Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Orcinus does L.A.

I'm going to be in the City of Angels this weekend, and I have to admit I'm very much looking forward to it.

Obviously, the centerpiece will be my appearance Saturday at the Japanese American National Museum at 2 p.m. This will be a co-presentation with Mary Matsuda Gruenewald and Toshiko Shoji Ito.

But I'll probably have some free time Friday evening. If any bloggy type folks feel like getting together for some drinks and socialization, they should leave a note in the comments.

Here's the schedule:
January 21: Japanese American National Museum, 369 East First Street, Los Angeles, 2 p.m.

January 22: Ian Masters' Live From the Left Coast radio program, KPFK 90.7 FM, Los Angeles, 12-1 p.m.

-- Kinokuniya Bookstore, 123 Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka St., Suite 205, Los Angeles, 2 p.m.

-- Universalist Unitarian Church, Riverside, CA, 7 p.m.

January 23: UC Riverside, Fine Arts Performance Lab, presented by KUCR Radio, noon.

-- San Bernardino Valley College Library Auditorium, 3-4 p.m.

If you're in the vicinity, stop in and listen and say hi.

The March of the Minutemen

Part I: What's in a Name?

Part II: Rotten from the Top

Part III: Rank Ranks

Part IV: The Law in Their Hands

Part V: The Mainstream Embrace

[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; No. 3 was their following. No. 4 was their vigilantism. Part 5 examined the extent to which mainstream conservatives are embracing this extremism. This part concludes the series by discussing strategies for dealing with them effectively.]

Part VI: Standing Up to Them

Fortunately, it was possible to obtain far more realistic assessments of the Minuteman Project, and the media coverage, than what was being proffered at most mainstream media outlets.

One such assessment provided by Mark Potok, who co-authored the SPLC report. Potok was interviewed by Bill Berkowitz at Working For Change, and had this to say about the reportage of the Minutemen:
As a general matter, the media did an exceedingly poor job of covering the Minuteman Project. The organizers said they were bringing in excess of 1,300 volunteers to Arizona, but brought significantly fewer than 300. They claimed the volunteers were being vetted for possible white supremacists by the FBI -- only to have the FBI completely deny that this was the case. They said the only people who would carry guns would be those with conceal-carry permits. In fact, almost no one was checked for permits. Almost none of this was noted in most mainstream press accounts -- accounts that in many cases were completely uncritical, even adulatory, in their treatment of the Minutemen.

Most important of all, the organizers of the Minuteman Project claimed that they would be keeping out white supremacists and other racists through their vetting process. In fact, there were at least six men participating who were members of the National Alliance, a neo-Nazi group whose members have been involved in crimes including assassination, shootouts with police, the machine-gun murder of a Jewish talk show host, bank robberies, plots to bomb Disney World and more. At least two of these men actually discussed setting up sniper positions along the border sometime in the near future. In addition, there was at least one member of the Aryan Nations, another major neo-Nazi group, participating in the Minuteman Project. No mainstream press account mentioned any of this.

Most press accounts ignored the bigoted past statements of organizer Chris Simcox, and almost all uncritically accepted self-congratulatory and inaccurate assessments from Simcox and co-organizer Jim Gilchrist. They also suggested, in many cases, that the Project had "shut down" some 20 miles of the border to illegal immigration; in fact, they only operated along a stretch of some two miles. One press account also described Project volunteer Jim McCutchen in flattering terms in a lengthy profile; completely ignored were McCutchen's anti-Semitism and his contacts with the white supremacist hate group Council of Conservative Citizens, which has described blacks as a "retrograde species of humanity."

Overall, I think the blandly positive tone of the press coverage has contributed to similar efforts that are springing up elsewhere -- not to mention California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's description of the Project as a great thing that should be emulated.

A similarly scathing report came from 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.

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.

However, it's worth observing that the right-wing dynamic for self-destructive infighting is also rearing its head. The movement, in fact, is bordering on chaos, according to a report from the San Antonio Express:
It remains to be seen if future projects will be as effective as the first. Insiders say the group's two attention-grabbing leaders have parted ways.

Jim Gilchrist, a retired accountant and former Marine from California, originated the idea and handled recruiting through his Web site. He then tapped Chris Simcox, who already had been leading small civilian border patrol groups in Arizona for two years.

But differences between them grew throughout the month. It's not clear whether future Minuteman efforts will be led by Gilchrist or Simcox or if they will organize or support simultaneous but separate efforts.

"There are no ties," Gilchrist said this week. "If we did anything else together, it would be as allies, not partners. I support his goals, but I'm weary of his management capabilities."

Numerous Arizona participants, including organizers, said Simcox's dictatorial ways -- he became known as "The Little Prince" and "The Little Hitler" -- angered countless volunteers, prompting many to quit.

"He just pissed everybody off," said Jim Chase, who held several leadership positions during the mission, including security director. "It was ridiculous, going behind everyone's back. I'm never working with him again."

Simcox said he was unaware of any criticism and dismissed the notion that the group was falling apart. He and Gilchrist still maintain frequent contact and consult with each other on decisions, he said.

They decided to let Simcox handle all future border-watch efforts while Gilchrist would start a side project investigating U.S. employers who willingly hire undocumented workers, Simcox said.

Confusion over who's in charge has left nascent Minuteman offshoots in other border states tapping both for help.

The head-scratching already is visible in South Texas.

Wanda Schultz, a volunteer with Houston-based Americans For Zero Immigration, was told by Simcox's office to gear up for a monthlong mission in Brownsville starting Oct. 1. Simcox said he'll be dispatching an organizer to Houston next week.

But others who also volunteered in Arizona have started planning "Minutemen Texas." Its steering committee hasn't yet picked specific dates and places, but is aiming for October between Brownsville and Laredo, said Sandra Beene of Dallas.

It's worth keeping in mind, too, that these kinds of right-wing organizations are prone to implosion and real instability, as they typically involve a lot of high-maintenance egos and paranoid sensibilities:
Three months after hundreds of people descended on southern Arizona to stage civilian border patrols as part of the Minuteman Project, the anti-illegal-immigration movement has snowballed, with offshoot groups forming along the southern border and in other states.

But as the movement has grown, along with the media attention surrounding it, it has also splintered. Rival factions have emerged, squabbling over issues ranging from political correctness to use of the "Minuteman" name, and even over e-mail etiquette.

Some leaders of offshoot groups have launched verbal grenades at each other in the media and via news releases; others have traded insults online.

One group leader who feels particularly picked on says he has cut ties with Minuteman leadership and plans to operate solo.

And last month, Minuteman Project co-founder Jim Gilchrist dismissed two volunteers -- whom he characterized as "wackos" -- for sending querulous responses after he issued two e-mails to members of his group that threatened excommunication for those who didn't stop sniping at one another.

He signed one of his missives from "An American with better things to do than baby-sit quarrelsome adults."

"It's so counterproductive. It gets people distracted," said Gilchrist, a retired Orange County accountant who presides over Minuteman Project Inc., which he said is awaiting nonprofit status, and hopes to soon pursue employers who hire unauthorized workers.

"If I were to set up some rules of conduct, it would be to stop the argumentative attitude and be pleasant."

... [M]any agree the international media attention showered on the Minuteman Project, while it energized the anti-illegal-immigration movement, has also created a monster of sorts.

"When we left Arizona in April, too many people had seen the glamour," said Mike Gaddy, who is active in a Simcox-sanctioned Minuteman group in Farmington, N.M. " 'Gosh, I was on Sean Hannity. Gosh, I was interviewed by The Baltimore Sun. Gosh, I was interviewed on Spanish radio.' Egos are a terrible thing."

Like several others, Gaddy sees the elbowing as competitive. He says it bothers him that there are people in the movement who have political aspirations.

Gilchrist, for one, is contemplating a bid for Congress.

One of their opponents had the most accurate take:
Christian Ramirez of the American Friends Service Committee, a human rights group affiliated with the Quakers that has condemned the Minutemen and their successors, says he's not surprised.

"There has always been bickering among these types of organizations," Ramirez said. "There is always someone trying to become the leader of the anti-illegal-immigration movement, because it is such a fashionable thing. People are just fighting to see who is going to get more media attention."

One of the more interesting feuds has involved the Texas Minutemen, who announced their split from the national group:
The Minuteman Civil Defense Corp., the national organization led by co-founder Chris Simcox of Arizona, drew attention earlier this year with its patrols of the Arizona-Mexico border.

Last month, Simcox began to organize chapters around the U.S. and Canada. At least four sprouted in Texas, with plans to patrol the 1,200-mile border area as part of a national initiative called "Operation Secure Our Borders."

Some volunteers in Arizona were from Texas, and they returned to form Texas Minutemen LLC, based in Arlington. The group's co-founder, Shannon McGauley, said he agrees philosophically with Simcox but objects to the national structure.

McGauley's group also objects to paying the $50 fee per person that goes toward background checks and use of the national group's consultants, Web site and training.

"We wanted to keep it among Texans," he said. "And we don't charge anything."

Both groups have scouted land and have been gaining permission from landowners to set up lookout stations. Other groups have formed in New Mexico, California and Michigan -- among other border states -- with varying degrees of affiliation with Simcox's organization.

The Texas Minutemen said they will patrol the El Paso area, including Fabens and Fort Hancock. McGauley said his group has formed a loose network with similar organizations in New Mexico and California. He said another Texas group based in Houston is forming and expected to be part of the network.

Two Texas groups could cause problems, said Felix Almaraz, history professor specializing in Texas-Mexico border issues at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

"They're under different commands," he said. "They have a common objective of border security, but they're not coordinating together. It'll end up being selective surveillance."

Because the groups under close watch, any mishap could cause major damage to them, said Jerry Thompson, history professor at Texas A&M International University in Laredo.

"I think we need to be careful," he said. "This Texas individualism can get out of hand. What we need is more Border Patrol agents on the border. We don't need more Minutemen."

While it's likely the Minuteman movement will crumble under its own weight, like most far-right movements, that's not to say that it can't inflict serious damage on the body politic in the meantime.

And probably the most serious harm it inflicts is in moving the political center, particularly on immigration issues, ever farther to the right -- particularly by infecting mainstream discourse with its extremism.

A recent piece by Eve Fairbanks in The New Republic on the Minutemen underscored this essential point. Titled "Outside In: The Minutemen Are More Mainstream Than You Think," it argued:
The problem is, these Minutemen are home. Two weeks ago, I joined the Herndon Minutemen on one of their missions to photograph and videotape employers hiring day-laborers from the Herndon 7-11 expecting to be highly entertained by a gaggle of nutty retirees who'd piled into their Buicks before dawn for the chance to shake a shotgun at any varmint Mexicans they could find. After all, this is the image of the Minutemen held by many Americans, from commuters hurling insults to members of the media. A recent Post headline explained that "ON PATROL IN VT., MINUTEMEN ARE THE OUTSIDERS," while The Nation described a Minuteman rally as a "fringe political event." In short, the Minutemen are widely regarded both as outside agitators to the areas they patrol and as politically marginalized extremists.

But most of the Herndon Minutemen I met live just minutes away from the 7-11 they watch, next door or down the street from the day-laborers who cluster opposite them across Alabama Drive. And, while their actions are obnoxious, their concerns, far from being fringe, echo decidedly mainstream anxieties about cultural questions raised by uncontrolled illegal immigration. A recent Rasmussen Reports poll found that a full 54 percent of Americans actually have a "favorable impression" of the Minutemen, while only 22 percent have an "unfavorable" view. For liberals to dismiss the Minutemen as a tiny minority of racist throwbacks, loathed by the communities in which they operate, isn't just inaccurate. It's also naïve -- and politically dangerous.

The piece went on to explore what those mainstream "concerns" are:
[O]ver the course of the morning, as the Minutemen speak about why they joined the group, and why they soldier on the in face of such abuse, it becomes clear that such legalistic concerns are often a veil for deeper dissatisfaction with the way an expanding immigrant population is affecting the social fabric of their communities. This discomfort manifests itself as concern both about crime and about broader changes in the local culture--i.e., how the local immigrant community lives and socializes. Bill explains that he "slid into the Minutemen" because he was disturbed by the way his neighborhood was changing, and the other Minutemen standing with him nod in agreement. "Dormitory-style homes" have popped up on their streets, Bill says, and the residents come and go at strange hours. Their neighbors' children are intimidated and no longer like to play outside, in part because "we've got about 17 cars coming and going from our neighbors' houses." Matt, another Minuteman who lives in nearby Manassas, claims that the police have busted prostitution rings operating out of nearby properties. Bill doesn't want his name printed, he tells me, because he worries about retaliation from the local Hispanic gang, MS-13. Pointing to the cluster of day-laborers across the street, he explains to me that the Herndon 7-11 is "a social gathering place, too." Taplin has publicly objected to a regulated day-laborer site set to open in Herndon on December 19 -- proposed in order to combat the trespassing, litter, and nuisance complaints that have arisen in conjunction with the informal 7-11 site -- because he worries that even a regulated locale wouldn't change "their behaviors." Even on the coldest mornings, more than 50 workers often convene at the 7-11, and Bill judges that sometimes only 10 or 20 get hired. "When," he asks me, "is it ever a good thing for 40 men to hang out together?"

These anxieties may be overblown, in some cases borderline racist; but they are not, unfortunately, outside the mainstream. In Mount Pleasant, the predominantly Hispanic, rapidly gentrifying Washington neighborhood where I live, complaints have begun to surface about the groups of men that congregate on stoops or outside of convenience stores at night. Those who have complained call it loitering, but one Hispanic resident told the Post that when the men gather outdoors, "[t]hey're having coffee; they talk about issues. ... It's part of our community." For the neighborhood's Hispanic population, this practice is a cultural tradition; for its newer batch of hip, ostensibly liberal urbanites, it is disturbing, and too closely resembles something American law designates a crime.

Fairbanks is on target in raising the point that the kinds of views that fuel the Minutemen -- particularly the scapegoating of immigrants in a context in which dramatic demographic shifts are occurring -- are well within the mainstream. One might also say that, for civic leaders who understand the dynamics of such things, the trend is quite predictable.

But it misses the really significant point in all this: How the absorption of extremist Minuteman values into the mainstream represents a real poisoning of the national discourse. Of course, highhanded dismissal won't resolve this. But pretending it represents a new kind of normalcy is not an option, either.

Rather, it's incumbent on everyone -- the press, the public, and anyone in between -- to recognize that the Minuteman movement's steady march to public applause indicates a kind of radicalization of the mainstream.

Because when you strip away the bullshit, what is left of the Minutemen is the reality of what they are: a publicity stunt whose entire purpose is to lodge in the public mind the notion that Latinos Are The Problem. The Minutemen are the opening PR volley, as I've said, in a sustained campaign to scapegoat Latino immigrants and whip up public sentiment against them. The undercurrents of this campaign are old and well-established white-supremacist ideologies.

The fact that it has sucked in many, many well-meaning and otherwise mainstream people is not a mitigating factor. It is, rather, a real cause for concern.

Immigrant-bashing is a classic racial wedge issue, and one that, over the long term, will hurt the conservatives who adopt it more than it will help them. Still, over the next couple of years, they can destructively drive this wedge right into the heart of our discourse.

But only if we let them. Fortunately, there are abundant signs -- like the counter-protesters who are turning up everywhere the Minutemen appear -- that they're being recognized for what they are by growing numbers of people. It's imperative, as always, that communities come together, through their church and civic leaders, and make unmistakable statements that haters like the Minutemen do not represent their values. And that's been happening too.

But the Minutemen are just the start. All over the country, anti-immigrant measures are in the wings now, waiting to be trotted out in a number of states around the country, including Washington. The House just passed a draconian anti-immigration bill that includes building a fence along the Mexico border. Another one -- targeting the birthright citizenship of Latino children -- is working its way through as we speak.

Hate does not rest. The interests promoting this campaign are relentless. And the long battle has only just begun.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The March of the Minutemen

Part I: What's in a Name?

Part II: Rotten from the Top

Part III: Rank Ranks

Part IV: The Law in Their Hands

[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; No. 3 was their following. No. 4 was their vigilantism. This part will examine the extent to which mainstream conservatives are embracing this extremism.]

Part V: The Mainstream Embrace

The Minutemen have chronically run low on volunteers for all their events. That didn't prevented them from declaring victory anyway, even before they officially wrapped up their three-ring anti-immigration circus in April:
"In just 17 days, the Minuteman Project has successfully sealed the San Pedro River Valley border from illegal activity," Minuteman organizer Jim Gilchrist said on the project's Web site in mid-April, halfway through the monthlong venture.

Gilchrist pointed to a drop in Border Patrol apprehensions in the area as proof: The agency caught about 2,500 illegal immigrants in the Naco area during the first half of the month; agents apprehended nearly 7,700 during the same period last year.

But others weren't so sure:
"They're taking credit for securing the border, and surely no one with any credibility believes that," said Michael Nicley, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol's Tucson sector, which encompasses most of the Arizona border.

... Nicley and others attributed the drop to U.S. agents and the increased presence of Mexican police and members of Grupo Beta, a Mexican government-sponsored organization that tries to discourage people from crossing illegally and aids those stranded in the desert.

Authorities suggested that illegal immigrants are simply going around the Minutemen's lines.

"They are going west of Naco, but they are still trying," said Bertha de la Rosa, a coordinator with Grupo Beta.

But in a way, Gilchrist is right: the Minuteman Project was indeed a success. Not for actually doing anything substantive about immigration. Rather, it's been eminently successful in mainstreaming and legitimizing extremist vigilantism.

While the extremism that is buried deep within the beating heart of the Minuteman movement is disturbing enough, the most disquieting aspect of the whole phenomenon is how avidly it has been embraced by certain elements of mainstream conservatism.

The Minuteman have been touted in the media, which have generally insisted on portraying them as sincere citizens who are trying to defend the nation's borders. They've also been supported by a variety of Republican politicians, as well as officials within the Bush administration.

President Bush himself, however, told reporters this summer that he opposes the Minutemen:
"I'm against vigilantes in the United States of America," Bush said during a meeting in Texas with Mexican President Vincente Fox and Canadian Prime Minster Paul Martin. "I'm for enforcing law in a rational way. It's why we've got a Border Patrol, and they ought to be in charge of enforcing the border."

Simcox said Bush's statement was disrespectful to citizens who simply want to help solve border problems. "We challenge the president to join us and come down and see for himself what's really going on," he told CNN.

Fox has also expressed concern over citizen border patrols. He told reporters he was watching the Minuteman Project carefully and would take action in U.S. courts or international tribunals if any activists break the law.

"We totally reject the idea of these migrant-hunting groups," Fox said. "We will use the law -- international law and even U.S. law -- to make sure that these types of groups ... will not have any opportunity to progress."

"We don't have any evidence or any indication either that terrorists from al Qaeda or any other part of the world are coming into Mexico and going into the United States," Fox said, countering recent statements made by senior Bush administration officials. "If there is any of that evidence, we will like to have it. But as I said, it does not exist."

Those remarks earned an immediate rebuke from Rep. Tom Tancredo, the Colorado Republican who has been the Minutemen's most vocal supporter. But they also were countered by then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, interviewed in the Washington Times, who even went so far as to suggest that President Bush might want to change his tune:
Mr. Hanner: Do you agree with the president that the Minuteman Project on the border right now are vigilantes?

Mr. DeLay: No. I'm not sure the president meant that. I think that they're providing an excellent service. It's no different than neighborhood-watch programs and I appreciate them doing it, as long as they can do it safely and don't get involved and do it the way they seem to be doing it, and that's just identifying people for the Border Patrol to come pick up.

DeLay is not alone. One United States Senator is ready to give them official imprimatur. Sen. Wayne Allard, a Colorado Republican, came up with the idea in mid-April:
A Republican senator said Wednesday the government should consider deputizing private citizens, like the Minuteman Patrol in Arizona, to help secure U.S. borders.

Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., said the U.S. Border Patrol also should look to local law enforcement and state officials for help along the most porous parts of the U.S.-Mexico line.

"I wonder sometimes if maybe we're not looking too much to a federal solution," Allard told Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing.

"I happen to believe that those people down along the border that formed the Minutemen organization have some real concerns," Allard said.

A Texas congressman named John Culberson of Houston 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."

Then there have been the public endorsements by California's Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
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.

A couple of months later, Schwarzenegger defended the Minutemen again, comparing them to a "neighborhood watch":
"It's no different than if you have a neighborhood watch person there that's watching your children at the playground," he responded. "I don't see it any different."

We've been hearing nearly the identical line from the mainstream conservative pundit corps -- particularly Michelle Malkin, Sean Hannity of Fox News, as well as Lou Dobbs of CNN -- who have been adamant that the Minutemen haven't a racist bone in their bodies, insisting like Schwarzenegger that they're just a gigantic "neighborhood watch."

Perhaps no one has been more prominent in promoting the Minutemen's image as a group of law-abiding, concerned citizens than CNN's Dobbs, who has made the Minutemen into the symbol of his ongoing campaign on behalf of immigration reform -- meaning he has adopted, essentially, far-right anti-immigrant nativism.

On several occasions, Dobbs' program has featured remarks from Minuteman organizer Chris Simcox, including an extended interview with Simcox that featured some genuinely noteworthy exchanges. Dobbs had reported on his program that the Minutemen were unarmed, and Simcox had to correct this:
DOBBS: And to be clear, you're not permitting any of your volunteers to be armed.

SIMCOX: No, that's not true. I can't do that. We have encouraged them, if you've read our standard operating procedure, that they are to be, again, aware of the laws of the state of Arizona. They're not to carry long arms, because that would make us an offensive -- that would give it an offensive-type attitude.

DOBBS: Well, Chris, let's...


DOBBS: ... be straight up, 1,500 volunteers, untrained, unorganized, and without drill, that is not a reassuring statement that you just made, if you're going to have people with weapons, whether they are sidearms or not.

SIMCOX: Well, Lou, we have -- most of our volunteers are retired law enforcement officers, military veterans, and professional people who -- and not all of them are going to be armed, but the ones that want to be have that right to be.

But we have interaccountability by grouping people together in teams, so that we have people watching each other and making sure that we hold each other accountable. Because this is a political protest, no matter what. We know that. And it would be hypocritical of us to want the government to enforce the laws if we were out there to break the laws.

What was really appalling, though, was the way Dobbs fawned on Simcox, especially at the end:
DOBBS: Outstanding. We wish you all of the success in the world. And you know, you said it at the outset, that it's a shame that it takes activism on the part of citizens. You know, I think that we could also make a counterargument. It's kind of nice to know that Americans still have that activism in their hearts, the capacity to volunteer to do the right thing. And we thank you, Chris Simcox, for being with us.

Nor have the typically "right leaning" media figures been alone in plumping the Minutemen's image. There have been sympathetic portrayals in such diverse media outlets the Ventura County Star, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, all three of which portrayed Minuteman volunteer Joe McCutchen -- an Arkansan with a long record of involvement in far-right causes, including Jared Taylor's American Renaissance and the Council of Conservative Citizens -- as an ordinary "concerned citizen."

Typical of the media treatment was a remarkably nearsighted Monterey Weekly piece that offered the following assessment:
Indeed, it soon seemed that the hysteria over the armed and dangerous Minutemen was much ado about nothing. Retired men and women sitting on the backs of pickup trucks in six-hour shifts, concentrated along a two-mile stretch of border fence eyeing the vacant desert, appeared more like a group on a bird watching excursion than a paramilitary force.

The author of the piece, Andy Isaacson, thus blithely ignores one of the realities about dealing with organizations like the Minutemen: when they're posing in front of the cameras, they're very careful about what they say and how they appear. It's what they're doing and saying when no one is looking that is the problem.

I had a little experience with this in my dealings with a previous permutation of the militia movement. The Washington State Militia, for instance, held public rallies and talked before the cameras about how they were just trying to be a "neighborhood watch" out to protect their fellow citizens. Behind closed doors, as we later learned, they were building pipe bombs and talking about blowing up railroad tunnels as well as their fellow citizens.

The Minutemen's public face works exactly the same: Have your spokesmen work hard to present a sincere and concerned image of ordinary citizens who are just "fed up," while behind closed doors they let their hair down. The core of the Minutemen comprises a corps of True Believers from the extremist right. The leaders spout talk about the "war on terror" in public, but the followers mostly (in private, of course) spout talk about their neighborhoods and homes being "invaded" by criminal brown people.

A good example of this popped up in a recent story out of Tennessee involving a formative Minuteman operation there. Tennessee, of course, has no international border; and so its Minutemen, unsurprisingly, are focused on the "invasion" of Latinos from elsewhere:
Before a meeting in Hamblen County Tuesday night, 6 News asked meeting leader Carl Whitaker if he's operating a hate group, like some people say.

"We're not a hate group. We're a concerned group. We're concerned what's happening," Whitaker says. "If people are here illegally and they want to get legal, we would be glad to try to help them follow through the process. We don't hate anybody."

He says the Tennessee Volunteer Minutemen are working to expose companies that hire illegal aliens and take jobs away from taxpaying Americans. "We've turned in five different places of employment here that are hiring illegals."

But another supporter told a different story. Off-camera, James Drinnon says there are more Mexicans than African-Americans in Hamblen County. But he didn't really say African-American. He used the "N" word.

On camera, Drinnon says, "I think they ought to get them all out. Most of them in here. That's where all the dope's coming from. Most of them's Hispanic."

The kid-glove treatment, in fact, has so largely been pervasive among the media and politicians both. A more recent example occurred recently in Arizona, during a visit by Republican legislators from Colorado to a ranch owned by a figure closely associated not just with the Minutemen, but also bona fide hate groups:
The tour was organized by Glenn Spencer, whose home is about 1,000 feet from the border. He recently organized a number of border-watching activities, including a few with the Minuteman group.

Spencer said he had been a military researcher who worked at the Pentagon before moving to Arizona to set up a nonprofit group that investigates illegal immigration.

He showed aerial photographs and videos of immigrants crossing the border illegally near his home. He also showed visitors a miniature reconnaissance plane with a camera attached to it that he spent $40,000 to develop and build.

"We do this to expose the malfeasance of U.S. border patrol officials, who have failed us in protecting our borders," he said. "What can U.S. citizens do to help? A lot."

Spencer also told the Colorado legislators and a group of Republican political candidates from Arizona about a volunteer who crossed the border into Mexico and brought back a "simulated weapon of mass destruction."

"We did it to see if anybody would try to stop us," Spencer said. "This happened supposedly along the most heavily policed border area in the United States."

There also have been federal officials who have voiced support for the Minutemen. A top Border Patrol official at one point endorsed the Minuteman concept:
"We need more Border Patrol agents, there's no question about that," Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert Bonner told members of the House Government Reform Committee. CBP is in charge of the Border Patrol.

Bonner said his team has worked up a proposed increase in agents. He said the number is in the thousands but declined to be more specific, saying he still has to walk the plan through the Homeland Security Department.

... Bonner said CBP also is evaluating the effectiveness of using citizen patrols in a more formal way. He referred to the Minuteman Project, which set up citizen camps along a 23-mile stretch of the Arizona-Mexico border in April to observe and report illegal activity.

Minuteman organizers claim their efforts helped the Border Patrol apprehend 335 individuals illegally trying to enter the country, and deterred others who would have tried.

"The actions of the Minutemen were, I believe, well motivated," Bonner said. "There were no incidents, there were no acts of vigilantism, and that's a tribute to the organizers and leaders of the Minuteman Project."

Bonner later gave outright support to the idea of actually giving the Minuteman concept official imprimatur:
The top U.S. border enforcement official said Wednesday that his agency is exploring ways to involve citizen volunteers in creating "something akin to a Border Patrol auxiliary" -- a significant shift after a high-profile civilian campaign this spring along the Arizona-Mexico border.

Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert C. Bonner told The Associated Press that his agency began looking into citizen involvement after noting how eager volunteers were to stop illegal immigration.

"We value having eyes and ears of citizens, and I think that would be one of the things we are looking at is how you better organize, let's say, a citizen effort," Bonner said.

He said that could involve training of volunteers organized "in a way that would be something akin to a Border Patrol auxiliary."

Bonner characterized the idea of an auxiliary as "an area we're looking at," and a spokeswoman said it hadn't been discussed yet with top Homeland Security officials.

A day later, his superiors at the Department of Homeland Security backed away from any such proposals:
"There are currently no plans by the Department of Homeland Security to use civilian volunteers to patrol the border," spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said in a statement. "That job should continue to be done by the highly trained, professional law enforcement officials of the Border Patrol and its partner agencies."

Bonner retired shortly thereafter.

Next: Standing Up to Them

Monday, January 16, 2006

The March of the Minutemen

Part I: What's in a Name?

Part II: Rotten from the Top

Part III: Rank Ranks

Part IV: The Law in Their Hands

[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; No. 3 was their following.]

4. The Vigilantism

The Minutemen like to portray their "patrols" as being merely a matter of supplementing the Border Patrol -- they're just keeping an eye out and letting authorities know when someone is trying to cross. They tell the press that they do not use force or arms except in self-defense.

But it's clear, in fact, that on many occasions when there is actual contact by Minutemen with illegal aliens, guns frequently are indeed brandished. One Minuteman leader in Texas indeed boasted of it:
Radio talk-show host J.C. McClain could hardly contain his excitement as he recalled the time he had to pull his pistol in front of an illegal immigrant whose pants were still wet from splashing across the Rio Grande.

The exasperated man told McClain to get out of the way, "the Border Patrol has already been through here." When a member of the man's group picked up a rock, McClain pulled his gun and held it in front of his belt, pointing at the ground. The man dropped the rock, and the group trudged back into Mexico.

McClain related the story to his Brownwood, Texas, audience the next day from an improvised radio booth in a borrowed house a few miles from the border near El Paso.

"It just made our day," he said, laughing as he described the confrontation.

The Minutemen's claims to being just a benign "neighbor watch" movement that carefully screens its participants and discourages the use of guns, except for self-defense, have largely proven a complete mirage as the project's participants and supporters actually take to the streets.

What remains, as that façade has dropped, is an organization predicated on vigilantism.

This became especially apparent when the Minutemen took their campaign to Texas. According to Ed Hegstrom at the Houston Chronicle, the Minutemen who planned to patrol the city on foot searching for illegal immigrants also planned to be packing heat:
Leaders of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps of Texas had earlier said volunteers observing Houston's day laborers in October would carry nothing but video cameras.

But leaders now say those involved in the operations targeting local illegal immigrants will be allowed to carry arms as long as they comply with all federal and state laws.

In fact, those who have a concealed-weapons permit are being offered a discount on joining the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. An Arizona-based organization, the Minutemen started out by patrolling the Arizona-Mexico border in April to prevent illegal immigrants from crossing, but the group has announced it will conduct a variety of operations here this fall.

Members are normally charged $50 to join, with the money used to conduct a criminal background check. Those with a valid concealed-weapons permit can have that fee waived, since they already have undergone a background check and met other requirements, such as a handgun course, to get the permit, said George Klages, spokesman for the Minutemen in Houston.

Klages said the Minutemen are all responsible, law-abiding citizens, and the use of arms will not cause problems here.

"About 50 or 60 percent of our members are veterans," he said. "These are people who know how to handle a weapon."

This wasn't a border watch operation: These Minutemen were cruising the streets, searching for illegal immigrants.

The façade has vanished at other times, when journalists actually decided not to take their claims at face value. Among these was a news team that, during the original April Minuteman Project in Arizona, went undercover for KPHO in Phoenix, and produced a pretty remarkable report that largely ripped the lid off the Minutemen's carefully controlled image of being a cooperative neighborhood watch:
[B]ehind the scenes, our hidden cameras show there are problems and plenty the Minutemen are not telling reporters.

A lady on Hidden cam says, "We don't want the press to find out where the information is being handed out because we'll have CNN and FOX and yeah." They're controlling what you hear, from why some of these volunteers "really" came to southern Arizona:

John says, "If the border's gone, they're going to be pushing drugs on every one of our kids at school." To problems the organizers are having controlling the extremists who showed up.

John says, "The guys up here, on what we were talking about earlier on Mountain View, with the shotguns and the flag and lighting the fire. And lighting a fire on G-----n BLM land."

The piece goes on to explore in some detail the extent to which the Minutemen organizers are controlling what's given out to the media. It also features some deeply disturbing material captured in chats with some of the volunteers, in which it becomes clear that the project is having its most trouble keeping a lid on the collection of extremists who are part of the scene:
But as the sun goes down, problems keeping control of a group as big as the Minutemen begin to surface. Marc says, "There was a standoff and people got killed." The man from Tucson is asked to leave our group -- because he keeps talking to reporters. John says, "People like that, they'll drag down, they'll drag down the whole thing." And as the night goes on, a drama unfolds across the highway. Some of the volunteers are carrying shotguns, which is against the rules and our group leader admits: Minuteman organizers are having trouble deciding what to do about it. Adahm/John says, "(What's up with the shotgun guys? How are you going to deal with those two?) I have no idea ... that's out of my ... I don't even want to go up there." Adahm/John says, "(Well don't they have a guy like you are with us? Don't they have their?) He's not there. I can't find him." The man says, "I hope they're not drinking or anything. I didn't see any beer there."

Jim Gilchrist, the Project spokesman, explains these folks away later by claiming, "They are not Miuteman Project volunteers. They are rogue patrollers posing as Minutemen."

Be sure to check out the video link to the story. It includes some chilling footage, as well as a disturbing footnote from the anchor for the piece, Morgan Lowe, who adds that the crew heard plenty of racial remarks out in the field, including one from a volunteer who told him he looked forward to "hunting a certain group of people."

You can also get a sense for some of the paranoia that pervaded the Minuteman Arizona camp from reading the first-person report filed by a Freeper named "Spiff":
Nine days of blockade has begun to result in desperation.

We believe 500-700 illegals and their coyotes are bottled up in the Huachuca Mountains at present. They are running out of food and water. We have also figured out the system used here for putting out food and water caches and have been routinely using them to add some variety to our dogs’ diets. Our canine companions are most appreciative.

A recap of last night’s action: several Minuteman were almost run down by a fleeing load vehicle last night. Fellow LePer idratherbe painting is now on the injured reserve list after a bad fall into a dry wash at the same location. Another Minuteman is “under investigation” for making physical contact after saving an illegal from a bad fall.

This morning began with round up of the illegals who missed their ride in the fleeing vehicle the night before. Two had become thoroughly lost and confused and walked up to one of the MMP teams asking for directions. When the realized who they had approached, they took off running and practically jumped into a Border Patrol vehicle.

The daylight hours were uneventful other than a prolonged visit by CNN’s Lou Dobbs. He spent most of his time out on the Naco Line along the border fence. Those of us in the canyons got a visit from those fine folks from the ACLU. They chose to set up in a dull spot with a fine view of Ash Canyon.

All hell has broken loose since nightfall. Several groups have come down out of the mountains to attempt a getaway. Scanner traffic gives a tally so far of five load vehicles captured, about 70 illegals in custody, and a similar sized group scattered throught the west end of Hereford and being picked up piecemeal. We have recovered three coyote cell phones and the call histories should prove interesting.

The propensity toward vigilantism particularly comes out among the more extremist elements of the Minutemen. Casey Nethercott of Ranch Rescue, according to a report from KVOA in Tucson, announced that he was planning to ratchet the craziness even higher:
Casey Nethercott, the leader of the group said Friday that he doesn't yet want to go into detail on his plans.

He supports the Minutemen, but his backup plan is a much more aggressive approach.

Nethercott pointed to two black SUV's, saying, "These are armored vehicles. They got quarter-inch steel in them. They'll stop small arms fire and some rifles."

The headquarters of the militia, called the Arizona Guard, sits along the U.S./Mexico border near Douglas, Arizona, in the Southeastern corner of the state.

Pointing again to the vehicles, Nethercott continued, "You'll get killed without them, here's been so many shootouts out here."

So many shootouts, he said, that the back wall is riddled with bullet holes of all sizes from drug smugglers who open fire on the compound; prompting the group's border project, tentatively planned for July 4th.

"When this Minuteman thing is over, if it doesn't work, we're going to come out here and close the border with machine guns," Nethercott said.

This tendency toward vigilantism also has come out in acts not directly associated with the Minutemen, but apparently inspired by them. These include at least two vigilante border shootings 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.

And as we've seen, 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.

The reality-based picture of the Minutemen that's emerging is not of a friendly "neighborhood watch" for the border, but of a chaotic collection of vigilante hatemongers who seem intent on a kind of populist mob rule fueled by angry paranoia. It becomes a cover not for law and order, but for the ugliest kind of brutal authoritarianism.

That, in fact, is the face that vigilantism has always revealed eventually, even in places like Montana, which reveres the memory of its "vigilantes." As the history of the Montana vigilantes revealed later, their early "victories" over predators like Henry Plummer soon gave way to a vicious lawlessness in which people were summarily hanged not just for horse theft but for drunken misbehavior or breaking out of a jail. Its legacy continued into the 20th century and the long fights over labor unions:
In 1917 radical labor leader Frank Little, a member of the far-left Industrial Workers of the World, or Wobblies, arrived in Butte and began attacking America's recent entry into World War I. Speaking before large crowds of copper miners, Little called President Woodrow Wilson a "lying tyrant" and denounced United States soldiers as "scabs in uniform." This proved to be free speech at its most dangerous. Tensions between labor and management in Butte’s copper industry already were high, and the state of Montana as a whole was gripped by a fever of hyperpatriotism and intolerance for dissent. In the early morning hours of August 1, 1917, six masked men seized Little in his boarding house, dragged him through the streets, and hanged him from a bridge. A sign was placed on his back with the numbers 3-7-77 and the initials of six other men threatened with the same fate. Though Burton K. Wheeler, then a federal attorney, condemned the affair as "a damnable outrage," no arrests were made.

At the same time the Montana vigilantes were enjoying their career, another brand of night-riding, terror-inducing vigilantism, calling itself the Ku Klux Klan, was weaving itself into the cultural fabric of the South as well. This was the real face of vigilantism in America.

In 1866 -- one year after the end of the Civil War -- a noted trend of creeping violence toward blacks among whites, often embodied in seemingly unprovoked and often lethal assaults, became discernibly more organized with the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan, which originated with a claque of Confederate veterans in Pulaski, Tennessee, and spread like wildfire throughout the South. Initially much of the Klan night riders' activities were relegated to whippings, a punishment intended to remind the ex-slaves of their former status. But as the assaults on blacks increased, so did the intensity of the violence visited on them, culminating in a steady stream of Klan lynchings between 1868 and 1871 (when the Klan was officially outlawed by the Grant Administration); at least one study puts the number at 20,000 blacks killed by the Klan in that period. In the ensuing years, the violence did little to decline, and in fact worsened, despite the Klan’s official banishment.

Moreover, in addition to the night-riding type of terrorist attacks, mass spectacle lynchings soon appeared. These were ritualistic mob scenes in which prisoners or even men merely suspected of crimes were often torn from the hands of authorities (if not captured beforehand) by large crowds and treated to beatings and torture before being put to death, frequently in the most horrifying fashion possible: people were flayed alive, had their eyes gouged out with corkscrews, and had their bodies mutilated before being doused in oil and burned at the stake. Black men were sometimes forced to eat their own hacked-off genitals. No atrocity was considered too horrible to visit on a black person, and no pain too unimaginable to inflict in the killing. (When whites, by contrast, were lynched, the act almost always was restricted to simple hanging.)

The violence reached a fever pitch in the years 1890-1902, when 1,322 lynchings of blacks (out of 1,785 total lynchings) were recorded at Tuskegee, which translates into an average of over 110 lynchings a year. (The Tuskegee estimates, in fact, were notoriously conservative, and likely represented only half if not less of all the African Americans who were summarily murdered for the slightest offense, and sometimes none at all, during this period.) The trend began to decline afterward, but continued well into the 1930s, leading some historians to refer to the years 1880-1930 as the "lynching period" of American culture.

There are many postcards that recorded these lynchings, because the participants were rather proud of their involvement. This is clear from the postcards themselves, which frequently showed not merely the corpse of the victim but many of the mob members, whose visages ranged from grim to grinning. Sometimes children were intentionally given front-row views. A lynching postcard from Florida in 1935, of a migrant worker named Rubin Stacy who had allegedly "threatened and frightened a white woman," shows a cluster of young girls gathered round the tree trunk, the oldest of them about 12, with a beatific expression as she gazes on his distorted features and limp body, a few feet away.

Indeed, lynchings seemed to be cause for outright celebration in the community. Residents would dress up to come watch the proceedings, and the crowds of spectators frequently grew into the thousands. Afterwards, memento-seekers would take home parts of the corpse or the rope with which the victim was hung. Sometimes body parts -- knuckles, or genitals, or the like -- would be preserved and put on public display as a warning to would-be black criminals.

That was the purported moral purpose of these demonstrations: Not only to utterly wipe out any black person merely accused of a crimes against whites, but to do it in a fashion intended to warn off future perpetrators. This was reflected in contemporary press accounts, which described the lynchings in almost uniformly laudatory terms, with the victim's guilt unquestioned, and the mob identified only as "determined men." Not surprisingly, local officials (especially local police forces) not only were complicit in many cases, but they acted in concert to keep the mob leaders anonymous; thousands of coroners' reports from lynchings merely described the victims' deaths occurring "at the hands of persons unknown." Lynchings were broadly viewed as simply a crude, but understandable and even necessary, expression of community will. This was particularly true in the South, where blacks were viewed as symbolic of the region's continuing economic and cultural oppression by the North. As an 1899 editorial in the Newnan, Georgia, Herald and Advertiser explained it: "It would be as easy to check the rise and fall of the ocean’s tide as to stem the wrath of Southern men when the sacredness of our firesides and the virtue of our women are ruthlessly trodden under foot."

You see, vigilantism always claims to be about law and order and preserving "traditional values." And yet historically, real extremism has always expressed itself thus. This is because vigilantism is always, in the end, about the brutal imposition of mob rule without regard to the humanity of its targets. The proof, in the end, lies in the strange fruit it inevitably produces.

Next: The Mainstream Embrace

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