Los Angeles activists confront the Minutemen, May 21, 2006.
Photo: Bob Morris
On May 21, over 300 demonstrators confronted about 50 members of the racist “Minutemen Project” in downtown Los Angeles. Pro-immigrant activists and organizations, including members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, surrounded the Minutemen on both sides of the street as they marched through the predominantly Latino community.
Workers lining the busy streets of Los Angeles joined in, chanting, “Minutemen, KKK, racist scum go away!” and “The workers’ struggle has no borders.”
The protest came at the end of a series of Minutemen demonstrations that began on May 3 in the predominantly Black neighborhood of Leimert Park in South Los Angeles. The Leimert Park demonstration was the beginning of a new strategy for the Minutemen to manipulate public opinion and generate hostility between Black and Latino communities.
In an attempt to break apart working-class unity, the Minutemen try to present immigration as the reason for unemployment and oppression in Black communities nationwide rather than condemning the true cause—the capitalist system. This became the foundation of their march in downtown Los Angeles, which they tried to portray as a “civil rights” march.
But more Black people stood against the Minutemen than alongside them.
The tactic of dividing workers of different races and nationalities under the cloak of “civil rights” is nothing new for racist outfits like the Minutemen. David Duke, former Louisiana state representative and national director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, also tried to popularize racism by establishing a “civil rights” group for whites in 2000.
Duke’s group tried to legitimize itself by claiming that whites face “massive discrimination” from the nation’s growing population of minorities.
Duke also attempted to organize a Klan “border watch” of armed vigilantes in the 1970s—much like what the Minutemen are organizing today. He failed.
Today the “Minutemen Project” and other organizations like it have increasingly become the vehicles for white supremacy. Like the Klan, they receive crucial support from sectors of the ruling class and the cops.
Who are the Minutemen?
A Minutemen “border fence” at the U.S.-Mexico border dovetails with the goals of right-wing sectors of the capitalist class.
Photo: Jack Kurtz
The Minutemen Project was co-founded by Chris Simcox and Jim Gilchrist. Chris Simcox has spoken in front of the California Coalition on Immigration Reform, a racist ultra-rightist group. The CCIR is led by Barbara Coe, a staunch racist who has commonly referred to Mexicans as “savages” and is an admitted member of the Council of Conservative Citizens—a white supremacist splinter group of the pro-segregation White Citizens Councils of the 1950s and 1960s.
Gilchrist has attempted to run for governor as a Democrat, Republican and Independent. His reactionary platform extends far beyond militarization of the border and criminalization of undocumented workers. He opposes women’s right to choose. He is against same-sex marriage and favors “anti-sodomy” laws. Gilchrist supports both the war in Iraq and the Israeli colonial occupation of Palestine.
Gilchrist’s electoral campaigns and the Minutemen’s caravan across the nation demonstrate the desire of white supremacists to become a mass movement. As among the most public of the anti-immigration organizers, Gilchrist is more careful about publicly associating with arch-racists.
Making racism acceptable
The Minutemen’s strategy has been to try to package their virulently anti-immigrant message in a more acceptable way.
CNN’s Lou Dobbs has done much to advance their cause on his television show, “Broken Borders.” Dobbs routinely interviews many of these anti-immigration leaders. He never mentions their links to racist organizations.
Dobbs represents the sector of the ruling class that wants to smash the immigrant rights movement. He has stated that undocumented workers and their families are “illegal aliens who not only threaten our economy and security, but also our health and well-being.”
An increasing number of bourgeois media outlets are catering to their racism by presenting the Minutemen as the “other side” to the millions of immigrants and their supporters who have taken to the streets demanding legal rights. It is common to watch a news segment of an immigrants rights demonstration of over a million people, as has been the case more than once in Los Angeles, and have it be followed by a story about 20 Minutemen demonstrating in front of a day laborers’ center.
Cops, politicians provide cover
It would be wrong to view the Minutemen and others as “fringe groups” with no base of support. While they are numerically small, they can count on the support of the state apparatus—the cops, the official border patrols and the army. Repeatedly, anti-racist demonstrators have been viciously attacked by cops who are essentially guarding the Minutemen.
In Garden Grove, Calif., a Minutemen supporter drove into two anti-racist demonstrators. The man was detained after 45 minutes of pressure from the demonstrators but was promptly released by the cops.
In Costa Mesa, Calif., the links between the Minutemen and the state are even more blatant. Costa Mesa mayor Allan Mansoor was formally presented with an honorary Minutemen membership. Presenting the membership were Jim Gilchrist and Barbara Coe. Mansoor has expanded the powers of the cops to include immigration law enforcement—previously an issue of federal enforcement.
As governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger has also publicly supported the Minutemen, deeming them “honorable citizens.” Schwarzenegger has begun preparing the National Guard for deployment at the California-Mexico border.
In Arizona, Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo spoke at an opening rally of the Minutemen. Tom Tancredo spearheaded the “Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005,” commonly known as HR 4437.
Tancredo praised Gilchrist and Simcox, describing them 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.”
It is not just politicians. A look at any of these groups’ propaganda shows that they are well funded—hardly the “grass-roots” image that they try to portray.
The role of fascist groups
The capitalist class traditionally resorts to fascism—the mobilization of petit-bourgeois sectors to smash any independent or progressive workers’ organizations—only in times of deep social crisis. But that does not mean that racist and pro-fascist groups do not have a social function at other times.
Anti-working class groups like the Minutemen try first and foremost to divide working people, pitting one worker against another. The ruling class is left off the hook.
They also provide the infrastructure for armed organizations that act in the interests of the capitalist class if need be. Far from being “loose cannons,” groups like the Minutemen work closely with the cops and the state in advancing anti-working class policies. While today they target Latino immigrants, tomorrow they will unleash the same racist violence against African Americans, Muslims, other people of color and trade union organizers—anyone the ruling class benefits from targeting.
That is why progressives and revolutionaries confront the Minutemen in the streets whenever they come out in public. The interests of workers are diametrically opposed to the actions of these neo-fascists.
Articles may be reprinted with credit to Socialism and Liberation magazine.