Thursday, April 20, 2006

The annual question

Yesterday being the 11th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, I suppose I should just be grateful that, this year at least, we're not cursed with an Ann Coulter profile in Time.

Still, every year since 2002, this sad anniversary reminds me of a question I still haven't heard answered:

Why wasn't April 19, 1995 the "day that changed everything"?

Oh, those merry Minutemen

To hear their mainstream defenders tell it, those poor Minutemen are being smeared as racists merely for demanding secure borders. And the Minutemen constantly repeat the refrain.

But they never seem able to explain why their cause seems to draw so many overt, unrepentant racists. Recently, one of the Minutemen offshoots, an outfit called Border Guardians, has been making common cause with the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, according to a new SPLC report:
A prominent anti-immigration leader has secretly urged the nation's largest neo-Nazi group to launch a campaign of violence and harassment against undocumented workers in the United States.

Laine Lawless, who started a group called Border Guardians last year, sent an April 3 e-mail to Mark Martin, "SS commander" of the Western Ohio unit of the National Socialist Movement, which has 59 chapters in 30 states. It was titled, "How to GET RID OF THEM!"

The e-mail from Lawless, who was also an original member of Chris Simcox's vigilante militia before it morphed into the Minuteman Project in early 2005, detailed 11 suggestions for ways to harass and terrorize undocumented immigrants, including robbery and "beating up illegals" as they leave their workplace.

"Maybe some of your warriors for the race would be the kind of people willing to implement some of these ideas," Lawless wrote. "I'm not ready to come out on this. ... Please don't use my name. THANKS."

At the request of Lawless, who declined to respond to questions from the Intelligence Report, Martin posted her suggestions to a number of neo-Nazi bulletin boards. Those suggestions included:

-- "Steal the money from any illegal walking into a bank or check cashing place."

-- "Make every illegal alien feel the heat of being a person without status. ... I hear the rednecks in the South are beating up illegals as the textile mills have closed. Use your imagination."

-- "Discourage Spanish-speaking children from going to school. Be creative."

-- "Create an anonymous propaganda campaign warning that any further illegal immigrants will be shot, maimed or seriously messed-up upon crossing the border. This should be fairly easy to do, considering the hysteria of the Spanish language press, and how they view the Minutemen as 'racists & vigilantes.' "

The report makes clear that Lawless played an integral role in founding the Minuteman Project:
Lawless, the former high priestess of Sisterhood of the Moon, a lesbian pagan organization, has been heavily involved in anti-immigration extremism since 2004, when she joined Simcox's Civil Homeland Defense outfit, as it was then called. That same year, she invited "militiamen" nationwide to "crawl through the woods in a ghille [sic] suit with sniper rifle" on her private ranch in Cochise County, Ariz. "I coordinate with Chris [Simcox], so anyone who wants to come is welcome," she wrote in a post to an online user group, "A Well Regulated Militia."

Lawless was featured in numerous media reports on the first Minuteman Project campaign in April 2005, during which she patrolled side-by-side with Minuteman vice-president Carmen Mercer. Lawless also traveled to Texas to join the Texas Minutemen in October, when she was quoted in The Austin Chronicle saying she gets an "intellectual and political orgasm" from spying on pro-immigration groups. In that interview, she accused one pro-immigration activist of inserting chants of "White Power!" into an audiotape of Minuteman rallies to discredit the movement.

Meanwhile, according to USA Today, the Minutemen are expanding to a nationwide membership:
The Minuteman Project is authorizing state chapters for the first time, says executive director Stephen Eichler. The group, created in 2004, organizes armed patrols on the southern U.S. border and calls in the Border Patrol when members spot people trying to cross illegally. President Bush referred to them in March 2005 as "vigilantes."

Eichler won't release membership numbers but says about 200,000 people identify themselves as Minutemen. By the end of the year, Eichler says, the group expects to have 500 chapters in states across the country, including Minnesota and elsewhere in the Midwest. Members could help with border surveillance or focus on immigration enforcement in their own communities.

"Over 5,000 people have come forward and said, 'I'll do anything,' " he says. "Right now, about 200 people that we have contacted look pretty serious." Eichler says the group will do background checks to prevent white supremacists from forming chapters.

The Illinois Minuteman Project, which is patterned after the California-based group, has about 600 members and is growing rapidly, says Rosanna Pulido, who just returned from patrolling the Arizona-Mexico border.

"Our membership is going up every day," she says. "We're getting flooded. Nothing has generated interest like the pro-immigration protests." The group plans a May 4 debate with a proponent of citizenship for illegal immigrants in Chicago and a town hall meeting May 6 in Rockford, Ill.

Meanwhile, the white backlash to the recent pro-immigrant marches keeps building, with recent protests in Cullman, Alabama, and Kansas City, Missouri, each drawing several hundred participants. In the latter, the crowd cheered the call for "a 2,000-mile wall."

The nativist faction has just begun. Here are some of the counter-protests being organized in the next few weeks in response to the immigration marchers:
April 22: Saturday, 9 a.m. at the offices of the pro-migrant Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United), in Woodburn, Oregon. Protest planned by Oregonians for Immigration Reform.

April 23: Sunday, 2 p.m., The National Mall in Washington, D.C. A "Pro-America 'Secure Our Borders' Demonstration."

April 24: Monday, 10 a.m., Washington, D.C., at Lafayette Park opposite the White House. Protest arranged by 9/11 Families for Secure America.

April 24: Monday, nationwide state capitol protests. Protest arranged by Concerned American Citizens.

May 3-12: Protest Caravan each day across America. Protests arranged by the Minuteman Project.

If folks like Laine Lawless have their way, these marches will be thick with those very extremists the nativists claim not to be.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Radio Rmalkin

Michelle Malkin loves all the perks that come with being a media figure -- the TV appearances with people like Bill O'Reilly fawning all over her, the kid-glove treatment from journalists, the fame and recognition. It's all quite lovely, especially when it translates into dollars.

Most of all, it seems, she likes the power: the ability to disseminate her point of view and have it be not only widely read but widely adopted as "factual" by a substantial number of people. (In Malkin's case, it's almost purely the power of propaganda, since that is primarily what she purveys.)

In the end, that means her point of view is acted upon, both officially and unofficially. That, as anyone in the "mainstream media" knows, is real power.

Malkin wants that power. She just doesn't want any of the responsibility that comes with it.

And it can easily be abused. You can use your megaphone to lie shamelessly. You can use it to smear the good name of public officials. You can use it to rewrite history. And you can use it to intimidate the "little people" who don't possess the same kind of power.

Because these potential abuses exist, a sense of ethics is obligatory for anyone who possesses this power. It's why the Society of Professional Journalists has a Code of Ethics that abjures such behavior.

Violating the Code won't get you fired per se, but it certainly brings into question your professionalism and honor. It also brands you, forever, as deeply irresponsible.

Particularly when it comes to using that power to attack ordinary citizens and subject them not just to ridicule but actual threats and potential violence.

As Georgia 10 points out, there is an entire section in the Code urging restraint when it comes to the media's power to intrude on and affect people's private lives.

This is especially the case when it comes to handing out people's personal contact information: phone numbers, e-mail addresses, even home addresses.

Because without that restraint, mass media can become an instrument of humankind's worst impulses -- including mass violence and genocide.

Remember, most recently, what happened in Rwanda: the owners of talk radio stations, working in the interest of the moneyed class, used their megaphones to target individuals who were then slaughtered by mobs armed with machetes:
"In Rwanda," Gowing writes, "hate radio ... systematically laid the groundwork for mass slaughter from the moment it was licensed in July 1993." It also helped facilitate the genocide, as RTLM broadcast names, addresses and license plate numbers of Tutsi targets. "Killers often carried a machete in one hand and a transistor radio in the other," according to Power.

RTLM and the propaganda it broadcast did not happen by accident. Rather, the founding of the station in 1992 by Hutu hard-liners closely associated with the government and its subsequent activities were "directly promoted by government authorities" as "the political and military elite established RTLM as part of this broader strategy to thwart the impact of internal reform." Further evidence of this strategy is found in the fact that prior to the genocide the government distributed free radios around the country in order to allow Rwandans to tune into RTLM, and that RTLM was "allowed to broadcast on the same frequencies as the national radio when Radio Rwanda [the national state-owned station] was not transmitting." Though officially private, RTLM "was essentially the tool of Hutu extremists from the government, military and business communities."

There is a good reason that using the power of mass media to expose individual citizens' private lives to abuse and threats is considered unethical: It represents unchecked and abusive power. No one interested in holding the public trust should either want or seek it.

Yet this, of course, is exactly what Malkin did this week in publishing, on her blog, the home phone numbers of three students who led anti-military protests on the campus of UC-Santa Cruz.

Predictably, the students were deluged with hate mail and phone calls, including a number of death threats.

Malkin not only refused to take the numbers down -- in response, she reverted to her timeworn victimization schtick, posting some of the nasty e-mails she received in return and pretending there was nothing wrong or unethical in her behavior.

We're all too familiar with this routine. After all, it's what the entirety of her book Unhinged was predicated upon. Malkin, as I said then, is like the lunatic who walks around the public square and pokes people in the eye with a sharp stick, and then is shocked, shocked, that anyone would respond with anger and outrage.

Of course, there's more than ample reason to question Malkin's professionalism. Indeed, this isn't the first time Malkin has shown a predilection for abusing the power of her large readership.

Back when Unhinged first came out, I noticed a little anomaly:
Y'see, the early reports on the book indicated that not only would Malkin feature nasty, ugly quotes from nasty, ugly liberals on the back cover, but it would include their e-mail addresses.

And that's what they showed when Malkin appeared on O'Reilly's show the other day. O'Reilly even specifically mentioned it.

But when my copy arrived, the nasty quotes were there ... but not the e-mail addresses.

We've never been told why the addresses were removed, but one has to assume that Regnery did so on advice of counsel. It's also my understanding that one of the scurrilous and ugly quotes was actually penned by a 14-year-old, though I haven't confirmed that; but it certainly underscores the nature of this kind of retaliatory abuse of the power of mass communication.

Malkin's not the first right-wing blogger to try the Rwanda radio routine on one of their perceived enemies. Remember that the Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler (who resides on Malkin's blogroll) attempted a similar tactic against someone deemed "despicable" enough to warrant having someone visit them at their home.

I've seen this tactic being used by radio talkers in Montana as well:
The primary targets of Stokes' venom, though, were conservationists and environmentalists, for whom not even the most appalling comparison nor the most groundless accusation was adequate: Stokes constantly referred to them as Nazis, and the central thrust of all his attacks was that "greens" were responsible for nearly everything that was wrong with life in Western Montana, particularly the depressed economy. Indeed, Stokes has referred frequently to Patriot conspiracy theories, and not merely on the subject of environmentalists (who are viewed by militia types as a cult intent on enslaving the rest of mankind); he's also trotted out Patriot theories on such subjects as taxation and the Constitution.

Unsurprisingly, his audience reflects this kind of proto-fascist orientation. Many of his callers have outright advocated violence against conservationists, and Stokes has encouraged them to do so.

The real-life consequences of all this talk made quite clear that this was not merely "entertainment," and that Stokes' "hot talk" was doing more than just garnering ratings. Beginning in the summer of 2001, local conservationists began receiving a series of death threats, some delivered in person, others by phone. Car windows were smashed in, tires slashed. Strange men would show up in people's yards at twilight, then run off when confronted. People's homes were vandalized. Others would be followed home by men in pickups or on motorcycles. Sometimes the teenage children of the targets were threatened.

And egging all of these people on was John Stokes. Sometimes callers would announce on his show that a local conservationist was on vacation, which would present an opportunity to "visit their home." In others, a caller would simply give the home address of an environmental activist who had just been vilified as "Satanic" on the air by Stokes.

It's doubtful that Michelle Malkin has ever heard of John Stokes. No doubt she cooked up the idea of publishing these students' personal-contact info -- which they gave out in a press release that was clearly intended not for broadcast but for media contact purposes -- more or less on the fly. It just felt good, so she did it.

But it fits in with a pattern of behavior, not just by Malkin but by right-wing pundits generally, of pretending that ethics don't really matter -- or that longtime ethical standards just don't exist.

Maybe she just spent too much time hanging out with Ben Domenech when he was editing Unhinged.

But it's clear that she has a little problem. No, make that a big problem.

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.