By Mark R. Day
The San Diego Minutemen have zeroed in on a new target, but not an old one for vigilante groups the Catholic Church. In recent weeks, they have set up picket lines at St. Peter’s Church in Fallbrook and have been harassing its pastor, Father Edward “Bud” Kaicher, staff members and parishioners for helping Latino workers.
Fallbrook has a long tradition of hate group activity including the Ku Klux Klan and its former leader, Tom Metzger, who changed its name to the White Aryan Brotherhood in the 1980s. But this is the first time vigilantes have targeted a mostly Latino church, insulted the clergy and attempted to disrupt religious services.
St. Peter’s provides a location where Latino day laborers can safely congregate while looking for work.
Minutemen leader Jeff Schwilk has called it an “illegal hiring hall” and wants it shut down. In a recent email to his followers, Schwilk wrote that Father Kaicher told him that the church has always been a sanctuary. “The arrogance of the Catholic Church apparently has no bounds,” Schwilk added.
Witnesses at a July 16 protest say that parishioners were enraged when the Minutemen taunted children entering the church to make their First Communion. “They shouted at the kids that their parents were illegal and were going to be deported,” said Diane Brand, a volunteer with the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLAF). “It was a cruel and heartless thing to do to these children, especially on an occasion like this.”
At the recent Saturday morning protests, other witnesses said the Minutemen played loud music, shouted insults at the priests through bullhorns, and called human rights observers “poverty pimps.” Minuteman Mike Spencer of Vista displayed an effigy of Father Kaicher dressed in a Roman collar and wearing a devil’s mask, (see photo).
CRLAF volunteer Joann Hyoon said that Minuteman Allen Huther shouted to Father Kaicher that he would like to go to confession, but was “afraid to get into the booth with the priest.” Two weeks previously, sheriff’s deputies arrested Huther at a Bonsall gas station for trespassing and obstructing an officer during an investigation. Witnesses said Huther was verbally taunting day laborers and videotaping customers inside the station.
Schwilk’s claims that the San Diego Minutemen are peaceful and have cordial relations with all law enforcement agencies. But Schwilk and some of his followers are currently being investigated for vandalizing a migrant labor camp last January in Rancho Penasquitos. After his home was searched, Schwilk criticized the San Diego Police Department, calling it and San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre “corrupt” and in collusion with the Mexican government.
A long history
Violence and racism against Mexican immigrants have a long history in San Diego County. In the 1920s an 1930s, Ku Klux Klan-inspired lynchings of Mexican farm workers were common in the borderlands and orchards near San Diego. Few voices spoke out on their behalf, according to Carlos Larralde and Richard Griswold del Castillo, authors of an extensive study of the Klan in the San Diego Journal of History.
In rhetoric strikingly similar to today’s Minutemen, Klan Imperial Wizard E.W. Evans warned, “To the south of us, thousands of Mexicans, many of them Communists, are waiting a chance o cross the Rio Grande and gut the labor markets of the Southwest.”
During the 1930’s and 1940’s, the Klan joined forces with employers such as the California Packing Corporation and the Associated Farmers to help break strikes and foment violence against Mexican workers.
In the 1950’s, two San Diego labor organizers, Phil and Albert Usquiano, founded Hermandad Mexicana to defend the rights of Mexican immigrant workers.
The struggle continues
Meanwwhile, back at St. Peter’s Church in Fallbrook, Father Bud Kaicher is convening meetings of the social ministry to deal with the Minutemen crisis.
And, as tempers rise, Deacon Manuel Villareal is seeking ways to train parishioners in the ways of nonviolent social action. This summer promises to be long and hot.