Headlines: Obama Administration Urges Court to Toss Rendition Lawsuit; Top Minutemen Officials Arrested on Murder Charges

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Administration Urges Court to Toss Rendition Lawsuit; Top Minutemen Officials Arrested on Murder Charges

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Iran Supreme Leader Calls For Probe Into Disputed Election

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered an investigation into allegations of election fraud in Friday’s presidential vote. Khamenei made the announcement following three days of street protests by supporters of opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi, who has accused President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of stealing the election. Khamenei’s decision to call for a probe has shocked many in Iran. On Saturday Khamenei had urged the nation to unite behind Ahmadinejad and called the result a “divine assessment.” According to the official election results, Ahmadinejad was re-elected with 62 percent of the vote but Moussavi claims the vote was rigged. Moussavi was planning to hold a major rally in Tehran today but Iranian officials ordered a ban on protests. Opposition websites report that over a 100 prominent opposition members were detained and then released over the weekend. At a rally on Sunday Ahmadinejad spoke before tens of thousands of his supporters.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “In our beloved Iran, democracy is a fundamental principle. First of all, it’s the nation which determines everything. It’s the people who decide. It’s the nation’s will that governs. It’s the nation which selects the rulers in every decision making level of the political system”

UN Approves New North Korean Sanctions

Tensions on the Korean peninsula continue to mount. On Friday, the United Nations Security Council agreed to a new round of sanctions against North Korea. North Korea responded by vowing to step up its nuclear bomb-making program by producing more plutonium and uranium. North Korea also threatened war on any country that dared to stop its ships on the high seas under the new sanctions. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is headed to Washington for summit talks Tuesday with President Barack Obama.

Netanyahu Backs Demilitarized Palestinian State

Palestinian officials have condemned a major policy speech by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu saying it closed the door to permanent status negotiations. During the speech on Sunday Netanyahu said for the first time he could accept a two-state solution but only if the new Palestinian state had no army, no control of its airspace and borders, and would recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Binyamin Netanyahu: “If we receive this guarantee for demilitarization and the security arrangements required by Israel, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation of the Jewish people, we will be prepared for a true peace agreement (and) to reach a solution of a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state.”

During the speech Netanyahu also said Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel and that israel would not concede to US demands for a complete halt to all settlement expansion in the West Bank.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat: “He is not with the two state solution, he is not going to stop settlements including natural growth so we have attempts to move a peace process which was moving like a turtle in the region, now Netanyahu tonight flipped it on it’s back. It’s really up to President Obama tonight, he has the choice. He can treat Israel like a country above the laws of men, apply double standards and this will be a costly road, or he can have the Israeli government oblige with it’s commitments eminating from the road map. The two state solution with ’67 borders and stopping settlement activities including natural growth. Tonight what Netanyahu told us-there will not be permanent status negotiations.”

Top Sunni Lawmaker Assassinated in Iraq

In Iraq, a top Sunni lawmaker was assassinated on Friday shortly after giving a sermon calling on authorities to investigate the widespread reports of torture in Iraqi prisons. Harith al-Obaidi is the third Iraqi lawmaker to be assassinated since parliament was elected in 2005.

Report: 30 Lawmakers Have Financial Holdings in Health Care Industry

The Washington Post has revealed almost 30 key lawmakers helping draft landmark health-care legislation have financial holdings in the industry, totaling nearly $11 million worth of personal investments. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has at least $50,000 invested in a health-care index. Republican Sen. Judd Gregg, a senior member of the health committee, has up to $560,000 worth of stock holdings in major health-care companies, including Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck. The family of Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman held at least $3.2 million in more than 20 health-care companies at the end of last year. On Tuesday the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee plans to hold a key hearing to discuss health care reform. On that 22-member panel, at least eight senators have financial interests in the health-care industry. The hearings will be led by Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd whose wife serves on the boards of four health-care companies. She received more than $200,000 in salary and stock from her service last year.

Obama Administration Urges Court to Toss Rendition Lawsuit

The Obama administration is asking a federal appeals court to reconsider its decision to allow a Boeing subsidiary to be sued over its roles in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration is urging the court to throw out the case citing the State Secrets Act. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the suit against Jeppesen International Trip Planning on behalf of five former prisoners. Jeppesen is accused of arranging at least seventy flights since 2001 as part of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. Ben Wizner of the ACLU said: “This is a watershed moment. There’s no mistake any longer … the Obama administration has now fully embraced the Bush administration’s shameful effort to immunize torturers and their enablers from any legal consequences for their actions.”

Judge Rules Jose Padilla Can Sue John Yoo Over Torture

A federal judge in San Francisco has ruled Jose Padilla can sue former Bush administration lawyer John Yoo for coming up with the legal theories that justified his detention and torture. Padilla says he was repeatedly tortured while being held as an enemy combatant. Padilla, who is a U.S. citizen, was held for 43 months without charge in a Navy brig in South Carolina. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White said QUOTE “Like any other government official, government lawyers are responsible for the foreseeable consequences of their conduct.”

CIA Fires Mitchell, Jessen & Associates

CIA Director Leon Panetta has revealed the agency has fired Mitchell, Jessen & Associates and other contractors connected to interrogations. Mitchell, Jessen & Associates was run by two former military psychologists who helped design the CIA’s torture program. Panetta made the disclosure in an interview with the New Yorker Magazine.

CIA Head Says Cheney Almost Wishing U.S. Be Attacked Again

In the same interview CIA Director Leon Panetta harshly criticized former Vice President Dick Cheney for questioning the Obama administration’s national security policies. Panetta said of Cheney “it’s almost as if he’s wishing that this country would be attacked again, in order to make his point. I think that’s dangerous politics.”

Peruvian President Alan Garcia Accused of Ethnic Genocide

Peruvian President Alan Garcia is warning that police may have to use a ‘heavier hand’ on indigenous protesters in the Amazon following the recent clashes that left over 60 people dead. Indigenous tribes fear losing control of natural resources after recent presidential decrees opened up investment on extending mining and oil drilling in the jungle. Indigenous activists in Peru are calling for investigations into the violence and the resignations of government officials, including Garcia. On Friday the actress Q’Orianka Kilcher spoke in Lima on behalf of the indigenous protesters.

Q’Orianka Kilcher: “And I hear that Garcia has publicly declared my brothers and sisters of the Amazon to be ‘not first-class citizens.’ I have to say, ‘Shame on you, Alan Garcia because we are all first-class citizens. We are all Peruvians. And I hear that you are criminalizing indigenous protesters by calling them terrorists and savages. Who gave orders to commit ethnic genocide?”

Obama Admin To Spend $350 Million On New National Educational Standards

In education news, the Obama administration has announced plans to spend up to $350 million to help develop national standards for reading and math. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the government’s spending will go for the development of tests that would assess those new standards.

Top Minutemen Officials Arrested on Murder Charges

Two top officials of the anti-immigrant group Minutemen American Defense have been arrested on murder charges in Arizona. Shawna Forde, the group’s executive director, and Jason Bush, the group’s operations director were both charged with two counts of first-degree murder. A third person was also charged. Police say the three broke into a home and a killed a man and his 8-year-old daughter. The Minutemen American Defense organization has sent teams of armed vigilantes to the U.S.-Mexican and U.S.-Canada border in an attempt to stop undocumented workers. It is a separate organization from Jim Gilchrist’s Minuteman Project.

Domestic Workers Rally in New York

And here in New York, over 200 domestic workers and their supporters rallied outside City Hall Sunday to urge state lawmakers to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Speakers included Nisha Varia of Human Rights Watch.

Nisha Varia: “It’s an issue of having equal legal protections. It’s about having domestic work recognized as work. And the same sort of issues about not being paid for your work, not having time off, and not being respected-we really need to see the government and employers respond to that.”

Students Hold Press Conference Denouncing MSU’s Actions at Minutemen Protest

On Friday, April 20, students at Michigan State University held a press conference in response to the events that took place during Thursday’s protests surrounding the appearence of Minuteman co-founder Chris Simcox. The students presented allegations of racism in the University’s targeting of people of color for arrested, questioned why a racist was allowed on campus in the first place, and questioned the conduct of police who claimed that the event was cancelled yet allowed Simcox to speak once protestors were removed from the room.

Part 1 – Statements:

Part 2 – Arrested Protests Talking about their Arrests:

Part 3 – University Administrators Respond:

Part 4 – University Administrators Respond (continue):

Protestors Disrupt Minuteman Founder at MSU

On Thursday, protestors disrupted and delayed a scheduled lecture at Michigan State University by Minuteman Project co-founder Chris Simcox. Campus police made five arrests in response to the disruptions.

On Thursday, April 19, protestors from Michigan State University (MSU) and the surrounding community disrupted a lecture by Minuteman Project co-founder and current leader of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, Chris Simcox. The protestors managed to delay the lecture by twenty minutes before police cleared the lecture hall, making a series of arrests that targeted Latino activists under the pretext that the “event was cancelled.” However, Simcox was able to continue his talk once the protestors were taken out of the room.

The protests began at 6:00pm with an immigrant rights rally outside of the lecture hall where Simcox was speaking. Several students and members of the community talked about immigration, racism, anti-immigrant attacks, and the threats posed by groups like the Minuteman. Following the rally, the protestors entered the building to attend the lecture hall where Simcox would be speaking. All of those attending the event were required to go through a metal detector and were searched by the campus police. Food and water bottles were not allowed inside, and several MSU students asserted that this was an “unprecedented” security measure for a lecture on a supposedly open campus. Despite initial statements that they would not be permitted, signs were allowed into the building. Once the protestors were in the lecture hall, they easily outnumbered those that came to listen to the lecture and members of Young Americans for Freedom. There were close to 50 protestors compared to about 20 people staffing and attending the lecture.

As soon as members from the Young Americans for Freedom group came up to the podium, protestors began chanting and disrupting the event. Protestors stomped their feet, pounded on chairs, and chanted “You Are, You Are, Racist” while members of Young Americans for Freedom attempted to introduce Simcox. Nothing that the Young Americans for Freedom said could be understood. When Simcox came to the podium, the protestors booed, coordinated more chants, and stood up holding signs reading “From Small Pox to Simcox,” “Who’s the Illegal Alien? Pilgrim,” and other such messages. A group of protestors stood up wearing shirts that spelled out “MURDERER” in near the front of the lecture hall.

Warnings from the campus police to stop disrupting the talk went unheeded, and protestors continued to chant and make noise, while Simcox made a few pitiful attempts to continue talking despite the noise. The campus police eventually brought in more officers and a box of plastic handcuffs and began warning the crowd that those who refused to leave the building would be arrested. The police claimed that the “event was cancelled” and that they were starting to clear the room from the back to the front. At one point, a police officer told a group of people that they were “trying to get him to stop talking” in reference to Simcox and said that Simcox and members from Young Americans for Freedom would also be arrested if they refused to leave. However, it quickly became clear that the police had no intentions to fairly apply the law, as the police targeted only protestors and only Latinos for arrest. Of the five arrests, all were people of color and in many cases, people of color were singled out for arrest even when white students were standing near them and were being equally or more confrontational. Once the protestors were cleared from the room, the MSU police did not do anything to Simcox or those attending the lecture and instead allowed the event to continue.

Following the talk, protestors confronted audience members leaving the lecture and members of MSU’s Young Americans for Freedom. Those who attended to hear Simcox were subjected to lines of people who called them out for supporting a racist, while members of Young Americans for Freedom were followed and taunted by protestors who called them racists. Protestors not only highlighted the fact that Young Americans for Freedom had brought Chris Simcox to MSU, but their continued anti-immigrant racism as exemplified by their “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day” activities. As this was going on, Chris Simcox and Kyle Bristow, head of MSU’s Young Americans for Freedom, made an exit through a side entrance to the building in order to avoid the group of protestors. The two climbed into an SUV and sped out of the area, tearing holes in the grass and avoiding the larger mass of protestors.

After Simcox departed, the protestors decided to march towards the campus jail in solidarity with those who were arrested during the lecture. The march, totaling around fifty people and led by a banner that said “No One Is Illegal” in English and Spanish, took the two westbound lanes of a major campus thoroughfare. The spirited march–led by chants of “Whose Streets? Our Streets,” “What Do We Want Justice? When Do We Want It? Now,” and “Si Se Peude”–was undisturbed by the campus police and continued without opposition to the jail. Upon arriving at the jail, a few protestors that were released met up with the crowd while the group advanced to the front door demanding the release of those that were arrested. The campus police quickly setup barricades to prevent the group from entering the jail. The protestors then stopped and accused the police of acting in a racist manner, highlighting the fact that the police only arrested Latino activists despite the fact that there were white activists acting with equal or more militancy. The police eventually retreated inside, with activists moving forward and pounding on the windows while chanting “This Ain’t Over” and attaching the “No One Is Illegal” banner to the windows. The demonstration ended with the protestors announcing plans to host a press conference on Friday, April 20th to highlight MSU’s racism shown by the arrests and their allowing a racist to speak on campus.

Minuteman Founder Speaks at MSU Despite Protests

On Thursday, Minuteman Project co-founder Chris Simcox spoke at Michigan State University despite protests that disrupted his talk and the alleged “cancelling” of the event by MSU police.

On Thursday, April 19, Chris Simcox, co-founder of the Minuteman Project and current leader of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, spoke at Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing, Michigan. Simcox spoke after his lecture was delayed for twenty minutes by protestors that chanted and disrupted attempts by Simcox and Young Americans for Freedom, the organization that brought Simcox to MSU's campus, to start their lecture. The speakers were drowned out until the campus police began arresting protestors and ordering people out of the lecture hall. While the lecture hall was cleared by the police under the pretext that the "event was cancelled," once the protestors were removed the police allowed the lecture to continue.

Simcox began by focusing his attention on the protestors, stating that an actual dialog about "the problem" on the borders could now take place. He stated that the protestors were "no better than the 1800s vigilante committees" and that his organization would not "still be in operation if the allegations [from the protestors] were true," asking "would he be here if he murdered people on the border?" Protestors and those opposed to him were a significant focus of Simcox's comments, as they were for the Young Americans for Freedom members in attendence. Simcox referenced the protestors throughout his talk, describing them as a "violent threat to society" and charging that the "people protesting were in diapers five years ago [when Simcox began working on the border], they didn't understand [border issues] then and still don't." He referred to a male Latino protestor as a "violent gangbanger" on the basis that the man wore hip-hop style clothes and had tattoos. When questioned about it, Simcox again said that "a gangbanger was arrested here, he violently attacked a police officer" before sarcastically stating in response to an audience member who called him out for his stereotyping that he "will be more tolerant" in the future and will instead "call him a violent hate-mongering individual." The MSU Young Americans for Freedom chapter was similarly focused on the protestors, with members of the group videotaping protestors before the lecture started, trying to identify conflict areas to record while the lecture was being disrupted, and appearing bored and uninterested in the actual talk.

Simcox also denied many of the prominent allegations against him–that the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps has members that are also involved in white supremacist groups and that he has a history of abuse towards his former wife and daughter. Simcox said that his organization has no ties with the National Alliance or other racist groups. According to Simcox, his organization does thorough background checks "using the internet" to keep out white supremacists. He argued that "the other side" makes this a racial issue when in fact the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps is a "mixed raced organization" and that "separatists don't like us." Of course, this comment directly contradicts reports of white supremacists in the Minuteman ranks, widespread advertising on the Internet for the Minuteman efforts on white supremacist websites, and the underlying racism that is contained with in many of the comments that he has made in the past and even within this talk. Similarly, Simcox dismissed allegations that he abused his wife and daughter, arguing that the only crime he has been convicted of is carrying a gun in a national park. Again, evidence available elsewhere disputes his claim, but Simcox argued that these allegations are the product of journalists that "defame and spread lies" as well as the Southern Poverty Law Center, whom he referred to as "the worst hate group" in the country.

However, while Simcox denied allegations that his organization was connected to organized racists and white supremacists, he made several comments during his talk that were racist. At one point, he said that there were immigrants in the country that "find it a badge of honor to drive drunk." He referred to immigrant agriculture workers as "the bottom of the food chain" when stating his opposition to Guest Worker programs. A similar hierarchy was implied when he advocated biometric profiling for immigrants–presumably of both the documented and undocumented variety–stating that he supported immigrants being given biometric identification cards that would track their purchases. Simcox said that he opposes this type of profiling for himself and other Americans, stating "they [immigrants] need to be tracked, not American citizens." Simcox advocated the idea that immigrants must learn English as a means of becoming "functional members of society," a statement that implied that those who do not know English are dysfunctional. In his comments, he also supported the idea that undocumented immigrants who had committed felonies–including the common crime of document fraud–be deported and said that he does not support citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants born in the United States. Moreover, much of Simcox's talk equated immigrants with criminality and advanced the idea that immigrants are criminals, a view that can create a climate in which either vigilante or state-sponsored violence towards immigrants is tolerated. These comments went so far as to equate immigrants with murderers, with Simcox saying that the country needs to do its "best to make sure people want to come in and prosper, not kill and murder." He also associated immigrants with terrorists, charging that 652 undocumented immigrants caught last year had connections to terrorists.

Simcox expressed support for the Young Americans for Freedom's "Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day" activity, which was held this year at Michigan State University. Ignoring the inherent racism and serious potential for the event to create a hostile climate towards Latino students on MSU's campus, Simcox said that he supports the idea because it brings national attention to the problem of immigration. In response to an audience question he said that "'I'll pick my own lettuce' shirts are not offensive, I'll wash my own toilets–I do." The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps was formed according to Simcox because both parties of the government have failed to address "the flood" of undocumented immigrants across the border. He explained that his organization has adopted its tactics because they had previously "tried everything" to get the government to address "the problem," but they had not done anything. He said that rather than the murdering vigilantes that they are portrayed as, the Minutemen are an organization that is trying to save lives, explaining that they allegedly give water and medical attention to immigrants whom they stop on the border before handing them over to the Border Patrol. Simcox, who stated that "nobody knows the border better than me," said that he had never seen a vigilante on the border and said that you would have a "better opportunity finding Bigfoot on the border than a vigilante." Of course, this comment is contradicted by widespread evidenceof the growth of vigilante groups on the border. He explained that he advocates addressing immigration by securing the border, enforcing laws, and removing lawbreakers from the United States. After that, Simcox said there could be a discussion about how to address the demand for immigrant labor. Simcox also asserted that if the government were to enforce the immigration laws on the books, the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps would end its operations once it had "certified" that the laws were indeed being enforced.

Throughout his talk Simcox's comments illuminated why racist groups should be taken seriously. Simcox talked about the displacement of American workers through modern day capitalism, adopting a rightwing populist rhetoric that views corporations and the government as two parts of the same problem. He called corporations "modern day plantation owners" that exploit people, but his concern was informed more by a desire to scapegoat immigrants rather than a true desire to hold corporations accountable for their role in exploiting workers en both sides of the border. Simcox identified the fact that "NAFTA is a disaster," but did not examine how it has increased immigration and negatively impacted workers in both the United States and in Mexico. Perhaps fortunately for those organizing to oppose the Minutemen and other racist groups, Simcox's arguments were occasionally contradictory and frequently went from advocating increased laws to restrict immigration to telling people not to trust the government. These contradictions imply a weak ideology that could be combated by anti-racist and pro-immigrant activists, but Simcox, the Minutemen, and other vigilantes present an argument that is quite persuasive to those who have been displaced by capitalism and for whom real notions of solidarity have been discouraged by involvement in a system that pits people against each other. Thus far, an alternative ideology has not been presented by the left.

Student “Hate Group” and College Republicans Unite to Bring Anti-Immigrant Vigilante to MSU

Next Thursday, MSU’s chapters of Young Americans for Freedom and the College Republicans will bring Chris Simcox, a founder of the Minuteman Project, to Lansing. Simcox and the Minuteman Project coordinate armed vigilantes along the border, while rooting their actions in xenophobic and racist rhetoric.

On Thursday, April 19, Chris Simcox, a founder and leader of the anti-immigrant Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, will speak at Michigan State University in Lansing. MSU’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) is sponsoring Simcox’s appearance; an organization that last month was added to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of “hate groups.” Young Americans for Freedom was classified as a “hate group” because of their anti-immigrant activities as well as their calls to eliminate funding for organizations of color at MSU and to develop a “white student council” for the university. The lecture is being co-sponsored by the Michigan State University College Republicans. In recent weeks, lectures by Simcox have been disrupted at University of Texas San Antonio and New York University.

Simcox founded the original Minuteman Project with Jim Gilchrist in 2004, but a split in the organization gave Gilchrist control of the Minuteman Project and Simcox control of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps in 2005. Since the split, both organizations have faced internal difficulties, with Gilchrist being ousted from his leadership position in the Minuteman Project and Simcox’s organization facing allegations of shoddy finances. Despite financial troubles and criticism of his much touted private border fence, Simcox’s work has continued and he has delivered numerous speeches around the country supporting candidates in the 2006 elections and rallying activists at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to take stronger anti-immigration positions. Simcox’s Minuteman PAC has also given financial support to candidates around the country, including $150,000 given to Michigan Republican Tim Walberg in his election to the United States House of Representatives. Simcox’s minutemen group has continued to do border patrols as well.

Simcox is described as having a “troubled past,” complete with accusations that he sexually molested his daughter, threatened to kill his wife, and beat his son. Interviews with those who know Simcox have described him as a “lunatic” that is mentally unstable. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Simcox left his family, yelling to his son “I’m going to go down to the Mexican border and sign up for the government for border patrol to protect the borders of the country that I love. You hear how serious I am.” While Simcox was unable to get a job with the Border Patrol, he formed his own militia that later blended into the Minuteman Project.

In addition to his role in founding the Minuteman Project, Simcox has a history of making anti-immigrant and overtly racist statements, statements which support claims that the organization harbors racist views. In 2003, he told the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report “those people [undocumented immigrants] don’t come here to work. They come here to rob and deal drugs” before going on to state that:

“Oh Jesus, it is unbelievable. I mean, we need the National Guard to clean out all our cities and round them [undocumented immigrants] 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.”

Simcox echoed these statements in late 2006, when he said that, “The innocent children and relatives of American military families are being murdered by illegal aliens everyday.” Simcox has also asserted that immigrants “destroy” the environment charging that, “illegal aliens trash our countryside, destroy the environment. I mean literally acres and acres of trash, clothing and backpacks, identifications, everything.” Simcox has further claimed that “they’re [undocumented immigrants] trashing their neighborhoods, refusing to assimilate, standing on street corners, jeering at little girls walking on their way to school.”

While Simcox has gained influence in the anti-immigrant movement despite his extreme views, his views are not that far from those of members of Young Americans for Freedom, the group that is bringing him to Michigan State University. Young Americans for Freedom has brought Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo to Lansing, a politician who has been closely aligned with the anti-immigrant movement and who has received campaign contributions from racists. The organization has also hosted a “Catch an Illegal Immigrant” day at MSU. In that context, it is not surprising that they would bring a member of the minutemen to Lansing.

The Minuteman Project is a danger not only to those attempting to cross the border and for its limited political influence, but also for its use of rhetoric to advance the perception of immigrants as criminals. The Minuteman and related groups have used language that attempts to connect immigrants to terrorism, crime, drugs, and disease. In an analysis of Minuteman rhetoric for Narcosphere, Nick Cooper noted the Minuteman placing blame for 9/11 on “open borders,” claiming that immigrants carry deadly diseases, and using scapegoating as an organizing tactic. Cooper reports that many Minuteman members are opposed to NAFTA and other trade agreements, but rather than addressing the fact that they are victims of global capital have instead gone after those with a perceived lower status rather than challenging the system. This scapegoating has fit into the Minuteman Project’s support for a “reconquista conspiracy” through which Mexico is believed to be infiltrating the United States with the goal of territorial conquest. Of course, this argument is rooted in xenophobic assumptions that places blame on immigrants at the bottom for taking jobs in the United States, while ignoring those at the top that benefit from global economic policies that harm both immigrants and workers in the United States.

Moreover, the Minuteman Project, far from being the originators of the idea of a citizens border patrol, are the descendents of the racist border vigilantism of the Ku Klux Klan, who undertook a “Klan Border Watch” program in the 1970s. Beyond viewing immigration and immigrants through a racist lens, the Minuteman Project, the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, and the larger vigilante movement have attracted the interest and overt participation of the organized racist movement in the United States. Members of the neo-Nazi National Alliance and the National Socialist Movement have been involved with the Minuteman Project, while co-founder Gilchrist’s congressional campaign used neo-Nazi volunteers. Although vigilantes became more active on the border in the early 2000s, <a vigilante groups have increased dramatically since the founding of the Minuteman Project. At the same time, the often racist debate over immigration is believed to be fueling a resurgence of both the Ku Klux Klan and other racist groups as well as racist violence directed at latinos.

Justice on the Border—Minutemen, Militarization, and Deaths on the Migrant Trail: Midwest Social Forum

In a panel discussion last week at the Midwest Social Forum in Milwaukee, activists discussed organizing efforts along the United States-Mexico border focused on armed vigilante groups, the militarization of the border, and the deaths of immigrants crossing the border.

In the ongoing debate over immigration, there has been considerable focus on the Minutemen, an armed vigilante group that has taken upon itself the task of patrolling portions of the United States-Mexico border to make up for what it sees as the failings of the United States Border Patrol. The Minutemen have deserved this attention, being perhaps the most extreme manifestation of racism in the immigration debate with their willingness to shoot immigrants and their ties to white supremacist groups. However, confronting vigilante groups is just one aspect of border organizing being done in the southwestern United States with activists also working to combat the increased militarization of the border as well as stopping the deaths of immigrants attempting to cross the border. These border organizing efforts were the subject of a panel discussion titled “Justice on the Border: Minutemen, Militarization, and Deaths on the Migrant Trail” at the Midwest Social Forum held last Saturday in Milwaukee. The panel feature two organizers, Ray Ybarra of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Alexis Mazon of the Coalicion de Derechos Humanos and Immigrant Defense Task Force in Tucson.

The panel began with Ray Ybarra discussing how he came up with the idea of coordinating legal observers to monitor the Minutemen and other vigilante groups as a means of pressuring them to stop and to protect the lives of immigrants. He explained that the vigilantes along the border are motivated by “fear and a misunderstanding of people of color” that has led them to advocate—and in many cases participate in—violence towards immigrants. He cited Roger Barnett, a rancher and vigilante who claims to have “caught” 2,000 immigrants and was cited in a civil rights lawsuit (http://www.borderaction.org/campaigns2.php?articleID=56) for his detention of a group of immigrants who he held captive using an assault rifle and dogs as an example of the racism and violence that exists along the border. Vigilantes such as Barnett have both diverted attention from the real issues that motivate immigration (neoliberal trade policy and corporate policy) and pushed anti-immigrant sentiment further to the right. As proof of this, Ybarra cited the Minutemen’s connections to white supremacist groups and the increase in anti-immigrant rhetoric found in white supremacist publications and on white supremacist websites, some of which goes to the level of actually encouraging people to kill “illegals.” His research on vigilante groups led him to request information from the United States government via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that assisted him in coordinating non-violent legal observations of the groups which rather than focusing on the militant confrontation that some anti-racist groups have used, have approached vigilantes simply by putting them under video surveillance. Ybarra said that this approach has had success in that there has been no violence when observers have been around. However, with continued media attention, vigilantes and racist groups have been successful in getting law enforcement officials in border states to increase their repression of immigrants through measures such as checkpoints to check for papers and increased deployments under the guise of “homeland security.” For Ybarra, allies of immigrants have to consider the important question of how they can use their privilege to confront these groups as a part of the larger immigrant rights movement.

Alexis Mazon expanded upon Ybarra’s comments by explaining that it is not just vigilante groups that are attacking immigrants on the border but also the United States government and other local law enforcement units. She explained that the militarization of the border—begun in 1994 under former President Bill Clinton—has increased deaths along the border both due to violence as well as the increased environmental danger for immigrants who have to cross in increasingly remote locations. Since 1994, some 4,000 immigrants have died attempting to cross the border, often due to the gruesome and agonizing process of dying by dehydration or hypothermia. These 4,000 deaths are only those that have been found, yet even then it equates to at least one death per day. Many of these deaths have also been caused by the actions of the United States Border Patrol, an agency that has a long history of abusing immigrants through violence including the recent killing of a Mexican teenager who was run down by a Border Patrol SUV when attempting to cross with her father. Such deaths are an example of what she termed the “decriminalization of state violence” where violence has increased and disciplinary action has decreased. Not only has militarization brought the physical threat of violence to a new high, but it has also increased legislative attacks with legislation in Arizona requiring proof of insurance to be shown when pulled over when driving or otherwise the vehicle is confiscated (to get it back individuals must show proof of United States citizenship), aggravated sentencing whereby judges can arbitrarily add years when sentencing an undocumented immigrant, banning funding to day labor centers, and requiring proof of citizenship to gain access to healthcare. Such legislation has also drawn the support of white supremacist groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and the Council of Conservative Citizens, both of which have been active locally here in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Mazon also reminded the audience that many of these measures have gained the support of Democrats and that any bill that increases or maintains the current level of militarization is unacceptable, including the ideas of so-called “advocates” of the immigrant rights movement who are willing to accept the notion of a “smart border” with cameras, satellites, biometrics, and unmanned flying vehicles.

Grand Rapids Anti-Immigration Organizer Involved with Minutemen

Grand Rapids resident and anti-immigrant organizer Ione Johnson is a member of the Minutemen–a vigilante border patrol militia–according to reporting Tuesday in the local corporate media. Johnson was been widely quoted in the media making anti-immigrant statements and her involvement with the Minutemen show that along with FAIR and the Michigan Council of Conservative Citizens–racist groups are behind much of the anti-immigration organizing.

On May 6, a protest held in downtown Grand Rapids against “illegal immigration” garnered attention on two broadcast media channels and in the Grand Rapids Press, who portrayed the protest as a grassroots response by “ordinary” citizens to organizing for immigrant rights in the area. The protest was met by a counter-protest from anti-racists, who quickly discovered that the protest was attended by a variety of far right and racist groups including the Michigan chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens (a white supremacist organization) and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

On Tuesday, a story of WOOD TV 8 revealed that one of the protest organizers—Grand Rapids resident Ione Johnson—is a card-carrying member of the Minutemen, an armed right-wing vigilante group that claims to be protecting the United States from an “invasion” of immigrants. In the article, Johnson was quoted saying that she thinks it “rounding up the illegals ‘would be the best idea’” and that “we [the United States] have to secure the border. You just see droves coming over.” Johnson summed up her position by stating that “to me the illegals have no intention to assimilate into our culture or society.” The Minutemen have been increasingly active in the Southwest region of the United States and has, since Spring of 2005, stated that it is organizing in Michigan to prevent illegal immigrants from crossing the Canada-United States border. The project, which is called the Michigan/Ontario Minutemen Border Neighborhood Watch program has not been visibly active, despite the leadership and support of Kevin Fobbs who is an Outreach Vice Chair for the Michigan Republican Party. Fobbs also recently testified in support of Michigan’s English-only measure.

Chris Simcox, President of the Minutemen, has described undocumented immigrants as “trashing their neighborhoods, refusing to assimilate, standing on street corners, jeering at little girls walking on their way to school” and warned immigrants that to “t ake heed of our weapons because we’re going to defend our borders by any means necessary.” It is also worth noting that the Minutemen have ties to neo-nazi groups (two) and that there is concern that the organized anti-immigrant movement is becoming increasingly violent with several different armed vigilante groups operating in the United States.