Monday, April 11, 2005

Dissecting the Minutemen website

I was surprised this morning to read that conservative blogger, La Shawn Barber posted a post in which she called the Minutemen project a success. She wrote:

Their president, (reappropriate's note: as in the American president? unsure who Ms. Barber is referring to) in conjunction with the liberal media, called them vigilantes. The “patriots” of the American Civil Liberties Union, which purports to protect the rights of Americans, are “monitoring” their countrymen to make sure the illegal border crossers are treated “in a humane way.” The Minuteman Project, founded by Jim Gilchrist, a former military man, is accomplishing the goal of raising awareness of just how extensive the illegal immigration scourge really is. Some government bureaucrat must have noticed. Several days before the start of the border watch, U.S. officials decided to send 500 border agents down to Arizona. Many speculated that George Bush was embarrassed that civilians volunteered to do the job he’s paid to do but so far hasn’t done.
Well, first of all, it seems that Ms. Barber, along with several other conservative bloggers, argue against President Bush and others' use of the word 'vigilantes' to describe the Minutemen. So, I decided to look up the dictionary definition of the term 'vigilante' to see if Ms. Barber's unexplained objections are warranted. From Merriam-Webster online:
Main Entry: vig·i·lan·te Pronunciation: "vi-j&-'lan-tE Function: noun Etymology: Spanish, watchman, guard, from vigilante vigilant, from Latin vigilant-, vigilans : a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily (as when the processes of law appear inadequate); broadly : a self-appointed doer of justice - vig·i·lan·tism /-'lan-"ti-z&m/ noun
Well, it seems to be fairly applicable; the Minutemen, after all, are a group of volunteers who have appointed themselves to suppress a crime (illegal immigration) in which they feel the due processes of law are inadequate. But, just to be sure, I decided to do something I swore I would find myself too busy to do -- actually check out the Minutemen website. I feel awful giving the project this much credence as is. Visiting, I was immediately struck by the MMP's standard disclaimer in the upper right-hand corner. (Actually, the first thing I was struck by was how yucky the website layout is -- poo-coloured yellow and black are not my choice shades. But I think that's the anal graphics designer in me). So, the second thing my eye was drawn to was the MMP taking great pains in pointing this out:
The Minuteman Project has no affiliation with, nor will we accept any assistance by or interference from separatists, racists or supremacy groups or individuals, no matter what their race, color, or creed.
At this point, I'm thinking: that's a great disclaimer, but how do you enforce that? Do you make volunteers take a 'supremacy' test, find out if they pass the Black People Love Us online quiz, check their backpacks for conveniently hidden dirty bedsheets and lynching ropes? And really, isn't the whole project about xenophobic white supremacy? After all, the MMP isn't patrolling the Canadian border -- there seems to be no threat of 9/11 terrorism from our lighter than a paper-bag neighbours. But a Mexican single mother with a saucepan under one arm and a baby strapped to her back? Quick, George, put the terror alert level at code red!! As far as the vigilante definition? I think the MMP do a pretty good job establishing themselves as vigilantes. Check out this tagline:
Americans doing the jobs Congress won't do. Operating within the law to support enforcement of the law.
Yep, that pretty much looks like a group of self-appointed doers of justice to me. Well, let's take a look at the project's About page. Maybe this'll shed some light on what the MMP is really all about.
The Minuteman Project is a grassroots effort to bring Americans to the defense of their homeland, similar to the way the original Minutemen from Massachusetts (and other U. S. colonies) did in the late 1700s.
Well, my first question is answered -- I had thought the name 'Minutemen' referred to some obscure DC comics group and that the MMP were a bunch of Comic Guys from the Simpsons bouncing around with a spatula for a sword and a towel wrapped around their necks, hoping to defend truth, justice, and the American way. Mental note: look up the original Minutemen, later.
Like them, we want to bring to this effort only what few personal possessions we can carry... plus our heart, mind and spirit. 
... like a gun? Alright, a cheap shot, I know, but the concern must be raised.
This call for volunteers is not a call to arms, but a call to voices seeking a peaceful and respectable resolve to the chaotic neglect by members of our local, state and federal governments charged with applying U.S. immigration law. It is a call to peacefully assemble at the Arizona-Mexico border to bring national awareness to the decades-long careless disregard of effective U.S. immigration law enforcement.  It is a reminder to Americans that our nation was founded as a nation governed by the "rule of law", not by the whims of mobs of ILLEGAL aliens who endlessly stream across U.S. borders.
Well, I think there's a lot to be said in disagreement with that last sentence. As a nation, America was founded based upon the concerns of the immigrants and, indeed, criminals that made up the early American settlers. Moreover, while illegal immigration is a problem in the States, I'm not sure that one could argue that America's governance and law is being undermined by illegal aliens. I've gotta wonder -- can the MMP really elucidate the threat posed by illegal immigration? Other than the fact that the immigration is illegal, I don't see the imminent dangers. So far, I have to assume it's some sort of fear of terrorist threat. But wait...
Future generations will inherit a tangle of rancorous, unassimilated, squabbling cultures with no common bond to hold them together, and a certain guarantee of the death of this nation as a harmonious "melting pot."
Well, at least there's no beating around the bush (or the Bush), it seems the MMP isn't doing this out of some 'patriotic' urge to defend the States from terrorists, it's more the kind of 'patriotism' that fueled the KKK: that the 'real threat' of illegal immigration is a xenophobic paranoia that an input of differing (or more appropriately 'non-white') cultures will threaten the sanctity of American white culture; after all, apparently only white cultures can successfully melt into the American melting pot -- we don't see the MMP freaking out over European immigration, do we? It's not a fear of Osama, it seems, it's a fear of Obama and the kind of racial/cultural melding that he represents. I would quote the rest of the about page, but it's a bunch of hysteric hyperbole. Instead, I move onto the FAQ section. After all, I still haven't found out what the MMP vigilantes are meant to do. If they find an illegal immigrant, are they meant to take pictures? Detain them? Shoot them and bury them in the Arizona desert? Let's find out:
Q1: I'm still not sure what the plan is exactly.  Just what are the participants going to do in Arizona? A1: The main mission of The Minuteman Project is to bring national  attention to the fact that the U. S. Federal Government is not fulfilling its mission to protect American citizens from the economic and physical danger of porous borders. The majority of peace loving Americans are concerned about the ramifications of allowing massive amounts of unscreened, undocumented aliens to just walk right into our country. And of course the greatest fear that lurks in the dark corners of our minds is another 9-11 attack, or worse, a suit case bomb.
So, we're back to the 9/11 threat. Except of course that this concern has already been debunked by the about page. Moreover, last I checked, the 9/11 terrorists were neither illegal immigrants nor did they cross into America through Mexico. It's like looking for Osama Bin Laden in Ira... oh, wait.
The Minuteman Project plans rallies in support of the rank and file U.S. Border Patrol agents, protest rallies of blatantly unenforced federal immigration laws, and actively spotting and reporting anyone, of any race, color or creed, crossing into the US illegally.   We will seal the border by our presence, but will not violate anyone's civil rights, and will not abuse anyone from any country.  By legal means we will observe ILLEGAL immigrants on trails heading north.  We will alert border patrol to the location of illegals, and wait for USBP to come and pick them up. We will follow illegal aliens from a distance and continue spotting them until authorities answer our cell phone and/or back-pack radio calls. All spotting, calls for assistance, and the response from the appropriate authorities will be chronicled and provided to any media representative.
First of all, I gotta point out that if a bunch of white people fearing the incoming of a "tangle of rancorous, unassimilated, squabbling cultures" are patrolling a border to Mexico, chances are they're not stopping people of "any race, color, or creed". They are looking for brown people. In response to the plan of attack of the MMP to observe and report illegal immigrants, I need only point out what border officials have said about the project:
Border officials acknowledge that the volunteers have been peaceful and have good intentions, but continue to disrupt official border operations. The "Minutemen" have been unknowingly setting off sensors that alert U.S. officials to potential intruders. Agents are then forced to respond to the alarms, breaking them off their normal patrols, creating a counterproductive situation that actually weakens American border security. When the volunteers aren't deployed, an alarm from the motion sensors (located approximately twenty-five feet from the border) usually means that there are illegal immigrants or drug smugglers in the area, said patrol spokesman Andy Adame. "Now we not only have to look out for aliens and drug smugglers, now we have to look out for these untrained civilians who are unfamiliar with the landscape," Adame said. whole article
So, contrary to the MMP's stated intentions, the MMP vigilantes might actually be making the border less secure by disrupting the activities of the trained and hired border patrol. At least they're not shooting the illegal immigrants, right?
Q2: Do people carry firearms, or just observe without protection? A2:  The Minuteman Project is neutral on this issue.  We encourage everyone to obey the laws of the State of Arizona, including open carry laws regarding firearms. 
Ooops, never mind. Yes, because guns always make peaceable gatherings of civilians coming together to stop brown people from taking a walk better.
Q6: You have stated on your web site that the volunteers will be defending our fellow Americans and their property.   I'd like to know just what you propose to do.   A6: Volunteers, in groups of four to eight persons, will set up observation posts and also walk patrols in areas known to be pathways of illegal entry into the US.  At least one person with prior experience will accompany these observation posts.
Well, see this last answer is interesting to me. I have to ask, if the MMP groups always have one person with prior experience, then how the hell did Bryan Barton of the "cereal incident" ever get away with it? Back to Ms. Barber, as far as the MMP being a success, I'm not sure that it really has been. True, the words on everyone's lips recently have been 'the Minutemen', but aside from Mr. Barton and his cereal, has there been a single documented instance of the MMP singlehandedly stopping an illegal immigrant as per their plan of attack? Can we really say that the MMP has drastically improved border security more than they have made themselves a hassle? Personally, I hardly think pestering the president into adding a few extra DHS patrols to the Mexican border constitutes raising awareness to the threats of illegal aliens. A few hours at the MMP site later and probably several brain cells dumber, I still am not sure I've grasped exactly why the Minutemen are trying to get us to care.


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