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"Respectable" politicians set the stage for the far right
Two faces of the anti-immigrant bigots

August 11, 2006 | Page 5

NICOLE COLSON looks at the ties between anti-immigrant groups, the far right and the Republican Party.

IN APRIL 2005, as dozens of anti-immigrant Minuteman Project volunteers gathered on the Arizona-Mexico border for a month-long "patrol," the group's co-founder, Jim Gilchrist, told reporters that patriotism and national security, not racism, were the underlying motives.

Minutemen "don't endorse racism, and we're not a hate group," said Gilchrist. "We've told white supremacists they're not welcome here, and we've kept them out." "We can do this peacefully, the same way Martin Luther King sought justice for American Blacks," he added. "We're followers of Gandhi and Martin Luther King."

But look below the surface rhetoric of the Minutemen, and there's plenty of racism underneath.

According to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center's (SPLC) David Holthouse, as Gilchrist talked about racial harmony on display for the press, "Johnny" and "Michael"--two members of the neo-Nazi National Alliance who had signed up as Minutemen volunteers and posed with Gilchrist for the cameras--turned away in disgust.

"I hope [Gilchrist] doesn't believe that crap," said Michael. "I realize he's got to be all PC for the media, but come on...We're in a race war, not a peace march."

What else to read

Justin Akers Chacón's article "Vigilantes at the Border: The New War on Immigrants" in the International Socialist Review is an extensive analysis of the anti-immigrant backlash.

Seattle-based freelance journalist David Neiwart has written an excellent in-depth article on the Minutemen's history and ties to the far right--and the growing acceptance of the group in mainstream politics. Also, check out the selection of articles at the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, which tracks anti-immigrant groups and individuals, and their connections to the far right.

 

Anti-immigrant vigilante groups like the border-patrolling Minuteman Project and the California's Save Our State (SOS) are on the march--spurred by the anti-immigrant backlash following September 11 and emboldened by the latest round of political assaults on immigrant rights.

Though the press has largely ignored it, many of those joining these groups are former (and sometimes current) members of the right-wing militia movement. Neo-Nazi thugs and KKK members also turn out to lend their support.

"We're not going to show up as a group and say, 'Hi, we're the National Alliance,'" National Alliance spokesman Shawn Walker told Tuscon's KVOA news before the April 2005 Minutemen border patrol. "But we have members of ours that will participate."

At an SOS demonstration in July 2005 in Laguna Beach, Calif., Confederate flags and swastikas were on display as the group--including several skinheads--picketed a day laborer center. "Just because one believes in white separatism, that does not make them a racist," SOS founder Joe Turner has commented. But Turner tries to deny that SOS works with white supremacists.

According to the SPLC, one poster on the neo-Nazi Stormfront Web site admitted that groups like SOS are a "Trojan horse" for hardcore racists to enter more "mainstream" anti-immigrant politics. "This is a movement every WN [white nationalist] should support and be active in," the poster wrote in March 2005.

In some cases, the connection between the far right and anti-immigrant movement is even more blatant--and violent.

In April of this year, Laine Lawless--founder of the Tucson, Ariz., group Border Guardians--was discovered by the SPLC to have sent an e-mail to Mark Martin, the "SS commander" of the Western Ohio unit of the National Socialist Movement, the largest neo-Nazi organization in the U.S.

Lawless laid out 11 tactics, "some legal and some not-so," for ways that Martin's "warriors for the race" could terrorize undocumented immigrants. Her suggestions included "steal[ing] the money from any illegal walking into a bank or check-cashing place" and "creat[ing] an anonymous propaganda campaign warning that any further illegal immigrants coming here will be shot, maimed, or seriously messed-up upon crossing the border."

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PLENTY OF politicians are willing to look the other way as their anti-immigrant supporters make common cause with the far right. These bigots in suits have only helped move anti-immigrant racism from the margins into the political mainstream.

Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger famously praised the Minutemen's "border patrol" last year, telling reporters, "They've done a terrific job."

Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.)--one of the leading opponents of immigration in Congress--was the keynote speaker at the Minuteman Project's opening day rally in Arizona last April.

He praised Minutemen co-founders James Gilchrist and Chris Simcox as "two good men who understand we must never surrender our right as citizens to do our patriotic duty and defend our country...and stop this invasion ourselves." "You are not vigilantes. You are heroes!" he told the crowd.

Reports about the Minutemen's ties to the neo-Nazis haven't deterred Tancredo. In February of this year, Tancredo, along with Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-Calif.), turned out alongside both Gilchrist and Barbara Coe of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform (a close friend of Tancredo's who the SPLC says has referred to Mexicans as "savages") at a Minutemen-sponsored rally against guest-worker programs.

According to the Washington Post, Tancredo and Rohrbacher gave anti-immigrant speeches that whipped the crowd into a frenzy. "The fervor subsided," reported the Post, "only when two men dressed in brown and wearing swastikas goose-stepped toward the Minutemen and gave a Nazi salute," and Gilchrist was forced to call for an intermission "to resolve this situation."

Other politicians, attempting to gain traction with their conservative bases, have also played up their ties to the anti-immigrant movement

Brian Bilbray, for example, who won a special election to fill the House seat in California vacated by jailed ex-Rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham earlier this year, is a former lobbyist for the anti-immigrant Federation for American Immigration Reform.

During his most recent campaign, Bilbray warned his supporters that if the U.S. didn't solve the illegal immigration "problem," their grandchildren would one day be forced to learn Spanish. On the night of his special election, Bilbray criticized his opponent, Democrat Francine Busby, for not only suggesting that undocumented immigrants had a right to vote, but for speaking to voters who "needed an interpreter."

Another candidate for Cunningham's vacant seat, state Sen. Bill Morrow, went even farther--by appointing Mike Chase, Jim Gilchrist's son and the head of the California Minutemen and the Border Watch Federation, to his campaign's political steering committee.

Gilchrist made his own failed bid for office in California this year, coming in third place in a race for a congressional seat representing Orange County.

Gilchrist the candidate differed little from Gilchrist the vigilante. According to the SPLC, neo-Nazis were allowed to work openly in Gilchrist's campaign.

"They were basically allowing skinheads and white nationalists to work the phone banks and do [computer work] and distribute National Alliance fliers targeting non-whites," Cliff May, a former Gilchrist supporter, told the SPLC. "Gilchrist had assured the media several times he had a zero-tolerance policy toward white supremacists. But from what I saw from the inside, it was more like, 'Don't ask, don't tell.'"

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THE VILEST anti-immigrant rhetoric is now accepted as perfectly legitimate in mainstream politics.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) sounded little different from a neo-Nazi thug when he responded to this year's immense May 1 immigrant rights demonstrations with this diatribe: "What would that May 1st look like without illegal immigration? There would be no one to smuggle across our southern border the heroin, marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamines that plague the United States, reducing the U.S. supply of meth that day by 80 percent.

"The lives of 12 U.S. citizens would be saved who otherwise die a violent death at the hands of murderous illegal aliens each day...Our hospital emergency rooms would not be flooded with everything from gunshot wounds to anchor babies to imported diseases to hangnails, giving American citizens the day off from standing in line behind illegals."

The result is that the Minutemen are accepted as legitimate. According to a September 2005 Rasmussen poll, 54 percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of the Minutemen and their border patrols, while just 22 percent had an unfavorable view of the group. Nearly half said they thought the federal government should encourage volunteers to patrol the entire Mexican border.

The anti-immigrant politicians--from the likes of King to the less foul-mouthed bigots who crafted this year's Senate "compromise" legislation--have opened the way for the far right to get a renewed hearing.

According to the SPLC's Mark Potok, "Fueled by belligerent tactics and publicity stunts, the number of hate groups operating in the United States rose from 762 in 2004 to 803 last year, capping an increase of fully 33 percent over the five years since 2000."

This is why it isn't sufficient to ignore the far right when they demonstrate--as liberal politicians recommend when they claim that protests only give the racists more attention. Unfortunately, the bigots are getting plenty of attention and publicity from the most respectable of politicians.

The immigrant-bashing bigots have to be confronted, openly and loudly, each and every time they rear their heads.

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In their own words

Bigots with guns: "[W]e need the National Guard to clean out all our cities and round them up. They are hard-core criminals. They have no problem slitting your throat and taking your money or selling drugs to your kids or raping your daughters, and they are evil people."
-- Chris Simcox, co-founder of the Minuteman Project and president of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, in a 2003 interview with the SPLC Intelligence Report
Bigots in suits: "We're not only dealing with the people problem, but we're dealing with criminal enterprises, we're dealing with a huge drug problem, and we're dealing with a potential terrorism problem as well, because the border is not secured."
--Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), at a 2006 press conference

Bigots with guns: "[T]o me, there is a clear and present danger of insurrection, sedition and succession by those who buy into the fact that this really is Mexico's territory, and doesn't belong to the United States and should be taken back."
--James Gilchrist, co-founder of the Minuteman Project, in a 2005 interview with the OC Organizer
Bigots in suits: "The threat to the United States comes from two things: the act of immigration combined with the cult of multiculturalism. We will never be able to win in the clash of civilizations if we don't know who we are."
--Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), in a 2006 interview with Right Wing News

Bigots with guns: "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."
--A member of the neo-Nazi National Alliance participating in a Minuteman border patrol in Arizona, to the SPLC Intelligence Report in 2005
Bigots in suits: "I think they've done a terrific job. It just shows that it works when you go and make an effort and when you work hard. It's a doable thing. It's a shame that the private citizen has to go in there and start patrolling our borders."
--Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, praising the Minutemen in a 2005 interview with KFI-AM

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