Sunday, July 15, 2007

Bringing back the hood of bigotry

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Ruben Navarrette Jr., a columnist for The San Diego Union-Tribune, wrote this column last week. We're running the column in today's print edition.

SAN DIEGO — The people who call themselves the Minutemen claim to be a cross between a law enforcement auxiliary and a giant neighborhood watch program that patrols the border to stop illegal immigration.

If so, there goes the neighborhood. The Minutemen don’t just construct their own reality. More and more, they account for their own reality show.

Members of the San Diego unit recently picketed a suburban church northeast of San Diego and held up an effigy of a priest depicted as the devil. According to one Catholic civil rights organization, the Minutemen used bullhorns to hurl invective at parishioners and taunted Hispanic children who were on their way to make their First Communion, telling them their parents were in the country illegally. Things got really crass when some of the border-watchers made references to the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal.

A posting on the group’s Web site questioned why, “with all the pediphelia (sic) problems going on in the church,” the clergy would promote a situation where you “have 50 loitering men watching little children playing on the playground each morning.”

What got the Minutemen’s sheets in a twist? The Rev. Edward “Bud” Kaicher, pastor of the parish, tried to help workers find employment by allowing the church to serve as a day laborer pickup site. This put Kaicher and the Catholic Church in the cross hairs of the civilian patrol movement, elements of which have morphed from being anti-illegal immigrant to anti-immigrant and just plain anti-Hispanic. And now, anti-Catholic?

That is the view of the New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, which recently jumped into the fray on the side of Father Kaicher and condemned the San Diego Minutemen for their “flagrant anti-Catholic bigotry.”
In a harshly worded statement, Catholic League President Bill Donohue insisted that there are legitimate ways to express an opinion, but that this wasn’t one of them.

“By succumbing to anti-Catholic bigotry and harassment,” he said, “the San Diego Minutemen have discredited their cause and have no moral grounds upon which to make their appeal.” This group and their tactics, he said, should be opposed “not only by Latino Catholics, but by all Catholics.”

Here is something else that should concern all Americans: the fact that what apparently motivates many of these Minutemen to take up a vigil in the desert or protest in front of a big-box store where day laborers gather is a fear that these immigrants are trying to — in the words of Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the Minuteman Project — “colonize” the United States by changing the cultural landscape.

We used to say that those who believed this sort of thing were racist or nativist. Those labels still fit. According to videos posted on Web sites such as YouTube, the Minutemen have harassed U.S.-born Hispanics and demanded they “go back to Mexico,” and accused Mexican-American police officers of being in league with illegal immigrants from Mexico.

Lately, these citizen patrol groups have turned their attention to employers. In Vista, Calif., a Superior Court judge recently blocked a public records request by a group calling itself the Vista Citizens Brigade — an offshoot of the Minutemen — which sought the names, addresses and phone numbers of 111 people who have registered with the city for permission to hire day laborers.

Judge Michael Orfield said he “would have some concerns as to what would happen with that information.”

You think?

OK, so these border bullies aren’t fond of immigrants or Catholics or employers. No surprise there. They don’t even seem all that fond of each other. Individuals associated with various Minutemen groups around the country have publicly feuded, sued one another and traded accusations ranging from harassment to mismanagement to embezzlement.

Gilchrist was fired by the Minuteman Project’s Board of Directors and accused of running off with hundreds of thousands in donations from private citizens. Gilchrist denied the accusation and sued the board to win back control of the group. Meanwhile, he’s set up his own offshoot called “Jim Gilchrist’s Minuteman Project.”

It all brings back memories of another group with a colorful past. They preyed on the weak and powerless. They targeted immigrants and Catholics, and anyone else who was different. Their pictures are in history books, waving the American flag and holding rallies. Still, it’s hard to know much more about these folks. You can’t see their faces. You know, with the hoods and all.


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