Drive Out Racist “Minuteman” Vigilantes!
Internationalist Group at 4 October 2006 protest at Columbia University against provocative speech by
Minuteman co-founder Gilchrist. (Internationalist photo)
Accompanying the mounting state repression against immigrants in post-9/11 America, racist vigilantes have escalated violent anti-immigrant attacks. The most prominent of these sinister groups are the so-called Minuteman Project and the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps which in 2005 grabbed headlines by staging armed “border patrols” hunting “illegal aliens” along the Mexican border. Some virulent immigrant-bashers in the media such as CNN’s Lou Dobbs and Fox TV’s Hannity and Colmes have sought to give a veneer of respectability to the Minutemen. But beyond the media hype, these are nativist fascist action squads which seek to terrorize immigrants and provoke police repression against leftists.
The Internationalist Group has warned: “The Minutemen are shot through with fascist outfits like the Ku Klux Klan, National Socialist Movement, Nazis, ‘neo’-Nazi skinheads and their ilk. These are not just racist bigots: they are armed and dangerous” (“The ‘Minutemen’: Racist Vigilantes Seek to Provoke Police-State Crackdown,” The Internationalist No. 24, Summer 2006). The IG has actively participated in anti-Minuteman mobilizations in the New York area, including in Babylon, Long Island in 2005, in downtown Manhattan and at Columbia University in 2006 and most recently at New York University, when Minuteman co-founder Chris Simcox spoke there. We wrote of these violent provocateurs:
“Their aim is to goad the federal government into launching an all-out round-up of ‘illegal’ foreign-born workers…. [T]he immigrant-bashing thugs must not merely be protested, they should be run out by the overwhelming power of the organized working class. Revolutionaries seek to mobilize the unions to come out in force to chase off the fascist vermin who represent a danger to the safety and well-being of the minority, immigrant and working-class population. Militant worker-immigrant defense must be organized to disperse these would be killers while their forces are small and vulnerable.”
–“For Militant Workers Defense of Immigrants!” The Internationalist No. 22, September-October 2005
Recently, the once-Trotskyist Spartacist League (SL) published an article titled “Fascistic Minutemen and Anti-Immigrant Bigotry” (Workers Vanguard, 27 April) in which they argue that these immigrant-hunting vigilantes are not fascists but only fascistic – and because of that “ic,” leftists should not seek to drive them out when they show up on campuses. The SL argues, incredibly, that “these racist bigots are not, at this time, a fascist organization that advocates or carries out deadly physical assaults on the labor movement and the oppressed.” It’s okay to stop them when the racist vigilantes stage provocations in the streets against immigrants, says the SL, but “when the Minutemen appear as reactionary ideologues on campuses, we do not support the liberal/reformist position of disrupting their meetings or seeking to drive them off. Rather, as in the case of other right-wing ideologues like David Horowitz, we seek to refute their poisonous anti-immigrant politics through protest and exposure.”
The SL’s attempt to compartmentalize the Minutemen vigilantes into carefully parsed components is downright surreal, as is its attempt to cover itself by branding efforts to “disrupt their meetings” as innately reformist. What the SL is really trying to do here is provide a veneer of pseudo-Marxist rhetoric to cover its latest lurch to the right, which consists of a grotesque, social-democratic opposition to a policy of militant mobilizations against these racist gangsters. In the pursuit of this they go so far as to claim, outrageously, that the Minutemen do not advocate or carry out “deadly physical assaults” on workers and the oppressed.
The SL rightly excoriates groups like the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) for working with the Democratic Party, in “antiwar” coalitions and elsewhere. But in making believe that the deadly Minuteman terrorists are not fascist, and merely “fascistic,” in opposing efforts to drive these racist vigilantes out of campuses, the SL places itself well to the right of the ISO and PSL reformists. This puts them in the company of bourgeois liberals who defend the fascists’ supposed “right” to stage their immigrant-bashing provocations. The SL’s whitewash of the racist Minuteman killers is a repudiation of Trotskyism and its own past actions in seeking to drive out fascist scum. Any SL member with an ounce of class consciousness should be outraged by this betrayal. If there isn’t any internal outrage over this basic question, one has to conclude that the latter-day SL is very far gone indeed..
So according to the Spartacist League, the “Minutemen” do not advocate or carry out deadly physical assaults on the oppressed. Izzatso? Maybe the SL has been reading too many press releases from Minuteman co-founder Jim Gilchrist, a former Republican Congressional candidate whose job was to be the “moderate” face of the movement. When reports surfaced of white supremacist groups recruiting for the Minutemen, Gilchrist declared that skinheads and members of Nazi groups such as the National Alliance and Aryan Nations were banned from participation. This is just eyewash for the media (and gullible liberals looking for an excuse to turn a blind eye). In fact, when the 2005 Minuteman Project “patrol” got underway, journalists reported it was shot through with fascists. In an extensive article on the “project,” the Southern Poverty Law Center quoted one, a Special Forces veteran armed with a revolver chambered to fire shotgun shells, saying “It should be legal to kill illegals…. Just shoot ’em on sight.” Two others in the same unit, members of the National Alliance, carried semi-automatic pistols and scouted out sniper positions, saying: “You get up there with a rifle and start shooting four or five of them a week…” (SPLC Intelligence Report, Summer 2005).
vigilantes hold immigrants at gunpoint.
It’s not just talk and fantasizing. Chris Simcox, the other Minuteman co-founder, has run a vigilante group in the Tombstone, Arizona area since 2002 called “Civil Homeland Defense,” that brags of having captured more than 5,000 border crossers. Working in conjunction with other local vigilante groups, including “Ranch Rescue” and “American Border Patrol,” which carry out armed patrols in camouflage uniforms, Simcox’ outfit regularly detained migrants at gunpoint. Roger Barnett, the leader of Ranch Rescue, which is active in Cochise County, Arizona, says he is “prepared to kill Mexicans.” A Cochise County sheriff’s department report on 14 illegal detentions by border vigilantes said that in nine cases shots were fired. A 2001 U.S. General Accounting Office report said that at least two immigrants were shot by vigilantes. In October 2002, masked gunmen in military garb opened fire on a group of migrants near Red Rock, Arizona, killing two (“Open Season,” SPLC Intelligence Report, Spring 2003). Altogether nine bodies migrants killed in execution style were found in a 20 square mile area of Maricopa County, Arizona in the period between March 2002 and March 2003. Another vigilante group in the Tucson area, Border Guardians, brags of working with the Ku Klux Klan and Ohio Nazis.
The killings have continued. On February 8, three Mexican immigrants were shot to death, three wounded and two missing when they were attacked by four masked gunmen with assault rifles near Tucson. Ten days earlier, a man driving a load of immigrants was shot to death in the same area by four white gunmen in military-style fatigues speaking English, according to a survivor. Another incident took place near Sasabe on February 7 where 18 immigrants were ambushed by men wearing ski masks. The body of a badly beaten Mexican immigrant was found in the same area with signs of having been lynched (rope burns around the neck). In a fourth incident on February 21, paramilitary gunmen in pickup trucks ambushed a car near Chandler, Arizona. While the New York Times (9 February) said local authorities pointed to bandits, Arizona governor Janet Napolitano says that paramilitary vigilantes may have been responsible for the murders.
Around the country, local Minuteman groups have been busy terrorizing immigrants. In the San Diego area, John Monti, a member of “Save Our State” which is affiliated with the Minuteman Project, was arrested in March for assaulting two immigrant workers on November 18 along Rancho Peñasquitos Boulevard. Monti reportedly took pictures of the day laborers gathered there, started spewing racist epithets and then punched one of them (San Diego Union Tribune, 27 March). Also in March, the home of the leader of the San Diego Minutemen, Jeff Schwilk, was searched by police for evidence about attacks on migrant workers’ encampments in McGonigle Canyon where residents’ belongings were slashed. Minuteman videos of the attack have been posted on the Internet (SDUT, 22 March). And in Washington, D.C. on May 1, a member of the Herndon, Virginia Minutemen, Tyler Joseph Froatz, was arrested at the immigrant rights rally after violently assaulting Sarah Sloan, national staff coordinator of the ANSWER antiwar coalition. Froatz had in his possession a knife with a 12-inch blade, a second knife, a flare gun and a stun gun.
Mexican immigrant worker believed lynched
by vigilantes in Arizona, February 2007. Note rope burns on neck.
This is just a small part of the reams of evidence that the Minutemen and related immigrant-hunting groups engage in deadly physical assaults on oppressed Latino immigrants. To claim that the Minutemen are only “racist bigots” or ideologues and not fascists, to pretend that their “paramilitary component” is somehow separate, to deny that they advocate and use deadly violence against the oppressed, as the Spartacist League does, is to buy the lying propaganda of the racist vigilantes themselves. The fact that the vigilantes have splintered into a number of organizations changes nothing. This has been a characteristic of American fascism for decades, at least since the 1978 publication of The Turner Diaries, the white supremacist novel by the founder of the National Alliance, William Luther Pierce, which advocated race war carried out by loosely linked localized groups. For that matter, the Minuteman founders have since split in a dispute over money, with Gilchrist running the Minuteman Project and Simcox taking the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. Now each can be the Führer of his own organization. But that doesn’t alter the essential identity of these groups.
Stalinists and social democrats throw around the term fascist loosely to describe any right-wing or repressive movement or government, ranging from the Pinochet military dictatorship in Chile to the Bush presidency in the U.S. today. They do so for a purpose: if the enemy is fascist, then according to the formula put forward by the Stalinized Comintern in 1935, the response is to form a “popular front” coalition with the supposed “democratic” bourgeoisie. Such class-collaborationist alliances serve as a roadblock to prevent the revolutionary mobilization of the proletariat. For revolutionary Marxists, in contrast, political characterizations must be based on the class nature of the movement or regime in question, in order to clarify the struggle of the working class. In analyzing fascist movements in Europe between the first and second imperialist world wars, Leon Trotsky stressed that these are movements of the enraged (and often financially ruined) petty bourgeoisie organized to unleash murderous violence against the workers movement and the oppressed, in the service of the capitalist class. “Fascism unites and arms the scattered masses. Out of human dust, it organizes combat detachments,” wrote Trotsky in Whither France? (1934). In order to defeat fascism, therefore, what’s needed is not a treacherous alliance with capitalists for “democracy,” but organizing the workers and oppressed in defense of their class interests.
We have described Minuteman as nativist fascists. Different fascist groups have their own distinctive characteristics. In Italy, where the term originated, fascism used a certain amount of pseudo-socialist terminology, reflecting the origins of its founder Mussolini. In Germany, Hitler even called his fascist movement “national socialist.” In Central Europe before World War II there were a host of clerical fascist outfits. On the other hand, in the United States in the same period, the Ku Klux Klan was virulently anti-Catholic. Today, Minuteman is directed mainly against immigrants. Yet they all share certain the essential common characteristics of fascist movements. In its article on the Minutemen, the SL writes that “the Minutemen have sought to recruit blacks and Latino citizens who buy into anti-immigrant bigotry, with some modest success.” Fascism in the U.S. will target oppressed racial and ethnic minorities. That does not mean that some individual blacks or Latinos will not be sucked into a fascist movement to camouflage its real aims. (In Italy, Mussolini’s Fascisti initially included some Jews.) But the vigilante squads that Minuteman assembled in Arizona were almost entirely white, like the lynch mobs of the KKK.
It is noteworthy that Minuteman actions have not just been directed against immigrants. As we noted in The Internationalist No. 24, they have also taken aim at leftist groups, including staging a provocation outside the Maoist Revolution Books in New York last June 23 and triggering a vicious police assault on leftist demonstrators in Los Angeles on July 8. Recently in San Diego, a Minuteman provocateur who had been videotaping an anarchist street fair provoked a police assault on the gathering. If they were just anti-immigrant bigots and ideologues, why would they engage in such antics? In the New York case, several of the provocateurs who showed up outside the Maoist bookstore have since been identified as members of the Stormfront Nazi group active in New Jersey. According to the SL, “the Minutemen have a paramilitary component akin to the 1977 Klan Border Watch, the brainchild of white-supremacist David Duke.” But where exactly is the “component” of this outfit that is not paramilitary vigilantes? Arizona, San Diego, Washington, New York – everywhere the Minutemen act the same. And if David Duke, Mr. “Klan-in-a-Suit,” were to appear on campus, would the SL now refuse to throw him out?
Because what is at issue here is not just analytical. The Workers Vanguard article compares Minuteman leaders to “other right-wing ideologues like David Horowitz” and asserts that when come to universities, rather than driving them off, the SL seeks to “refute their poisonous anti-immigrant politics through protest and exposure.” This is an astounding comparison at several levels. Does the ex-New Leftist, now ultra-rightist David Horowitz have mobs of armed vigilantes roaming the border carrying out violent assaults? Of course not. On the other hand, once they hit campus are Chris Simcox and Jim Gilchrist just ideologues? Hardly. They are trying to gain some respectability for their vigilante terror squads.
Minuteman represents a clear and present danger to immigrants, blacks, labor and the left and they should be dispersed by worker-immigrant defense squads as an elementary act of self-defense. The SL’s opposition to anything that goes beyond “protest and exposure” of Minuteman is an act of sabotage of the struggle to defend immigrants against government and vigilante terror. It recalls the many “learned” polemics that the reformist Socialist Workers Party pumped out in the 1970s to justify its own opposition to shutting down fascist provocations – a stance that the then-revolutionary Spartacist League polemicized against in many leaflets and even a special pamphlet (see Young Spartacus Nos. 32, 33 and 35, May-September 1975).
Spartacist members might also recall that a few years back when fascist ideologue David Irving showed up at the University of California at Berkeley in 1994, the SL actively organized to run him off campus. Workers Vanguard (28 October 1994) headlined: “Hitler-Lover David Irving Run Out! Hundreds Rout Nazis in Berkeley.” The article argued that fascists “thought they could cash in on the anti-immigrant hysteria being whipped up behind Proposition 187 to recruit and organize for their racist terror.” But that was when the SL and WV still stood on the program of revolutionary Trotskyism. If anything, Minuteman leaders Simcox and Gilchrist represent an even more immediate threat to the safety of immigrants than Irving did. As for anti-immigrant hysteria, can anyone deny that there is a wave of xenophobia being whipped up today as ICE cops round up thousands of immigrants in factory and neighborhood raids and Young Republicans stage “catch an illegal” immigrant hunts on campuses from coast to coast?
The SL’s outburst of civil libertarian liberalism is justification for its shameful flinch over an incident at Columbia University last October when hundreds demonstrated against Minuteman Führer Gilchrist. The Internationalist Group was at the protest outside, front and center with our banner proclaiming: “Drive Out Racist Minuteman Vigilantes! Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants! Build a Revolutionary Workers Party!” (This so angered the Minutemen that they showed it on their web page.) A speaker from the CUNY Internationalist Clubs spoke from the microphone saying, “We must unite with the power of the working class to drive out these racist vigilantes who work hand in hand with the Ku Klux Klan!” Our signs declared: “‘MinuteKlan’ Get the Hell Out of New York!”
unfurl banner on stage as Minuteman vigilante leader speaks at Columbia
University, October 4. SL says students shouldn't “disrupt” Minuteman
Inside, hundreds of students protested Gilchrist, and when he started to spew his racist filth, supporters of the Lucha club and the ISO marched up to the stage to protest, unfurling a banner saying “No One Is Illegal.” Minuteman goons then violently attacked the students kicking one in the head, while their leader scurried out the back door. After NYC mayor Bloomberg and the tabloid press howled about the rude reception given to the racist immigrant-basher, Columbia University’s president ordered disciplinary sanctions against the students for supposedly “disrupting” Gilchrist’s talk. But the student protesters stood their ground. The fact that the Minuteman leader fled the scene of his provocation was a good thing for immigrants and all working people.
The SL “defended” the Columbia students, but in terms that repeated the administration’s accusation. A Spartacus Youth Club leaflet declared, “Shutting them [the Minutemen] down in this context simply played into the hands of the reactionaries’ false and absurd claim that the left is trampling free speech” (reprinted in Workers Vanguard, 27 October 2006). Contrary to WV and the Columbia administration, the ISO didn’t try to shut down the Minuteman provocation, although it would have been utterly justified and correct to do so. They simply wanted to make a limp liberal protest on stage. WV claims that an ISO speaker said at the rally outside the hall that the Minutemen “don’t have a right to free speech.” Perhaps someone said it, although that wasn’t the position of the protesters inside. Marxists, in contrast, would have emphasized that the Minuteman provocation was not about any kind of speech but about their organizing for fascist terror. The way the SYC put it in its 1994 article about running off the Nazi Irving was correct:
“They are paramilitary action squads whose program is to kill, culminating in genocide… The hundreds of us who acted to stop the fascists…understood that this was an elementary act of self defense and defense of all the intended victims of fascist terror.”
Ironically, in 1994 the ISO accused the protesters against the fascist Irving of fomenting “violence,” claiming: “It was a few bad apples acting in the heat of the moment.” That was then. Today the shoe is on the other foot as the now-centrist Spartacist League sinks deeper into opportunism.
For immigrant-worker defense to sweep away “Minuteman” racist vigilantes! n
To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org