Wednesday, May 04, 2005
In my youth, Bozeman was known as a rrrredneck town. It was the kind of place where, if you had long hair and you hitchhiked, you did your best to avoid it. Arlo Guthrie was only one of many long-hairs famously beaten up there.
Sure, it was home to Montana State University, but that only meant the students there were considered redneck too. It was the ag and engineering school.
That's all changed a lot in the past 20 years. The town has mellowed, become a lot friendlier, with a pretty strong hippie/environmentalist subculture. But even with all that, the old reputation lingers.
Redneck or not, the town recently made everyone in Montana proud by standing up and repudiating the candidacy of a white supremacist named Kevin McGuire, who ran for an open seat on the local school board.
In the just-finished vote, McGuire garnered 157 votes, or 3.6 percent:
- Turnout was the highest in 21 years, said Steve Johnson, assistant superintendent and district clerk in charge of elections. At noon when the polls opened at the Willson School gym, there were already a couple hundred people lined up, eager to vote.
"That's unheard of," Johnson said. "It was kind of neat."
By 2 p.m., people were lined up 23 deep at the table for last names starting with F through H. "Nobody complained about waiting -- a couple threatened to change their last name," one election worker joked.
Turnout was 4,260 voters, which was twice last year's and 17 percent of the total registered voters in the Bozeman elementary district.
Leaving the polls, Jessica Reed, 21, an office assistant, said she voted because she didn't want "anything having to do with white supremacists" in the schools.
"I wanted to see Mr. McGuire get trounced as badly as possible," said Tom Davey, a Galavan driver. "I didn't worry he would win, but I thought the larger the numbers, the better the message."
"I really do think this is a great referendum," said Don Bachman, an avalanche technician. "We don't often get to vote for those feelings and ideals."
For a first-person account of the wave that drove Bozeman voters to the polls, be sure to read renaissance grrrl's terrific Kos diary detailing her day:
- We could have defeated Kevin McGuire, probably, if only 50 people had voted. But-- I don't know the tally -- but I would guess it was thousands. Everybody wanted to be part of the giant "NO" handed to Kevin on this night. You think you represent us, white boy? Think again. NO.
And... despite the fact that I always knew he wouldn't, couldn't win... and despite the fact that his loss does not magically turn Bozeman more diverse... and despite the fact that it was only a school board election... I left the gym and cried. Because people, many people, are good. And they cared enough to show up and be counted, many more than needed to be counted. And it made me proud to be... dare I say it... an American. For today.
Wulfgar correctly points out that McGuire's 157 votes is about a hundred more than he should have gotten. But at the end of the day, Bozeman deserves everyone's applause for a job well done in standing up to hate-filled ideologues.
It may still be a redneck town. But it's my kind of redneck town.
A little history, perhaps, is in order to help bring into focus just what the problem with the Minutemen is. As I just got done explaining, they do represent an open endorsement of extremist vigilantism by leading media and authority figures.
It should be clear that the Minuteman Project's origins lie with so-called "border militias," whose activities have been documented many times here. These "militias," it must be understood, are direct products of the far-right Patriot movement that produced the same "movement" in the 1990s.
One of the symbolic ways this shows up is in the project's name: the original Minutemen were the heart and soul of the militias who defeated the British army in the Revolutionary War. The name claims a kind of descent from these historical forebears in exactly the same way as the "militia movement".
Finally, a thorough review of its core of support -- from the white-supremacist American Renaissance and Aryan Nations to less noxious but nonethless racist outfits like VDare and American Patrol -- as well as the words of its own founders and participants will reveal right-wing extremism in every nook and cranny. Portraying them as "jes' folks" is not merely irresponsible, it's dangerous.
Especially when you consider the most recent previous incarnation of another organization claiming the "Minuteman" name -- namely, the right-wing anti-Communist group of the 1960s. They too started out presenting themselves as merely patriotic citizens acting on concerns about the nation's well-being. But they ended up being something else altogether.
I wrote about them in Chapter 3 of In God's Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest, pp. 52-54:
- Then there were the Minutemen. Not only did they preach a more rabid style of anti-Communist paranoia than the Birch Society, their activities also manifested, for the first time, the violent undercurrent of these beliefs.
Led by a Missouri man named Robert DePugh, the Minutemen not only believed that government had been infiltrated at its highest levels by Communists, but that a Communist takeover was virtually inevitable; therefore, they told their believers, you should arm yourselves with whatever weaponry would be effective as a counterforce to strike back when the takeover occurred. DePugh, a onetime associate of [JBS founder] Robert Welch before DePugh was dropped from the John Birch Society, also told his followers to harass "the enemy," and compiled at his headquarters a list of 1,500 people he identified as members of the "Communist hidden
government," with the intent to assassinate them in the event of the Communist coup.
The Minutemen soon became associated with groups like Wesley Swift's Church of Jesus Christ Christian, a Christian Identity church located in Hollywood. Swift preached the "two-seed" brand of Identity, holding that not only are white people are the true Israelites and descendants of Adam, but that blacks, Asians, and other non-whites thus are "pre-Adamic" people without souls, and Jews are either descendants of Satan himself (the offspring of conjugal relations with Eve) or practitioners of a Satanic religion. Among Swift's more notable adherents: retired Col. William Potter Gale, a former MacArthur aide who eventually became a key figure in Posse Comitatus; and a quiet-spoken Lockheed engineer named Richard Girnt Butler.
Also in attendance at Swift's Sunday services was Keith Gilbert, a gunshop owner who also was a Minutemen member. Gilbert was arrested in 1965 and convicted for the theft of 1,400 pounds of TNT that he later said was part of a plot to plant a bomb under the stage of the Hollywood Palladium during an Anti-Defamation League convention, and to detonate it during the keynote speech by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. -- a plot only disrupted by his arrest.
Other Minutemen were getting into trouble around the nation. The group was connected to an October 1966 plot, broken up by the FBI in New York City, to bomb three summer camps operated by liberal East Coast organizations. And illegal caches of weapons and ammunition linked to Minutemen kept popping up around the countryside.
By this point, though, DePugh had decided to move into the political arena. Using the Minutemen's agenda as a platform, he formed the Patriotic Party and made public speeches around the country touting its potential in the wake of Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential election defeat. Two of those appearances were in Seattle in 1966. A mail-room employee of Seattle City Light named Duane I. Carlson put up $500 of his own money to sponsor the Northwest convention of the Patriotic Party at the Hyatt House. A few months later, DePugh made a stump speech for a November Patriotic Party gathering; some 600 people, paying $1 apiece, were in attendance. DePugh, however, only spoke to the crowd by a telephone hookup. The Minutemen's fearless leader was temporarily indisposed: he and an associate had been recently convicted on a variety of felony firearms violations and sentenced just the week before to four years in prison.
Over the next year, DePugh fought that conviction, and managed to stay out of jail through a string of appeals. But the legal troubles started taking their toll on the organization's finances -- and pressure mounted to find alternative sources of revenue.
Soon, Duane Carlson's activities moved well beyond public meetings. He gathered a group of six other Seattle-area men -- a longshoreman, a church sexton, a grocery clerk, a civilian driver at the Fort Lewis Army Base, a self-employed draftsman, and an unemployed ship's oiler -- and began plotting ways to finance the Minutemen's arms operations and strike a blow against the "Communist controlled" government at the same time. Their plan: set off a bomb at the city hall of a small Seattle suburb, Redmond, while simultaneously detonating another at the local power station, thereby creating a major distraction while taking out police communications at the same time. This would enable the gang to strike three Redmond banks they had targeted for a series of successive robberies.
Their downfall, however, came when a federal informant infiltrated the group. On the day the Minutemen planned to strike -- January 26, 1967 -- the FBI swooped down on them in two parking lots, one in Bellevue and another in Lake City, where the conspirators were meeting to carry out their plot, and arrested all seven. DePugh denied they were part of his organization, claiming Carlson had been dropped from his rolls for "non-payment of dues." Federal prosecutors, who found evidence that DePugh actually was party to the plan from its early stages, put out a warrant for his arrest.
DePugh went into hiding but was caught a few months later hiding out in Spokane, where he was charged in the Redmond plot. Five of the seven Seattle plotters were charged, and all five were convicted. DePugh, convicted in September 1970, wound up serving four years out of a ten-year sentence on the original firearms charges, but by then, his career in politics was in the ashheap. He later tried to resuscitate his ambitions by heading up an ultra-conservative organization called the Committee of 10 Million, but the numbers fell well short of those suggested by the group's name. DePugh currently is in prison again, this time on a 1992 conviction for sexual exploitation of a minor.
Regular readers will recall that Keith Gilbert recently cropped back up in the news in Seattle recently.
There's no association at all between Chris Simcox's modern-day border-watch organization and DePugh's. But if recent history is any harbinger, their claim to the real Minutemen's legacy is as troubling as it is specious.
Beyond the Minutemen
Monday, May 02, 2005
The drumbeat of official support for the Minuteman Project keeps on thumping.
First it was media figures like Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity (taking a cue from Michelle Malkin) trumpeting the notion that these were just average citizens voicing their concern through a kind of "neighborhood watch". Then Sen. Wayne Allard suggested the federal government actually deputize the Minutemen.
Now California's Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has endorsed them:
- In an interview on Los Angeles radio station KFI, Schwarzenegger said of the armed volunteers, "They've done a terrific job." According to the Governator, who drew criticism last week when he suggested it was time for the U.S. to "close the borders," the federal government isn't taking border security seriously enough. "Our federal government is not doing their job," Schwarzenegger said. "It's a shame that the private citizen has to go in there and start patrolling our borders."
Schwarzenegger pegged his concerns to the time he watched Fox News footage showing "hundreds and hundreds of illegal immigrants" coming across the border. "I mean, what's that?" he asked.
Not a great deal better was a piece in the Christian Science Monitor that largely gave a warm and fuzzy review of the Minutemen's "accomplishments":
- Retired pilot Joe McCutchen spent three weeks, $6,000, and put 4,600 miles on his car driving round trip from Fort Smith, Ark., to the Arizona border. In between, he spent 14 days in a folding chair, buffeted by wind storms, face- cutting sand, freezing cold, and scorching sun.
He says he'll be back to do it again in October.
"The terrain and weather were utterly brutal," says Mr. McCutchen, who spent eight hours a day manning lookout posts. "I have a new sense of compassion for the illegals who are being exploited by both countries ... and the Border Patrol that is not being given what it needs to do the job properly."
Of course, we've discussed Mr. McCutchen's background previously, particularly his rather clear-cut anti-Semitism, but for some reason that goes unmentioned here.
The piece also neglects to note that the Project actually shut down early for a lack of volunteers. And in the end, the Project seems to be lauded more for not having had any tragedies occur during its tenure than anything else:
- Still, to those on both sides of the issue, the Minuteman Project's initiative in Arizona came off largely without incident. Both the US Border Patrol, which was concerned that volunteer citizens would create problems for agents, and the ACLU, which worried that conflicts would ensue in encounters with illegals, now say the activists weren't overly intrusive.
"The month came and went and we are grateful that there were no major incidents to report, no one got hurt or killed," says Salvador Zamora, spokesman for the US Border Patrol. Early reports in US media and continued coverage by Mexican media created the wide impression that gun-toting vigilantes would be using physical force.
The Border Patrol does not encourage such actions by citizens, and says the minuteman volunteers and media presence "tripped off ground sensors and created distractions ... but nothing we were not able to overcome," says Mr. Zamora.
Thankfully, a far more realistic assessment of the Minuteman Project was provided by Marc Cooper at the Los Angeles Times:
- For two solid weeks, thousands of news stories cascaded from the hardscrabble border zone, focusing on what was, in reality, a group of True Believers whose real numbers were tiny.
Though the Minuteman organizers vowed that 1,600 or more mad-as-hell volunteers had signed up for duty and that "potentially several thousands" would participate in the kickoff rallies during April Fools' weekend, turnout was an unmitigated flop — less than a tenth of the promised throngs showed up at the rallies. The entire Minuteman spectacle, indeed, easily qualified for that journalistic catchall phrase, "a fizzle," but virtually none of the news media reported it as such.
On its opening day, I could count no more than 135 participants, even at the two kickoff public rallies along the Arizona border. At one near the border town of Douglas, two dozen reporters and a handful of TV cameras swarmed over no more than 10 Minutemen -- most of them sitting in lawn chairs or in pickup truck beds. During the entire kickoff weekend, the media troops clearly outnumbered the Minutemen. And in the days that followed, piecing together the various reports and reading between the lines, it's obvious that the Minuteman numbers dwindled to no more than a few dozen at a time. If that many people marched down Hollywood Boulevard for any cause, who'd report it?
Indeed, only 18 days into the monthlong project, the effort collapsed. Predictably, a few hundred illegal immigrants had chosen not to cross in that area during the media ruckus. Minuteman organizers preposterously declared victory, claiming they had shut down the border to illegal immigration and packed off home. Even then, most news reports failed to acknowledge the project's obvious failure -- which may explain why on Thursday Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger offered sappy praise for the fiasco.
Most of Cooper's ire is directed, for good reason, at the media:
- "They came by the hundreds," is how the Los Angeles Times breathlessly led its first-day report out of Tombstone, only to tell us deeper in the story that the actual number of Minutemen who showed up were "200 or so." A Times follow-up three days later got us closer to the truth when Minuteman organizer Jim Gilchrist admitted: "This thing was a dog-and-pony show designed to bring in the media and get the message out, and it worked."
It worked so well that less than a week later another Times reporter filed a 1,200-word of profile of Gilchrist, an obscure, retired Orange County accountant. Even though, by then, the Minuteman Project was into its 11th day, the reporter made no mention of the actual status of his collapsing border event.
The situation along the U.S.-Mexican border continues to sink into chaos, and Congress and the White House do little more than aggravate things. In spite of billions of dollars spent to bolster the line, every year hundreds of thousands (or perhaps millions) of desperate migrants manage to evade the human, physical and environmental barriers and make the crossing to wind up as our maids, nannies and gardeners.
More than 3,000 died trying to make the crossing in the last decade — 10 times more than all those who perished trying to jump the Berlin Wall.
It's a complex and vexing issue that is getting hotter by the day. Now more than ever the public needs news media that are serious, thoughtful and analytical, not compliant suckers for the wound-up partisans and pandering politicians who are increasingly likely to inflame or obfuscate the issue with goofball dog-and-pony shows.
Cooper is right: Our officials -- as well as the mavens of the media -- are being grotesquely irresponsible by endorsing these kinds of demagogic displays. But it runs deeper than that.
My greatest concern is that this is, in effect, the first official embrace of right-wing extremist vigilantism by supposedly mainstream authorities on record. That is a benchmark with deeply disturbing ramifications.
This is, after all, an organization that has indicated it intends to expand its purview. And the concept of the Minutemen as a right-wing citizen vigilante force has uses well beyond even border patrols. These endorsements may wind up giving the Minutemen more than their 15 seconds of fame -- and that could be a problem for many years to come.
Missed motives, hoaxes, and hate
As we've all been discovering lately, sometimes appearances are misleading when it comes to criminal motivations -- especially when it comes to high-profile acts like hate crimes and their related acts of domestic terrorism.
The problem is that in the resulting confusion, it's not uncommon for acts of genuine racial hatred to get glossed over or ignored.
The most prominent national case in which we saw such confusion involved the killings of Judge Lefkow's husband and mother in Chicago. White supremacists, rather logically -- in light of the threats they had directed Lefkow's way -- were considered the chief suspects, and I and many others spent quite a bit of time contemplating the consequences of that.
However, it turned out to have been committed by a mentally ill man with a beef against the judge. The story went away. What went little noticed, as a result, was the deeply disturbing threats that emanated from other white supremacists over the course of the affair.
There have been even more egregious cases, though, of conclusion-jumping from the right side of the blogosphere. The most notable was the murder of a Coptic Christian family in New Jersey, which the right-wing bloggers, led by Michelle Malkin, hastened to dub it "a hate crime" committed by evil Muslims, because the family had been prominent in anti-Islamist activist circles -- though there was no history of them having been threatened by Muslims. While speculation might be understandable, there certainly was no reason to conclude it was a hate crime.
After several weeks and several thousand words spilled on the subject, it all came to a halt with a brief correction ("I was wrong") because the murders actually were committed in the course of a home-invasion robbery committed by the upstairs neighbor. There was, unsurprisingly, a paucity of reflection on the broad swath of accusation she and others had hurled during the course of the case at various targets, including CAIR and the left in general. Auguste at MalkinWatch has all the details.
Far more problematic, however, are cases in which people for various motives fakes hate crimes. Not only are the motives for the crimes misjudged, but like the boy who cried "fascist," these do real damage to efforts to tackle the matter.
Another recent incident in Illinois involved the situation at a small Christian college where minority students were moved off campus after someone wrote letters to another student threatening to kill all the school's blacks. Then it turned out to be a hoax concocted by one of the school's students to convince her parents the school was not safe for minorities.
Here in western Washington, we had the case in which a black family was apparently the target of a vandalization hate crime, spurring a remarkable response of broad community support. But then it turned out to have been committed by the family's teenage son as a ruse to cover up a burglary.
Of course, there will always be opportunists who attach themselves parasitically to any kind of worthy cause, including civil rights and anti-hate movements. They are especially noxious because they provide those movements' critics with such ready ammunition.
Still, what was truly noteworthy about the incident, as Robert Jamieson pointed out, was the heartening community reaction to the crime. But you have to wonder how many people who showed up to support the victimized family wound up feeling burned. You have to wonder how many times these fake hate crimes will happen before people start shying away from recognizing the real hate crimes, and their enormity, when they do occur.
I'm talking about incidents like the one in Bremerton last week, when a couple of white supremacists who apparently have terrorized their neighborhood for years got out of hand and wound up in jail:
- Abdul Woodruff, 21, says a pair of racist neighbors were drunk and blowing stuff up in their front yard late Monday night when he finally had enough.
"I'm getting very angry. I'm enraged," he said.
Woodruff said the two threatened to lynch and kill him while screaming "white power" before setting fire to their own driveway with lacquer thinner.
Police say the suspects threatened to shoot officers when they arrived on the scene and that the pair have terrorized non-white neighbors on the street for years, even blaring sirens and lights from an ambulance on their property in the middle of the night.
"One lady reported to us that she won't even let her daughter, who's a teenager, walk down the street because she has dark skin and she would be taken as a minority," said Sgt. Kevin Crane, Bremerton Police.
"You can't come out and cut the grass, you got me worried what they're going to say, what they're going to do, if they're going to do something to your family," said Woodruff.
The two suspects now face felony hate crime charges and more.
There were further details on the incident in the local paper, The Sun:
- Detective Sgt. Kevin Crane said a neighbor had approached a home asking that the music be turned down. Bremerton police officers had come to the area because of a noise complaint, but were out of sight when a 34-year-old white man allegedly began yelling death threats and racial slurs at the neighbor who had asked him to lower the volume.
Crane said the neighbor, who is black, didn't do anything to provoke the threats.
When police approached the suspect's home, a 21-year-old man alerted the older man and both retreated inside.
Eventually, they came out, police said, and poured flammable lacquer on their yard, driveway and fence and ignited the fluid, creating 5-foot flames.
The older man, who police believe was drunk, then allegedly began waving a flaming wooden oar in the air.
Cases like this are pretty clear-cut, involving multiple witnesses, including the police. But so far, the response both in the community and the media has been terribly muted.
It is, as I've argued many times, a mistake on the part of community leaders to try to brush over incidents like these. Hate crimes, because of their terroristic nature, victimize not just the immediate victims, but in cases like this especially, much broader swaths of the community -- not just an entire neighborhood, but any black person living in Bremerton.
More to the point, typical hate-crime perpetrators like to believe they are secretly carrying out the wishes of their respective communities. When the community glosses over their actions, they see that as tacit approval -- and a green light to escalate their behavior.
This is especially the case when law enforcement fails to take the crimes seriously and prosecute them as hate crimes. Such slaps on the wrist are often interpreted as pats on the back.
The most noteworthy example of this involved an arson case in Maryland that many initially believed was the work of eco-terrorists, notably Glenn Reynolds and, yep, Michelle Malkin, who also dismissed suggestions that race might have been a factor.
But then, when police police arrested a group of young white men in the case, it turned out not to be a case of eco-terror, but rather race-motivated arsons, from all appearances. Of course, rather than concede that these may have been hate crimes, Malkin in her "correction" instead speculated at length on the perps' various personal motivations for the arsons.
That was the men's legal strategy as well, with one defendant claiming the arsons were just a "notoriety ploy" for the street-racing club. The Washington Times was quick to describe the men as mere "street racers."
Unfortunately, it was a line that prosecutors appear to have bought into as well. In the stories describing the guilty plea entered by one of the defendants last week, there was this:
- Parady admitted that during the early morning hours of Dec. 6, he drove a vehicle from house to house to light the fires.
He acknowledged the accuracy of a statement of facts submitted in court by Assistant U.S. Attorney Donna C. Sanger. The document said Parady "selected or aided and abetted the selection of the Hunters Brooke development as the object of the arsons because he knew or perceived that many of the purchasers of the houses in that development were African-American."
Neither Parady nor any of the other defendants has been charged with a hate crime, and federal prosecutors have said there was more than one motive.
There are immediate problems with what prosecutors are saying. The presence of other motives does not obviate or mitigate the bias motive, especially when it is as prominent a factor as it is in this case. And it is quite strikingly clear from the prosecutors' own statement that the targets were intentionally selected because of race.
"Intentional selection" due to race is the classic determiner of what is a hate crime and what isn't. Usually, a prosecutor's bedrock question is: Would this crime have occurred if not because of the (perceived) victims' race? It's clear that, in this case, against these particular homes, it wouldn't have.
Late in the story, the politicians weighed in:
- County Commissioner Edith J. Patterson (D-Pomfret), who in January became the county's first black commissioner, said that she hoped Parady's guilty plea would send a "resounding message" that the county "will not tolerate heinous hate crimes."
Um, well, that would only work if you actually prosectuted them as hate crimes. In reality, by limiting the scope of the charges, the county sent precisely the opposite message -- one that, unforunately, encourages the like-minded to engage in more of the same and worse.
Which is what, in a milieu that sows nothing but confusion about the nature of hate crimes, we can probably expect for the foreseeable future.