Monday, April 17, 2006


How the nativists saw the immigration marches:

"Green cards? We don't need no steenking green cards!"

Their response:

"Today, war is too important to be left to politicians. They have neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought. I can no longer sit back and allow Mexican infiltration, Mexican indoctrination, Mexican subversion and the Mexican Reconquista conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids."


This seems to be the upshot of the current drumbeat coming from the Sensenbrenner/Tancredo wing of the conservative movement, thrummed most prominently by such luminaries as Michelle Malkin ("Welcome to Reconquista" reads her headline). Having already characterized the current wave of Mexican immigration as an "invasion", she is more recently making the unsubstantiated claim that:
Aztlan is a long-held notion among Mexico's intellectual elite and political class, which asserts that the American southwest rightly belongs to Mexico. Advocates believe the reclamation (or reconquista) of Aztlan will occur through sheer demographic force. If the rallies across the country are any indication, reconquista is already complete.

Stepping into line with the reconquista theory this weekend was the Washington Times, which ran a long profile describing the theory rather credulously:
La reconquista, a radical movement calling for Mexico to "reconquer" America's Southwest, has stepped out of the shadows at recent immigration-reform protests nationwide as marchers held signs saying, "Uncle Sam Stole Our Land!" and waved Mexico's flag.

Even as organizers urged marchers to display U.S. flags, the theme of reclaiming "stolen" land remained strong. One popular banner read: "If you think I'm illegal because I'm a Mexican, learn the true history because I'm in my homeland."

"We need to change direction," said Jose Lugo, an instructor in Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder at a campus march last week. "And by allowing these 50,000, 50 million [immigrants] to come in here, we can do that."

The revolutionary tone has surprised even longtime immigration watchers such as Ira Mehlman, the Los Angeles-based spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

"I've always been skeptical myself about this [reconquista], but what I've seen over the last few weeks leads me to believe that there's more there than I thought," Mr. Mehlman said.

"You're seeing people marching with Mexican flags chanting, 'This is our country.' I don't think that we can dismiss this as youthful exuberance or a bunch of hotheads," he said.

The reporter, to her credit, does include at least a touch of reality-based stuff:
Hispanic rights leaders insist there's nothing to the so-called reconquista, sometimes referred to as Aztlan, the mythical ancestral homeland of the Aztecs that reportedly stretches from the border to southern Oregon and Colorado.

Nativo Lopez, president of the Mexican American Political Association in Los Angeles, one of the march organizers, was infuriated when a reporter asked him about the reconquista.

"I can't believe you're bothering me with questions about this. You're not serious," Mr. Lopez said. "I can't believe you're bothering with such a minuscule, fringe element that has no resonance with this populous."

More to the point, the reporter -- as well as Malkin, and most of the other reconquista theorists -- seem confused about a very basic point: The belief that the Southwest is part of their historical homeland is a legitimate belief for most Latinos, and the marchers they cite seem to be expressing that point. They're also expressing the belief that this historical claim overrides the latter-day borders that would deny them their heritage. What's utterly absent is any claim that they intend to retake the Southwest for Mexico, which is what the reconquista theory is all about. On the contrary, they seem intent on becoming American -- but they also are claiming they have a right, by virtue of their heritage, to become one.

That doesn't sound like an invasion to me.

Of course, when I think of invasions, I usually think of armed forces crossing borders and attempting to defeat the other nation's military and ultimately depose its government. You know, what we did in Iraq. Planes, tanks, bombs, the works. Shock and awe.

I don't think of poor people trekking across the desert, looking to land some hard labor in our farm fields and on construction sites, quite the same way. But maybe that's just me.

Listening to the reconquista theories, I am taken back, back, back -- back to those halcyon days when conspiracy theories were the entire raison d'etre of the far right of America's conservative movement. Which is to say, every day of the past half-century.

After all, the far right can't really exist for long without a scapegoat, an Enemy, on whom it can blame all the world's ills. It has always been so, and will always be.

In the post-Civil War period, it was the ominpotent threat of "black rape" that inspired the American far right into a decades-long orgy of lynching whose effects remain with us today.

In the first half of the 20th century, it was the "Yellow Peril." This was a conspiracy theory which held that the Japanese emperor intended to invade the Pacific Coast, and that he was sending immigrants to American shores as shock troops to prepare the way for just such a military action. James Phelan, one of the "peril" theory's chief advocates, explained in 1907 that the Japanese immigrants represented an "enemy within our gates." Advocates frequently cited a 1909 book promoting this theory, Homer Lea's The Valor of Ignorance, which detailed the invasion to come and its aftermath. Moreover, the larger "Yellow Peril" was framed as simply a wave of nonwhite immigrants who would swamp the existing white population if left unchecked. (See more here.)

Then, for most of the post-World War II period, the Enemy was those dirty Communists. This, of course, inspired an entire universe of right-wing conspiracy theorizing, particularly embodied by the McCarthy witch hunts and their offspring, the John Birch Society.

With the demise of the Communist threat in the late '80s and early '90s, right-wingers were left with no one to scapegoat in elaborate conspiracy-theory fashion -- except, of course, for Bill "New World Order" Clinton. But he was only good for an eight-year stint (though if Hillary resurfaces in 2008, hey, they've got another eight more years' worth).

They've really been in need of a more permanent conspiracy-theory scapegoat, and the foreignness of radical Islam makes it difficult to successfully concoct any theories that stick, other than Hannityesque smears identifying liberalism with terrorism.

But reconquista? Woo-hoo! Made to order!

Already, it's a theory that's being endorsed by supposedly mainstream Republicans, even in non-border states like Connecticut, where one of the GOP candidates for Lieberman's seat, Paul Streitz, weighed in:
"It is time to get the troops out of Iraq and put them on the Mexican border. Thousands of Mexicans and other illegal aliens from other countries come into this country every day. This is an invasion, not immigration," Streitz said in a press release.

"The Mexicans are serious about their Reconquista claims to Aztlan. The Senate is headed toward surrendering the states of California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas," the press release continued.

In case anyone's wondering, this latest conspiracy theory in fact originated on the far right -- specifically, with Glenn Spencer, leader of American Patrol:
The so-called reconquista, an alleged plot to turn several American states into a Mexican state or some kind of puppet government controlled by Mexico, has been a top concern for Spencer for years. Back in 1999, he put it like this: "The consul general says Mexico is reconquering California. A Mexican intellectual suggests that anyone who doesn't like Mexicans should leave California. What else do you need to hear? RECONQUISTA IS REAL... . EVERY ILLEGAL ALIEN IN OUR NATION MUST BE DEPORTED IMMEDIATELY. ... IF WE CAN BOMB THE TV STATION IN BELGRADE [in the former Yugoslavia] WE CAN SHUT DOWN [U.S. Spanish-language stations] TELEMUNDO AND UNIVISION."

Spencer got involved in the anti-immigration movement in 1992, when he formed Voice of Citizens Together, also known as American Patrol, in California. In 2002, saying the battle was lost in that state, he moved to the "front lines" of the Arizona border, where he formed American Border Patrol. He was one of the first to call for border citizens' patrols and pioneered the use of surveillance technology.

He also was one of the first well-known anti-immigration activists to more or less openly court white supremacists and anti-Semites. He has attended conferences of American Renaissance magazine, which specializes in racist theories about blacks and others. He interviewed the magazine's editor, Jared Taylor, on his syndicated radio show. Another guest was California State Professor Kevin MacDonald, who is the architect of an elaborate anti-Semitic theory dressed up as evolutionary biology.

Spencer's voice has been particularly strident in pushing the reconquista theory as a Minuteman Project promoter:
Glen Spencer's Voices of Citizens Together (VCT) almost makes AICF look tame by comparison. A Mexican invasion, Spencer warns in his own videotape, is racing across America "like wildfire." There are drugs in Iowa, gang takeovers in Nevada, and "traitors" in the Democratic Party, the Catholic Church and among the "corporate globalists."

Bringing crime, drugs, squalor and "immigration via the birth canal," Mexicans are a "cultural cancer" from which Western civilization "must be rescued." They are threatening the birthright left by the white colonists who "earned the right to stewardship of the land." And this invasion is no accident.

Working in league with communist Chicano activists and their allies in America, Spencer warns, Mexico is using a little-known but highly effective plan ý a scheme already successful in "seizing power" in California ý "to defeat America."

The name of the conspiracy is the "Plan de Aztlan."

"Some scoff at the idea of a Mexican plan of conquest," says Spencer's video (which also features a scuffle between VCT and antiracist activists). The video then answers with an assortment of sound bites from Latino activists and Mexican officials -- including references to "la reconquista" (the reconquest) -- that "prove" that there is a Mexican plot to break the Southwestern states away.

A "hostile force on our border," the narrator warns, is engaging in "demographic war" against the United States. "Mexico is moving to capture the American Southwest."

Variations on this Aztlan conspiracy theory are now widespread on the American radical right. Columnists like Francis and Joseph E. Fallon, who has written on the subject for journals including American Renaissance and Mankind Quarterly, a publication specializing in race "science," have helped to publicize variations of the theory.

The theory was also heavily promoted by the Barnes Review, which otherwise prefers to occupy itself with Holocaust revisionism.

Of course, Michelle Malkin and the Washington Times will never tell you that this is where these theories originate. Nor will they ever be able demonstrate that the notion of reconquista exists among Latino immigrants as anything more than a fringe element.

All that they can do is offer anecdotal evidence, mostly pictures of people carrying signs claiming they belong here. And they'll tell you that what they're claiming is that this country belongs to Mexico -- when no such claim is in sight.

What matters to people like Malkin is whipping up their audience, appealing to their fears. Because fearful people are irrational people, and likely to defer to authority; malleable, because they're eager to be safe. For the lot of them, scapegoats are de rigeur.

What matters to the rest of us, though, is that yet another innately racist appeal from the far right gets neatly repackaged and sold to mainstream Americans as somehow legitimate. And that, folks, is how transmission works.

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