Weeding Out the Racists
(This post comes from the amazing David Neiwart of Orcinus. This is another of a continuing series of posts on race issues in America that David has cross-posted at FDL, and we are so grateful that he’s sharing this with us this evening. — Christy)
There’s a perfectly simple reason that white supremacists and far-right extremists keep popping up in the immigration debate: the anti-immigrant right is just talking their game. They’re naturally drawn to the cause because it is their cause.
So that’s why you’ll be seeing a lot more instances of mainstream talking heads drawing up well-established talking points created by the white-supremacist right years ago: Michelle Malkin ranting about the ‘Reconquista’ theory, or Bill O’Reilly nattering about defending the "white power structure", or most recently, Lou Dobbs citing the CofCC as a reputable source in discussing the "Aztlan" claims.
Steve Gilliard notes that Dobbs’ report includes a presumption that the "Aztlan" theory is a legitimate one, and makes a particularly vicious characterization of Vicente Fox’s current visit to the States:
WIAN: You could call this the Vicente Fox Aztlan tour, since the three states he’ll visit, Utah, Washington, and California, are all part of some radical group’s vision of the mythical indigenous homeland — Lou.
As we’ve pointed out numerous times, the only "radical groups" making these claims are white supremacist groups.
Digby, as always, nails it:
When these things happen nobody, it seems, are aware of the CCC’s views. I am sure that Lou Dobbs will say the same. He’s only a credentialed journalist, after all. You can’t expect him to have nose for racist propaganda.
This certainly does bring up an interesting question for me, however. I never thought of the CCC as being a white supremacist organization in the mode of say "Stormfront" or something like that. It’s a neo-confederate group which is certainly racist but organized explicitly around hatred of African-Americans. The fact that they are touting the ridiculous Aztlan "threat" puts the lie to any claims that this immigration debate isn’t being fueled by racism. (Not that that’s a big surprise.)
No, it’s not. Neither is it a big surprise that the leading anti-immigrant enterprise, the Minutemen, is constantly being infiltrated by neo-Nazis, or that so many of their spinoff groups are riddled throughout with extremists and racists, some going so far as to ally themselves with neo-Nazis.
The Minutemen, of course, make much ado about their efforts to "weed out the racists," though of course the reality is that their success is mixed at best.
What nobody seems to ask, though, is why they have to "weed out the racists" in the first place. If the core of their appeal isn’t racial in nature, then why do they draw so many people for whom it is?
This is not a problem for most liberal groups — say, the ACLU, or MoveOn.org. This is a problem largely on the right, and it’s particularly pronounced among the nativist right in the current immigration debate.
Down in Alabama, a Minuteman leader made news by publicly drumming out a white supremacist:
An activist who distributed copies of a white supremacist newspaper at a rally against illegal immigration was banned from future events by the group that helped stage the rally, a leader of the organization said Wednesday.
Mike Vanderboegh, a spokesman for the Alabama Minutemen, said a woman he identified as Carolyn Edwards wasn’t welcome at future demonstrations by his group, which helped put on a rally Tuesday in Birmingham during a national caravan against illegal immigrants.
Vanderboegh identified Edwards as a longtime activist with the white supremacist Christian Identity movement.
People like Vanderboegh serve a useful function to groups like the Minutemen: they avidly try to expell white supremacists and loudly publicize it when they do so, even though their efforts amount to a finger in the dike.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has more on Vanderboegh:
After spending parts of October patrolling the border in New Mexico, Mike Vanderboegh and the two or three others who made up his Alabama Minuteman Support Team decided they’d had enough. Despite the presence of an alluring array of military toys — "night vision devices, global positioning systems, portable seismic intrusion detectors and ham radios" — the men, all once associated with the militia movement of the 1990s, decided to call it quits. Apparently, their citizens’ patrol, aimed at keeping illegals out of America, proved less than thrilling.
As of Nov. 1, the tiny group gave itself another name — the Alabama Minuteman Surveillance Team — and the mission of making life miserable for any business that hired undocumented workers. "We hereby put exploitative employers and crooked politicians on notice," Vanderboegh declared after ending the patrols and deciding to return to Alabama to concentrate on the situation there. "We intend to make it toxic for anyone doing public or private business to use illegals. If I were a politician in Alabama right now, I’d start getting REAL careful about who I accepted money from. Because we’re fixin’ to flip on the light switch."
Vanderboegh makes a useful illustration of this PR-driven sleight-of-hand, because he performed almost exactly the same function as a member of the militia movement in the 1990s:
I remember Vanderboegh vividly as a bellicose fellow who decided he was going to drum the racists out of the militia movement. At one point, he got into a very public Usenet spat with Kirk Lyons, who was fresh off a victory of sorts in helping negotiate an end to the Freemen standoff in Montana.
Lyons, you see, was closely associated with a number of racist-right figures, and was also the attorney for one Andreas Strassmeier. Because he was a sometime resident of the white-supemacist enclave Elohim City in the Ozarks — a place Timothy McVeigh was believed to have stayed in during the runup to the Oklahoma City Bombing — Strassmeier was linked by a number of conspiracy theorists to the bombing as well.
One of the first of these was Vanderboegh, who operated an anti-SPLC Web site for awhile called Dees Watch, and at one point was a spokesman for Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership. Vanderboegh had been affiliated early on with the Gadsden Militia, and then formed his own branch.
It was from there that he launched his attacks on Lyons. Vanderboegh had a special spin on the Oklahoma City tragedy: that it had been a government setup, using Strassmeier and a gang of bank robbers in an arcane plot to frame the militia movement. So when Lyons posted on a Usenet forum devoted to militias, Vanderboegh wrote a polemic denouncing Nazis’ presence in the militias and insisting they be run out. A portion of it:
I’ll leave it to the gentle readers to decide who, and what, you represent. Nazi or Nazi snitch? It matters only to your inlaws, your "clients" past and present, your paymasters, and to the juries that will judge you, here and in the Hereafter. It’s crimes I’m concerned with, Kirk. Specifically, a certain mass murder in Oklahoma that you and your client(s) know a hell of a lot more than your "little ole me?" manner wants to admit.
As Dan Yurman reported at the time, much of Vanderboegh’s fulminations formed the basis for an actual cottage industry in conspiracy theories about Oklahoma City.
Vanderboegh’s schtick, really, hasn’t changed. He’s every bit as impotent in terms of effectively driving the racists and extremists out of the Minutemen as he was in the militia movement.
Part of the reason is that Vanderboegh — protests notwithstanding — is pretty clearly an extremist himself, prone to conspiracy theorizing and violent talk about armed uprisings. As the SPLC report notes:
Vanderboegh has consistently portrayed himself as a moderate, first in the militia world and now in the anti-immigration movement. But he hasn’t always sounded that way. Back in the mid-1990s, he wrote a document entitled "Strategy and Tactics for a Militia Civil War" in which he discussed the utility of snipers using "violence carefully targeted and clearly defensive: war criminals, secret policemen, rats (Pitcavage take note)."
But the larger problem is that the Minutemen’s core appeal is not to freshly awakened post-9/11 concerns about border security, but rather deliberately fomented racial fears about preserving "white culture" [see: privilege]. This has always been the racist right’s bailiwick, so of course they’re going to come swimming around when the water is rich with familiar scents, as sharks are wont to do.
That was certainly the case with the militia movement as well. Perhaps more tellingly, the common dynamic was for seemingly "normal" conservatives to be increasingly radicalized by the movement, to the point of becoming outright extremists.
The clearest example of this is a fellow named Matthew Ramsey, who back in the mid-1990s ran a militia-oriented TV show on public-access cable in Snohomish County, just north of Seattle. He called himself "Jim Ramm" on air and adopted a bellicose anti-government stance, but seemed a normal guy.
My friend Scott North at the Everett Herald wrote a feature on him in 1996 (not online):
Young, college educated and articulate, Matthew Ramsey doesn’t fit the stereotype of an unsmiling militiaman.
But neither does his public access television show.
"Militia TV" has a low-tech, campy feel that Ramsey agrees may best be described as the "patriot" movement meets "Wayne’s World," the fictional program produced by two Aurora, Ill., teens with their own public-access show.
Ramsey’s show has been airing for about two months, every Monday at 4:30 p.m., on Viacom, Channel 29, said Kay Deazy, the cable company’s director of community relations.
Ramsey, 32, of Snohomish, is a member of the Washington State Militia. He said his show tries to present a different perspective on militias.
"They’ve not really been represented properly in the media," he said. “There has been a lot of misrepresentation. I feel there are two sides to every coin, and their side has not been properly explored. There are a lot of pissed off people out there, dude."
In a typical show, Ramsey goes into his home studio, dresses in camouflage, and rails against gun control or the ban on manufacturing assault-style weapons.
He also plays portions of videotapes from the Militia of Montana, detailing the alleged New World Order conspiracy, and music videos from far-right rocker Carl Klang, whose songs warn of coming combat between armed citizens and oppressive government.
As the program airs, the telephone number for Washington State Militia headquarters in Whatcom County repeatedly flashes on the screen.
John Pitner, the group’s executive director, said he’s proud to see a member of his organization going on cable.
"We are trying to get the message out," Pitner said. "We don’t want our children growing up in a bankrupt police state."
Pitner claims nearly 6,000 militia members in the state, roughly 1,500 in Snohomish County alone. Some of those members are organized in secret "squads," he said.
Ramsey said he joined the militia about nine months ago after coming across a militia business card while attending a gun show at the Snohomish County-owned Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe. He said he has participated in militia exercises, including basic marksmanship and orienteering.
During his broadcasts, Ramsey uses the stage name "Jim Ram," and takes steps to obscure his identity, including wearing sunglasses, putting on camouflage face paint and using tape editing techniques, such as "colorizing."
Ramsey said he is serious about the program, and has 26 episodes already on tape, enough shows to air without reruns for six months.
The offerings include reports about recent Washington State Militia meetings in Mount Vernon and Fife. He’s also prepared shows that stir strong emotions among self-styled patriots, including alternative theories about last year’s Oklahoma City bombing and the deadly 1993 standoff involving members of a religious sect and federal agents at Waco, Texas.
What viewers won’t see is material advancing racism, Ramsey said. He’s solidly against groups such as Idaho-based Aryan Nations, whose members he describes as "traitors."
I remember Scott telling me that he offered Ramsey clear evidence of white-supremacist involvement, and vowing he would do his best to run them off.
What became of Ramsey?
Well, within a few years, he was organizing Aryan Nations events in northern Idaho, and had moved to the Portland area. There, he set up shop as the Tualatin Valley Skins, a neo-Nazi group, and claimed to a reporter that he had a wife and family when, according to his mother, that was not the case.
OlyUnity has much more on Ramsey.
Most recently, "Jim Ramm" has been organizing neo-Nazi rallies in Olympia and Seattle. His neo-Nazi Web site (NukeIsrael.com) features a collection of vile racist material and also names your humble author a "race traitor".
And of course, the central theme of several of Ramm’s recent neo-Nazi rallies has been … immigration.
The arc of Jim Ramm’s career is fairly typical of True Believers drawn to the extremist right. And one of the most disturbing aspects of the Minutemen, and the nativist right generally, is how they’re creating a whole new generation of them.
Especially with the media portraying their views as mainstream.
Under those circumstances, you can no sooner stop the tide of racism within the anti-immigrant right than you can hold back a river swollen with rain and fear.
(Screen grab from the Lou Dobbs show via LiberalOasis.)