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Confrontation at the California border:
Protesters challenge vigilantes

By Lance Newman | July 22, 2005 | Page 16

RACIST VIGILANTES calling themselves the Border Patrol Auxiliary (BPA) ran into heated opposition in the desert mountains east of San Diego on July 16. The BPA was launching three weeks of "patrols" along the border with Mexico to target "illegal immigrants."

The group was founded by Jim Chase of Oceanside, Calif., who was kicked out of the Minutemen, the group that invaded the Arizona border region in April. The major difference between these two brands of hate is that Chase encourages BPA members to carry weapons, including concealed firearms, during their night patrols along the border.

When Chase announced the founding of the BPA in the spring, he declared that the first operation would begin in mid-July in the tiny desert town of Campo. He later withdrew the call after immigrant rights activists raised an outcry. One week before the planned launch, Chase suddenly reissued his call to action.

Asked by a reporter why he had changed his mind, Chase claimed to be a victim. "We got scared because there are all these people coming to get us," he said, "and with the cameras, they're less likely to beat us up. I hear there are Che Guevara communists and the People's Party and all these anarchist groups."

Chase was right about one thing: people did come from all over Southern California and beyond to oppose him and his thugs in anti-racist protests organized by the San Diego coalition Gente Unida.

The day began at Noon as protesters marched 100-strong to the Campo hall of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), carrying banners reading, "No Human Being is Illegal" and "Smash Racism, Smash the Border." Chase emerged from the building and began yelling at the crowd, but was quickly shouted down.

One marcher denounced the Campo VFW chapter, asking how it could support the BPA racists when so many Latin American immigrants, including her own father, had served in the U.S. military. After driving Chase and his supporters back into the hall, the crowd chanted, "We'll be back and we'll be bigger," and marched off.

Chase was so intimidated that he called the police 911 emergency number several times during the day to complain about "threatening" protesters. His constant pleas annoyed even the police. Campo Sheriff Bill Hogue reprimanded Chase and told the San Diego Union Tribune, "The only armed people I've seen out here, besides law enforcement, are Mr. Chase's followers."

Despite 100-degree heat in the afternoon, Gente Unida set up a tent city at an important intersection of border access roads. This "racist-free zone" became the site for a series of evening meetings on politics, strategy and tactics for the movement to stop the vigilantes.

As the sun got lower, more BPA members began to arrive at the VFW hall, so activists organized another march. This second confrontation succeeded in intimidating several would-be vigilantes, who scurried out of town as soon as the marchers withdrew.

James Gilchrist, one of the national co-founders of the Minutemen Project, spoke at the BPA's afternoon meeting. This is an important turn of events, since Gilchrist and Chase had parted ways over "tactical differences" in the recent past. Gilchrist's appearance and the fact that the BPA now claim affiliation with the "California Minutemen" are indications that the bigots may be consolidating their forces in response to the hounding they meet everywhere they go.

As night fell, the remaining BPA members, about 30 in all, moved into the desert to set up night patrols along the border fence. They were forced to drive through the intersection where Gente Unida had camped, so activists confronted them again, chanting, "Racists go home!"

Through the long night, as Chase and his thugs attempted to apprehend border-crossers, Gente Unida activists in four-wheel drive vehicles dogged them with floodlights and loud music. These tactics proved to be successful, disrupting the "covert" actions and demoralizing many volunteers, who trickled away one by one, through the night. Frustrated vigilantes threatened some activists with violence. On a videotape made by one group of counter-protesters, the bigots can be heard saying, "You come down here and you will be engaged in a firefight."

Chase claims that his group's goal is to assist the Border Patrol in apprehending "illegal immigrants, drug smugglers and al-Qaeda terrorists with dirty bombs." But his real aim is scapegoating.

At a time of growing frustration and anger over stagnant wages, an unjust war and attacks on public services, Chase hopes to stir up a cloud of racism and anti-immigrant hatred. Like the border fence itself, the BPA's true purpose is to create a climate of fear that will terrorize the 11 million undocumented immigrants whose underpaid labor makes life possible for every "legal" American, including Chase.

If left unopposed, the BPA's politics of hate will intensify the already chilling effects of federal immigration policy. Bill Clinton's Operation Gatekeeper militarized the border, funded the construction of the border fence and has driven more than 3,200 immigrants to their deaths in deserts like the one around Campo. Now, Congress is considering George Bush's proposed guest worker program that would allow Latin American immigrants to work in the U.S., but deny them full access to citizenship rights and public services.

This is why it is so important to continue protesting the actions of anti-immigrant groups like the BPA, the Minutemen and Save Our State.

Gente Unida is planning a region-wide mobilization to the border town of El Centro on September 16--the date for the next "Border Watch," called by another chapter of the "California Minutemen," the Chino-based "Friends of the Border Patrol." Immigrant rights activists hope to build a large cross-border protest--one that draws out thousands and turns the tide on the racist Minutemen.

Jocelyn Blake, William Figueroa and Justin Akers contributed to this story.

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