Confronting the Minutemen
By Ben Davis, David Judd and Jennifer Roesch | October 13, 2006 | Page 12
A PROTEST against the anti-immigrant Minutemen at Columbia University in New York City has gained national attention after an attempt by the mainstream media to slander supporters of immigrant rights.
The October 4 forum at Columbia, sponsored by the College Republicans, featured Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minutemen, a vigilante group notorious for organizing armed patrols at the U.S.-Mexico border.
After 40 minutes of the Minutemen’s program, protesters mounted the stage to unfurl a banner reading, “No one is illegal,” in English, Spanish and Arabic. This protest turned violent when Minutemen supporters began assaulting the pro-immigrant protesters.
University officials and the Minutemen decided to call off the rest of the forum, but since then, they--with the help of the New York and national media--have shifted the blame onto protesters for “shutting down free speech.” From the New York Times to Fox News, media outlets claimed that “free speech” was “under attack at Columbia University.”
For more information
Videotape of the protest shot by the Univision television network has been posted at the YouTube Web site. The first selection shows part of the protest. A second selection clearly shows the Minutemen assaulting nonviolent pro-immigrant demonstrators.
A statement by the students who protested on stage at Columbia has circulated around the Internet. The Columbia Spectator has extensive coverage of the protest. Columbia President Lee Bolinger’s statement has also circulated on the Internet.
What you can do
Show your support for the Columbia student protests by calling (212-854-9970), faxing (212-854-9973) or e-mailing (firstname.lastname@example.org) President Lee Bollinger's office and asking that he stop his threats of discipline. Copy/send messages of support to the Columbia Protesters' Defense Committee at email@example.com.
You can also sign an online petition in support of the protests.
In response, student activists are organizing to get their story of what really happened out more widely--and show that they won’t be silenced by the lies and slanders.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
GILCHRIST’S MEETING at Columbia was more than the latest attempt to gain legitimacy for anti-immigrant scapegoating. As the Minuteman Web site details, the right-wing group is trying to get a foothold on campuses, targeting immigrant students and workers as part of their campaign of intimidation.
As soon as students found out about the event, planning for a protest began. The Chicano Caucus brought together a broad coalition of campus groups, including the Black Students Organization, the College Democrats and the International Socialist Organization (ISO), to sponsor a protest outside the event.
As the October 4 meeting was set to begin, a large and vocal crowd of students and community members had gathered on the sidewalk outside Columbia’s Roone Arledge Auditorium, chanting loud enough to be heard inside.
Inside, the program of speakers was delayed when it became clear that most of the crowd was opposed to the Minutemen. Audience members stood and turned their backs as the first Minutemen speaker launched into what even the apolitical Columbia student publication, the Blue and White, described as a “free-associative rant” about uniting church and state.
After 40 minutes, Gilchrist was introduced. As he took the stage, two students from the ISO did as well, unfurling their “No one is illegal” banner. The crowd cheered, and other members of the audience joined the two pro-immigrant demonstrators on the stage, holding other banners.
The protesters remained peaceful, but--as captured by Univision TV network cameras at the event--the Minutemen and College Republicans turned on the protesters, kicking and punching several people, targeting especially Latino students.
Unable to restore order, campus security eventually closed the curtains and ushered Gilchrist away. Outside the auditorium, protesters gathered to jeer the retreating Minutemen and celebrate.
But the story that university officials and the mainstream media have told about the protest is very different.
Columbia President Lee Bollinger immediately issued a statement denouncing the immigrant rights supporters. “The disruption on Wednesday night that resulted in the termination of an event organized by the Columbia College Republicans in Lerner Hall represents, in my judgment, one of the most serious breaches of academic faith that can occur in a university such as ours,” read the statement.
Administrators have launched an investigation and say they will be scanning campus facebook images and profiles to identify the protesters. They are threatening harsh disciplinary action--not against the College Republicans who attacked peaceful protesters, but against the immigrant rights supporters.
The media responded with the same torrent of abuse that characterized their campaign of the last several years against Columbia faculty who support Palestinian rights.
The New York Post published an editorial calling for the expulsion of all students involved. Fox News hosts Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity invited some of the protesters onto their shows--only to harangue them about why they were against “free speech.”
The pro-immigrant rights protesters responded to the press hysteria in a statement, that read, “We celebrate free speech: for that reason, we allowed the Minutemen to speak, and for that same reason, we peacefully occupied the stage and spoke ourselves. Our peaceful protest was violently attacked by members of the College Republicans and their supporters, who are the very same people who invited the Minutemen to our campus in the first place.”
The denunciations extended to New York politicians--even Mayor Michael Bloomberg stepped in, urging Bollinger to ensure a “safe space” for debate on campus. Unfortunately, some liberal groups have bought the Minutemen’s complaints about being silenced, and joined the condemnation.
Unsurprisingly, protesters have gotten hate mail and death threats. As the Chicano Caucus said in a statement, “We have received numerous messages filled with racist and violent threats due to the misrepresentation in the national media of the Chicano Caucus' involvement. This racist backlash exemplifies the nature of the organization that was brought to our campus, and only validates our initial decision to protest the anti-immigrant Minuteman Project.”
However, the students have also received support for challenging the Minutemen’s racism. “I salute the students who protested the hate speech and join them in opposing any organization or venue that accords hate groups like the Minuteman Project a place to spread their venomous message,” Nativo Lopez, president of the Mexican American Political Association, said in a statement.
At a protest last weekend against anti-immigrant groups rallying at the Mexican consulate in New York, immigrant rights supporters jeered “Columbia, Columbia” at the racists.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
STUDENTS ARE organizing to tell the true facts about what happened, build support and expose the racist violence of the Minutemen. The newly formed Student Protesters’ Defense Committee has organized an online petition and put out a fact sheet that refutes the Minutemen’s lies. It organized a packed press conference Monday and is building for a town hall meeting on campus.
“The Minutemen’s violence is in response to a mass movement of immigrants for justice, a movement that exploded on the streets last spring,” Monique Dols, one of the people who protested Gilchrist onstage, told the press conference. “The Minutemen are trying to silence that movement through fear, intimidation, a whipping up of racist hysteria and outright violence.”
“But,” Dols concluded, “immigrant workers have worked too hard and waited too long for equal rights and dignity. Our movement will not be silenced.”