Examining Minutemen Rhetoric
After touring the border, Houston Congressman John Culberson sent out the following information:
A large, but unknown, number of al Qaeda terrorists and Chinese nationals are infiltrating our country virtually anywhere they choose from Brownsville to San Diego. One al Qaeda terrorist was held for several weeks after being captured on our border and is currently under FBI custody. Paramilitary training camps run by Special Forces officers trained in Nicaragua and Guatemala operate in the open near Matamoras [sic]. Terrorists, drug smugglers and killers are trained here within walking distance of Matamoras [sic].
It was surprising to see a Republican concerned about the training of special forces paramilitaries, since such training is usually done by the US or with US support. The Minutemen themselves are paramilitaries, in that they are an unofficial force using military methods.
According to the Houston Press, this al Qaeda information is completely incorrect, and he couldn't even spell 'Matamoros.' But, the effect of his message was to inject the idea of terrorism into the dialogue. Similarly to the drug war, with rhetoric of drugs and crime, "terrorist" becomes a code-word for nationality. After 9/11, there were Sikhs and others being attacked for resembling Arabs by a highly confused and uneducated populace. Now, apparently, Mexicans will fall into the same category, and our Congressmen are apparently confused themselves and spreading confusion.
Minutemen supporters have chanted "No More 9/11s," though the alleged terrorists on 9/11 entered the country legally.
Can latent forces under the current Minutemen have the potential to transform themselves into a force like Hitler's brown-shirts? Vigilantism is an inital stage of above mentioned paramilitaries. Though these groups in the US are not yet a significant source of human rights abuses as they are in Latin America, it is important to recognize the same tendencies. Local members of communities are paid, encouraged or allowed by the government to spy, kill or sabotage radicals and are exempted from legal consequences.
The Minutemen chose a name, which like the "Patriot Act," is intended to appeal to nationalism. Patriotism and nationalism are tools for the government to get away with things the people might not otherwise choose to support. Before the first Gulf War, American citizens didn't know much about Iraq, but many were very quickly convinced they needed a war. All kinds of other bad policy choices have been sold to a public that wants very much to support its government. And in doing so, the people close their eyes to the details of what is really going on. Patriotism is always dangerous, in that it takes people away from the details of a policy and leaves them with a vague stylized image of it.
I interviewed Roy Morales, a Minutemen supporter of Latino descent, who was at the time campaigning for Houston City Council (which he lost). During the interview, he stated:
We want to make sure that they don't have any disease that they can spread to their communities.
This reminded me that the Nazis said things like:
The Jews have always been the carriers of infectious diseases. They should either be concentrated in a ghetto and left to themselves or be liquidated, for otherwise they will infect the populations of the civilized nations.
While it is possible that illegal immigrants have carried some infectious diseases, it seems that this whole topic is more of a scare-tactic than anything based on epidemiology. Since most Americans die of heart disease, cancer, strokes and respiratory disease, the Minutemen could probably help fight disease more effectively by promoting aerobic exercise and regular blood pressure testing for our citizens.
Race and Nationality
The Minutemen have included anti-racist language in their literature. The most prominent of the various groups all calling themselves "The Minutemen" is The Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, headed by Chris Simcox and Jim Gilchrist. They have a pledge stating:
A Minuteman believes that just as ethnicity, race, religion and all such factors are incidental and do not affect our God-given, constitutional equality as American citizens, such factors are also irrelevant in the debate over illegal immigration. There is no tolerance among Minutemen for racism or bigotry - E Pluribus Unum - Out of Many, One.
While I am glad that the Minutemen at least play lip-service to these ideas, and while recognizing that they have supporters of Latino descent like Morales, some things about this don't add up. First, some Minutemen are more racist than others. The California Minutemen, for example, are recruiting "all those who do not want their family murdered by Al Qaeda, illegal migrants, colonizing illegal aliens, illegal alien felons, alien barbarians, Ninja-dressed drug smugglers" and "cowardly Aztlan punks and Che Guevara pink pantied wimps lower than whale dung who should be fed to the chupacabra.
The Minutemen use white-supremacists web sites for their recruiting. After an incident in which a group armed only with video cameras was threatened on video by the California Minutemen, The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that Gilchrist issued a nationwide "emergency call for reinforcements in Campo" that circulated on white supremacist web sites. "Be warned that roving gangs of belligerent, death-threatening, anti-American adversaries engaging the California Minutemen WILL physically attack you if they outnumber you. I repeat, they WILL physically attack you... Stay in groups and stay LEGALLY armed," it read.
Also, according to the Fort Worth Weekly, the Texas Minutemen president, Bill Parmley, resigned saying "I don't know of any other word to describe it than racism. They had a secret agenda before the organization ever got started. They rolled it into the Minutemen."
At a recent rally, one counter-protester was told by a Minutemen supporter "you look like an illegal immigrant yourself," though, of course, there is no way to tell by appearance the difference between a legal immigrant and an illegal.
Though the Minutemen I have spoken with are opposed to NAFTA, and other such free trade agreements, they have done little organizing thus far on these fronts. Those who suffer from the Minutemen's policies are already victims of global capital which has literally destroyed the farms which families all through Mexico and elsewhere used to feed themselves. The idea of focusing on the victims and not the root causes is suspicious. Are the Minutemen really advocating entirely changing a system which requires immigrant labor? If so, focusing on the laborers themselves effective? Like the "war on drugs," and the "war on terrorism," does this war on illegal immigration itself have the potential to create or further empower corrupt groups and agencies, while failing to have any effect on the number of immigrants?
It is necessary to recognize that the international system seeks to open up markets, and find the cheapest costs. In this context, fighting against various products that are traded internationally, be it sex-slaves, laborers, drugs, or weapons (including WMDs) is difficult or even impossible. The same mechanisms that bring cheap clothes, food, and oil, also bring cheap child-pornography, laborers, drugs, and weapons. Whether it is a sweat-shop laborer in Asia, a starving Nigerian whose land was destroyed by US oil companies, or a Mexican who similarly lost his land to big Agribusiness and who dies in the mountains or desert trying to avoid border vigilantes, US culture has punished its victims. Focusing on the victims of these systems can be a displacement technique by those who benefit, as they seek to reconcile the costs of their comfort.