Eyewitness to Racist Mobilization: Confronting ‘Minutemen’ on the border

By Ruth Vela Campo, Calif.

Bumping along in the back of a small truck on a lonely dirt trail near Campo, Calif., cleared by the Border Patrol for their use, I am astonished by the desolation of this place. Here the border between the U.S. and Mexico is nothing more than a flimsy metal fence. For those who cross here, the border itself poses the most minimal of threats.

As we climb the mountain, making our way towards the Minutemen’s campsite, I grab my bullhorn, point it toward the border and shout warnings in Spanish into the darkness: “Good evening, friends. We are here to warn you that there are Minutemen in the area. They are nearby. They have come armed and have every intention of hurting you.”

In California, on the border, immigrant men, women and children die at a rate of one per day. Since the initiation of Operation Gatekeeper in 1994, those attempting to cross have been continuously pushed east, where the climate and terrain are treacherous and extreme.
Out in the desert, migrants die from rattlesnake bites, heat exhaustion, fatigue, hunger and dehydration. Some get lost and are found dead within short distances of a home or town. Many are never found.

Making matters worse is “Operation Border Watch,” launched by former Marine James Chase.
Chase, whose rhetoric is more strident than that of the “official” Minutemen, advised potential volunteers for his racist campaign to bring baseball bats, mach etes, stun guns, rifles and shotguns to his camp-out.

Apologists for the Minutemen like to downplay the added danger they bring to the area, claiming the men are just older retirees doing their patriotic duty; that they are armed merely with a few bright lights and binoculars. Many naïve supporters of the Minutemen are quick to point out that it is illegal to carry firearms in California and that the Minutemen couldn’t possibly be armed.

A foghorn announces our arrival at the Minutemen’s camp. Arriving is always a mixture of adrenaline, fear and excitement. Instantly we are blinded by floodlights. As the men holding them move closer to us, we hear the sound of guns coming out of holsters and shotgun shells moving into firing chambers. Soon the racist verbal attacks and slurs start flying out of their mouths, as do threats to shoot us.

How different the reality of this ugly, Nazi-like mobilization in San Diego County is from the way it is nightly prettied up by CNN commentator Lou Dobbs. The well-remunerated Dobbs has the full backing of his boss, corporate media giant CNN, in his efforts to publicize and proselytize for the anti-immigrant Minutemen.

And standing behind CNN is a significant section of the ruling class that has decided that a full-blown national campaign of scapegoating immigrant workers is the way to go. No one should underestimate the political significance of this media campaign. As the Bush dream of global empire crashes to earth in the Iraqi desert, ways must be found to divert the anger of the masses, and immigrant workers have always been an easy target.

There needs to be a national campaign in defense of immigrant workers—documented and undocumented. Plans are underway for a regional fight-back mobilization when the Minutemen bring reinforcements to San Diego on Sept. 16. But a simultaneous National Day of Action would be even better.


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