Critics of Minuteman Project Say Groups Relations Complex

By Jay Antenen, The Student Life
April 6, 2007

Since he first emerged on the national stage two years ago with his Minuteman Project, Jim Gilchrist has not shied away from taking outspoken stances on American immigration policy.
From his regular appearances on cable news and talk radio shows to his sometimes-raucous public speaking engagements, Gilchrist has defended his stance that America is being invaded by illegal aliens and the government is not enforcing immigration laws.

Gilchrist's supporters hail him as a man fighting for the rule of law, but to his many opponents, Gilchrist is seen as the public face of a tangled web of far-right, nativist groups.
The Minuteman Project says that it opposes illegal immigration and is a “multi-ethnic” group that has no relationship with white supremacists. In an interview with The Student Life Tuesday Gilchrist stressed these points frequently and said he supported “ordered immigration by prescribed numbers”

The Minuteman Project has advanced their position through a multi-part effort, Gilchrist said. He and other members of the Project do media interviews, appear on television, and visit city-councils to advocate their position, he said.

Pitzer Sociology professor Jose Zapata Calderon, who has debated Gilchrist, said that the position taken by the Minuteman Project is more complex.

“Their real strategy is that they don’t want to see the empowerment of immigrants,” Calderon said. “My view is that they are really anti-immigrant.”

David Neiwert, a Seattle-based journalist who researches extremists, said the Minuteman Project has empowered and enabled individuals who in the past have been affiliated with white supremacist groups. He said that the Project continues to attract these extremists, despite the group’s public claims that it excludes them.

“The Minutemen repackage the rhetoric of the far right and sell it for mainstream consumption,” Neiwert explained of their tactics.

Gilchrist first attracted widespread media coverage in 2005 when on April Fools Day he led a group of a several hundred volunteers to the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona to look for illegal immigrants trying to make their way into America.

Critics derided the event as largely a media spectacle and President George Bush labeled the group vigilantes, but since their first patrol, members of the Minuteman Project have managed to stake out a permanent presence both on the border and in the national debate on immigration.

Over the past two years, though, the Minuteman Project has splintered into competing groups often at odds with each other, and Gilchrist is now embroiled in a lawsuit with former associates who claim that he improperly handled the Minuteman Project’s funds.

Gilchrist said in the interview that the associates defamed him with their claims. A judged ruled in March there are “serious issues concerning the credibility” of both sides in the lawsuit, according to media reports, but halted the associates’ attempt to take control of the Minuteman away from Gilchrist.

The national debate over immigration has spilled over to college campuses in the past few years.

Last fall when Gilchrist spoke to students at Columbia University protesters scuffled with Minuteman Project supporters, and organizers were forced to cancel the speech. Opponents of the Minuteman Project at Columbia claimed that Gilchrist promoted “hate speech” and should not be given an opportunity to speak.

In February, UCLA forced a libertarian student group to cancel a debate between Carl Braun, the director of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps of California—a group that broke off from the Minuteman Project in 2005, but also opposed to illegal immigration—and an advocate for free immigration. The cancellation came after protesters posted notices on the Internet stating that they planned to disrupt the event.

In light of the Columbia event, Pomona College was prepared to have five Campus Safety officers guard the now-cancelled program, according to Dean of Students Ann Quinley. But she noted that disruptions at high-profile 5-C events are rare.

In February, Gilchrist debated Calderon and Mark Cromer, a senior writing fellow at Californians for Population Stabilization, at Claremont Graduate University.

Calderon said that he supported freedom of speech and agreed to debate Gilchrist in order rebut his arguments, but he questioned many of Gilchrist’s claims and said Gilchrist relied on emotion instead of intellectual arguments.

“He was totally isolated to a point where his only space he could revert to was name calling,” Calderon said.

Gilchrist said that he enjoyed the CGU debate and found the audience of students receptive. He described the university as “probably the best school of higher learning.”