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Anti-immigrant rhetoric sets the stage for the right
Growth of the Minuteklan

June 16, 2006 | Page 7

JOSH GRYNIEWICZ reports on the ties between the anti-immigrant vigilantes of the Minuteman Project and other far-right white-supremacist groups.

THE FAR right is trying to make a comeback, and it is using anti-immigrant hate as its wedge issue.

As the narrow debate about federal immigration policy continues among politicians, the racist vigilantes of the Minuteman Project have become accepted as a legitimate voice in mainstream politics. These bigots and their less "respectable" far-right allies like the Ku Klux Klan and other neo-Nazi and white supremacist are making the most of it.

"There is no doubt that immigration issues have helped these groups to grow," said Mark Potok, head of the Southern Poverty Law Center's (SPLC) Intelligence Project, which tracks racist and right-wing extremist groups. "It really is an issue ready-made for hate groups. Already, we are hearing anecdotal information that there is an up-tick in hate crimes against Hispanics."

Potok's observation is backed up by a report issued by the Anti-Defamation League that found "hateful and racist rhetoric" aimed at Latino immigrants had grown "to a level unprecedented in recent years."

In a recent Time magazine article, Mike Martin, a member of western Ohio's National Socialist Movement--"there's nothing neo about us," Martin told Time--bragged about harassing day laborers and disrupting a May 1 pro-immigrant rally in Dayton. "After the rally, the Klan called us," Martin said. "Now we've started working together more often."

Potok's Intelligence Project found that the far right as a whole is on the rise. In a recent study, SPLC documented 803 hate groups operating in the U.S. in 2005, a 33 percent increase since 2000. The Minuteman Project alone has spawned 60 spin-off groups, while continuing to increase its membership.

The rise of the right has everything to do with the politicians' anti-immigrant crusade in Washington.

"People talk about immigration as if race doesn't matter, saying 'No, I don't have anything against immigrants or Mexicans, it's just the illegal part of it I don't like,'" Gonzalo Santos, a sociology professor at California State University at Bakersfield, told the Associated press. "But those are code words. We experience race in this country through issues like welfare policy, anti-poverty programs and now immigration."

Potok agrees. "When you have Congressmen stirring up this kind of anti-immigrant furor, it becomes a dangerous situation," he said.

Potok was speaking specifically about Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, who once told an audience that "illegal aliens...need to be found before it is too late. They're coming here to kill you, and you, and me, and my grandchildren."

Tancredo subscribes to a conspiracy theory that there is a plot among immigrants to invade and conquer the U.S. But this is just a warped extreme of the idea shared by Republicans and Democrats alike that America's borders are being threatened and the U.S. is being overrun.

In such circumstances, it is little surprise that the Senate's "compromise" immigration bill--supported by Democrats and "moderate" Republicans--contains provisions for adding 370 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border and making English the "national language."

The media is helping the immigrant bashers, too. That's the conclusion of a recent report by the ACLU that surveyed 581 articles and editorials about the Minutemen vigilantes and found "six areas of consistent misperception and inaccuracy," including "the extremist, xenophobic motivations" of the group; an underreporting of "participation and promotion of the Minuteman Project from the white supremacist community"; and an almost complete omission of the "violence and illegal activity" perpetrated by the Minutemen and other vigilante groups.

Only 1 percent of articles reported on the presence of right-wing militia members within the Minutemen. ACLU investigators found that a significant number of Minutemen leaders came from right-wing militia organizations--for example, Bob Wright, commander of the 1st Brigade New Mexico Militia, who now serves as director of national training in the national office of the Minutemen. Yet only three of the articles and editorials surveyed by the ACLU mentioned such ties.

"It appears that the militiamen have given themselves a makeover to appeal to the mainstream media in an attempt to win public support for their extremist agenda," the report concluded. As Mike Pitcavage, director of the Anti-Defamation League, told Time magazine, "It's a natural shift. Militias fell on hard times, and this anti-immigrant movement is new and fresh."

Indeed, in contrast to their failure to document the Minutemen's clear ties to far-right groups, the media have tended to focus on the exceptional cases of a small number of African Americans who throw in their lot with the Minutemen.

In Chicago, for example, the media went to work reporting on a strange alliance between the city's Minutemen chapter and the pastor of a predominately Black church in the Englewood area. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown's article--about a small demonstration of 10 or 15 people in front of a meat processing plant that may or may not have employed undocumented workers--was headlined "Minutemen recruit Blacks against illegal immigration."

In spite of the growth of the far right and the endorsement of mainstream media, opposition to the racists is growing as well, from community groups to national civil rights organizations. Antiracists and pro-immigrant activists have to expose the Minutemen for the racists they are and directly confront them wherever they appear.

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