SAN DIEGO — The Minuteman Project, and other volunteer border patrol groups, are expected to face their toughest opposition yet when they move to California this summer for a series of events along the Mexican border.
A growing resistance movement made up largely of Hispanic activists, some of whom accuse the Minutemen of practicing vigilante-style justice, say they will hold a series of protests to coincide with the border patrol operations.
The rising opposition comes at a time when the anti-illegal immigrant passions, fueled by the Minuteman Project movement, are gaining momentum across the country. The Minuteman Project came to prominence in April when it organized a month-long patrol along the Arizona-Mexico border.
Law enforcement officials, members of Latino activist groups and the Minutemen themselves fear that a kind of perfect storm is brewing in California that could spill over into violent confrontation.
Texas and New Mexico have several official and unofficial Minuteman style groups slated to hold border watch events this summer as well. Both states have already seen activist groups and political leaders publicly oppose the coming of the Minutemen. But no state has seen the opposition rise as fast as in California, which is targeted by at least three different Minuteman-style border watch groups this summer.
Those organizing against the Minutemen all say they are dedicated to maintaining a non-violent atmosphere. Those organizers also say they won’t be intimidated by the Minuteman presence. However, due to the sheer number of groups involved in the California Minuteman resistance and their diverse political and ideological natures, Latino organizers privately note that they cannot ride herd on every agenda nor give assurances that any violence won’t occur.
Groups of activists from up and down California are answering the call to organize, said Armando Navarro, a University of California-Riverside political science professor and coordinator of the National Alliance for Human Rights. Navarro, a veteran organizer and activist, led a group of about 40 to Arizona in April to oppose the Minuteman Project’s month long border watch.
“We have to be prepared much better and with a capacity to create a critical mass when these events take place,” Navarro said. “It’s not enough to take 30-40 individuals like we did to Arizona, that’s not going to create power. Now [the Minutemen] are in California, now they are in our turf, this is a different situation.”
An organizing meeting among several key Latino leaders from throughout southern California is slated for Saturday on the border, Navarro said. “We have a number of strategic scenarios that we can implement very quickly depending upon the circumstances," he said. "Believe me, they will be very assertive, very aggressive,” he added, declining to elaborate.
Bad moon rising
The rhetoric on all sides is heating up and there have been isolated cases of violence.
In May, two people were hurt and six arrested when violence broke out during a speech in California by Minuteman founder James Gilchrist. A man rolled his car into a group of protestors, injuring two of them. No charges were pressed; the police said it was “reasonable for [the driver] to be afraid,” when protestors surrounded his car and pounded on it and that’s why he didn’t stop his car.
“All hell broke loose,” after the man drove his car into the protestors, Eric Garcia, 22, of Anaheim, told the Associated Press. “People started throwing rocks and bricks and stuff.”
The incident, and the publicity leading up to the summer's border watches has sparked a volley of accusations.
“It’s heating up. I’ve got a feeling you’re going to see some violent civil unrest,” said Chris Simcox, founder of the Arizona-based Minuteman Civil Defense Corps.
For his part, Navarro calls Simcox and his ilk nothing more than “domestic terrorists that represent a danger to the country and could promote a major border conflict that will have serious ramifications and consequences.”
Currency of non-confrontation
The Minuteman Project is dedicated to a policy of “observe and report” when on the border. Members are instructed to follow a strict non-confrontation policy, those found violating or attempting to violate that policy are dismissed, Simcox said. Despite several warnings that violence could break out during the Minuteman Project’s April border watch, no violence occurred.
That spirit of non-confrontation is being preached among the Minuteman resistance as well.
Enrique Morones, who heads a 1,200 strong volunteer organization known as the Border Angels, is organizing San Diego Latino groups to oppose the Minutemen and other border watch groups in a coalition called “Gente Unida,” which adheres to a strict non-violent policy.
“We’re planning a lot of activities, a lot of peaceful demonstrations,” he said. “We’ll be doing so in the spirit of people like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez.” But, he says, “if a car comes at us or something we’ll protect ourselves.”
Simcox acknowledges the opposition and says his group will “demand protection" from law enforcement authorities. “We adhere to restraint and retreat but then that will not last long if our rights are not being protected,” he said. “We will defend our rights and our country from the enemy within. Bloodshed will be the responsibility of President Bush, Congress and all elitist government officials who have ignored this problem far too long.”
The government would rather everyone just stay home. The Minutemen probably aren’t prepared for the political climate of California, said George McCubbin, a Border Patrol agent and southwest vice president of the National Border Patrol Council.
“We have a bunch of, well, in plain English, ‘loony tunes’ out here [in California] waiting for the Minutemen to show up,” he said. “Those [Minuteman] volunteers are good citizens who just want to do the right thing; I’m hoping they don’t get involved in any type of violence. I just don’t think they are ready for these [advocacy] groups and what they might throw at them.”
But neither does McCubbin want assistance from the Minutemen. “We thank them for their interest but we really don’t need their help,” he said.
Meanwhile, the official line from Washington regarding these citizen-led border watches seems to tap dance in that no-man’s land between approval and disdain.
“The Border Patrol relies on the eyes and ears of the general public and continues to encourage citizens to immediately report suspicious activity to either the Border Patrol or law enforcement,” says Kristi Clemens, assistant commissioner for Customs and Border Protection. However, the Border Patrol “continues to be concerned for the safety of any volunteers and Border Patrol agents,” she said. “Patrolling and securing the border is a job best left to highly-trained federal law enforcement personnel.”
Another group helping to shape the opposition against the Minutemen is urging the Hispanic community to go the political route.
“We’ve been conducting informational forums and town hall meetings in migrant communities and getting a sense of those communities that will be most impacted by the presence of the Minutemen in San Diego,” said Christian Ramirez , director of the San Diego chapter of American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization that advocates for social justice issues. “The sense from the community here is that that Minutemen are not welcome.”
Ramirez said a campaign will soon be launched to get elected officials to take a public stand on the Minutemen. "There’s always been a sense of respect and of non-confrontation, at least in the 10 years I’ve been here and we certainly do not want that reputation to be tarnished," he said.
“The outside element coming into San Diego is the wildcard,” he said. “Ultimately the communities here will have to live with the consequences ... We want this summer to be one of people debating, dialoging about the issue—and certainly there will be protests on the streets—but for all that protest to make sure that folks that leave San Diego leave it the way they found it, which is a peaceful way.”
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