

Somehow, getting that official Minuteman certification doesn't exactly seem like an ironclad guarantee against racism and violence, either.

But then, movements like these, borne of racial scapegoating in the first place, are always going to attract those kinds of supporters. It's in their nature.