June 10, 2005

A Fight Larger Than Imagined

Minutemen campaigning to patrol California-Mexico border

By Gabriel Martinez

“Minutemen, you have taken on a fight larger than you ever IMAGINED” says a slogan written on a picket-sign being carried by Anthony Vasquez, who is marching in a circle along with dozens other young people of different ethnicities. About 300 other people are lined up along Chapman and Gilbert Avenues in front of the Women’s Civic Center, located in Garden Grove, California, where Jim Gilchrist, the found-er of the “Minutemen,” is scheduled to give a speech.

At about 7:15 pm, a blue Dodge Caravan, driven by Hal Natkin, a sympathizer of the “Minutemen,” was traveling northbound on Gilbert Ave. attempting to reach the parking lot where the event was to take place. The driver, after stopping for a minute at the entrance, proceeded to make a right hand turn, hitting two protestors, a male and a female. The about-35 police officers present, amongst which eight are riding horses, according to witness Oscar Molacho, took no action, though they witnessed the driver hitting the two pedestrians now lying on the ground, complaining about their injuries. The incident infuriates the protestors and they demand the arrest of the driver.

Inside the Women’s Center are about another 300, mostly older people, members of “Save Our State,” the “California Coalition for immigration Reform” and sympathizers of the “Minutemen,” listening and cheering at what Gilchrist has to say.

Benny Diaz, the president of LULAC of Garden Grove, attended the meeting and stood outside the building after the meeting, making himself available for an interview. Diaz alleged that some of the people gathering inside belonged to the Ku Klux Klan, and that they, among other people present, were attempting to take a federal issue into their own hands.

“They are crossing the line… acting as if they were the owners of the law, as if they were the police,” said Diaz, speaking in Spanish.

Diaz mentions that during Gilchrist’s speech, he scape-goated Mexican immigrants. “99 percent of America’s problem is due to Mexican immigrants,” Diaz remembered Gilchrist telling the crowd. Diaz summarizes Gilchrist’s speech: Gilchrist blames the Mexican government for the problems that the USA has, and praises the ‘good work’ being done by Republican Congressman of Colorado Tom Tancredo, who is combating undocumented immigration.

On the opposite side of the building, an older man, wearing a blue T-shirt and waving a giant American flag, declined to comment and refused to reveal his identity.

The event looked like a movie premiere: there were about eight different television trucks with satellite dishes, half a dozen, if not more, newspaper reporters, and a news helicopter with another group of reporters flying above the area where the protest was taking place.

However, members of the organization being protested refuse to comment on the situation, providing only short responses. “We are racist against the traitors,” says a cowboy, wearing a black hat and a tie similar to an America flag. “Remember the Alamo?” is another response to the large group of protestors standing on the sidewalk on the behind of the yellow tape.

Richard Vargas, who was walking by after seeing the news, says: “These guys are vigilantes and they came from Arizona. They have guns and stuff, but have no license; they are not trained border officers.” Vargas adds, “They’re kicking every body from Mexico, as well as people of any nationality, back to their places. This should be a job for the immigration officers, for federal officers” he concludes, referring to the Minutemen patrolling the Arizona-Mexico border last month.

“We definitely think that this group is racist, anti-immigrant. But our response should not be violent just because they are people with hate” said Angelica Salas, director of CHIRLA, an organization based in Los Angeles which works for the well being of immigrants. Salas adds that the reason they invited Gilchrist was to campaign to bring the Minutemen to California. But she says “It is important to let them know that people are not going to be receiving them in California with open arms.”

When questioned about California governor Arnold Sch-warzenegger’s appraisal of the Minutemen, Salas responds that “everyone has the right to protest, even the ones who are against us. But no one has the right to carry a gun …by supporting [the Minutemen] he is failing his position as governor.”

Hours later, after uninterrupted shouting from the protestors like “The only difference is the name, cops and Nazis are the same,” “Dtop defending racist haters, all you cops are class traitors,” and “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido,” among other slogans, the news came that Hal Natkin had been arrested and was to be charge with assault with deadly weapon. However, a later local newscast informs that the charges were dropped. Five protesters were also arrested on the May 25th protest against the presence of the founder of the Minutemen.

Unlike Mr. Natkin, they face charges.

Gabriel Martinez is a Los Angeles based freelance journalist and currently contributing with El Oaxaqueño Newspaper.

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