Sunday, January 15, 2006

The March of the Minutemen

Part I: What's in a Name?

Part II: Rotten from the Top

Part III: Rank Ranks

[Note: Part I began to count and describe the ways we know that the Minutemen are an extremist organizing strategy. No. 1 was their origins; No. 2 was their leadership.]

3. The Following They Attract

The SPLC's summer report on the Minutemen also makes clear just how serious the Project's leaders 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."

And while the actual numbers of volunteers who made it out for the Minutemen's festivities were consistently well short of predictions -- journalists outnumbered the Minutemen on most days in Arizona-- there was no shortage of extremist characters floating around their "mother of all block watches."

When extremists did show up, organizers tried to blame their opponents. The mayor of Douglas responded rather sharply when Simcox accused him of spreading Aryan Nations recruitment fliers calling for members to participate:
Chris Simcox, the editor of a local newspaper and a project organizer, has refuted any link between the Minutemen and white supremacists or any other racist organizations. Simcox has accused Douglas Mayor Ray Borane, a frequent critic, of distributing the fliers in an attempt to smear the project.

"I wonder what he's smoking," the mayor replied. "He has no idea the kinds of people they're going to be attracting."

National Alliance chairman Erich Gliebe, who refers to the group as "white separatist," confirmed that local members of the group distributed the fliers in an attempt to build on the efforts of the Minuteman Project. Reached by phone in West Virginia, he said he didn't know if they would participate in the project.

"We have found that a lot of people in the area are sympathetic to our message, but won't admit it," Gliebe said.

The genuinely ugly side of the Minuteman Project and the related border vigilantes was further limned in a story by Michael Marizco in the Arizona Daily Star:
The stories of illegal entrants abused by Cochise County vigilantes are buried in sheriff's deputy reports -- complaints of guns drawn, dog bites, shouts and humiliation -- in official language, using terms such as aggravated assault and disorderly conduct.

Since 1999, the Mexican consul in Douglas, Miguel Escobar, has documented 65 cases in which illegal border crossers reported being detained by U.S. citizens in Cochise County.

In at least six reports taken by Cochise County Sheriff's Department deputies, illegal entrants have reported being kicked, shouted at, bitten by dogs and had guns pointed at them -- yet there's never been a single Cochise County resident prosecuted in these cases.

Human-rights activists say it's because there's a culture of looking the other way when it comes to illegal-entrant abuse. Cochise County law enforcement officials say it's because the victims -- illegal entrants -- choose not to pursue charges. And without witnesses, there are no cases.

The debate has led to civil lawsuits involving millions of dollars. And it has fueled concerns by activists that lax enforcement will allow participants in the upcoming Minuteman Project to abuse illegal entrants without fear of prosecution in Cochise County.

The story also reported that the Aryan Nations was working hard to recruit for the project:
The Minuteman Project is being touted now as a "political assembly" promising to bring 1,022 people to the banks of the San Pedro River for a monthlong protest of border enforcement, starting Friday. But activist groups point to elements within the group and cite a potential for violence.

Last year, one of its leaders, Chris Simcox, was convicted on federal weapons charges. More recently, the white supremacy group Aryan Nation has openly recruited for the Minuteman Project, promoting the monthlong protest as a "white pride event."

Organizer James Gilchrist said he didn't know the Aryan Nation was promoting the event.

Finishing off the whole toxic mix is a healthy dose of paranoia, also given a "mainstream" shot in the arm, from the Washington Times, which reported that Latino gang members are planning to show up and run counter-actions:
Members of a violent Central America-based gang have been sent to Arizona to target Minuteman Project volunteers, who will begin a monthlong border vigil this weekend to find and report foreigner sneaking into the United States, project officials say.

James Gilchrist, a Vietnam veteran who helped organize the vigil to protest the federal government's failure to control illegal immigration, said he has been told that California and Texas leaders of Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, have issued orders to teach "a lesson" to the Minuteman volunteers.

"We're not worried because half of our recruits are retired trained combat soldiers," Mr. Gilchrist said. "And those guys are just a bunch of punks."

But if these extremist elements were the exception in the ranks of the Minutemen, then there were many of those exceptions joining up. This became self-evident later this summer when a Minuteman offshoot in California called Save Our State -- whose organizers are fond of the "reconquista" conspiracy theory, and which has promoted, most recently, anti-immigrant demonstrations at various Home Depots in California and elsewhere -- held a rally July 30 in Laguna Beach, with Jim Gilchrist the headline speaker.

Counter-protesters also appeared at the rally. Eventually, provoked by their opponents, some of the SOS/Minuteman supporters went to their vehicles and fetched out their Confederate and Nazi flags:

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.

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 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.

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 earlier Save Our State rally, on July 16, which also drew white-supremacist participation, 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.

The Stormfront forum remarks regarding this event are especially enlightening, since it is a specifically neo-Nazi chatroom. Most noteworthy, perhaps, 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 the fellows at the rally who finally decided to drop the pretense. But the whole thread makes clear to what extent these extremists now move among allegedly "mainstream" right-wing operations and not simply 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.

Next: The Vigilantism

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