Released 31 December 2005  By D.A. Kolodenko - San Diego City Beat (California)
What's in a name?
Modern Minutemen can't talk their way out of their moniker's past
by D.A. Kolodenko
December 21, 2005
Remember way back in April when creepy paranoids Jim Gilchrist and
Chris Simcox, fabricators of the Minutemen Project, fooled the laziest
mainstream media outlets into marketing a couple hundred ignorant,
cranky crackers as the vanguard of a bold, new movement of polite
vigilantes concerned about immigration issues? In the dominant
discourse, the Minutemen's disavowal of racism went unchallenged. Even
the impotent Governator, trying to hustle some California far-right
brownie points, felt comfortable claiming the Minutemen were doing a
For the most part, only astute monitors of hate groups, anti-racist
coalitions and independent journalists identified the glaring
similarities between the Minutemen and previous racist vigilantes of
the Southwest such as the Klan Border Patrol of the early '80s, whose
members bragged to an undercover police infiltrator that they'd
beheaded and buried clandestine border crossers. But when the
hurricanes blew in, and the 2,000th soldier in Iraq blew up, the
Minutemen media blitz blew away.
The Minutemen themselves didn't, however. Gilchrist came in third,
running as an independent in the O.C.'s 48th congressional district
primary race in October, receiving nearly as many votes as Democratic
candidate Marilyn Brewer, and though he lost the Dec. 6 special
election, he polled a disturbing 25 percent.Two nights after the loss,
a beaming Gilchrist told border-obsessed Lou Dobbs on CNN that he will
announce at the end of January his plan to run again.
Meanwhile, he and Simcox have continued to organize and encourage
border rallies and expand their ranks to include even more
pistol-toting rednecks to sit in lawn chairs, chug Coors Light and
courageously point out poverty-stricken job-seekers to the Border
Patrol, whose ambivalence toward such "help" is well-documented.
The racists have also begun to branch out to the non-border states,
where they spy on folks being hired for jobs they themselves would
never do. At this point, the Minutemen have perhaps enough members to
fill a section of the bleachers at a rodeo, but they won't release a
list of their members, so it's almost as hard to count them as it is
to count the men, women and children who've died or disappeared as
victims of vigilantes at the border since hate groups began patrolling
it in the 1920s.
Back in the day, in order to prevent the growing Mexican/Jewish
conspiracy to force white Christian Americans into eating tortillas
and bagels instead of Wonderbread, the San Diego chapter of the KKK
"began to merge with like-minded organizations such as The Silver
Shirts League, The MinuteMen and the White Guards."
You read it right. According to Carlos Larralde and Richard Griswold
del Castillo, in their essay on the legacy of our hometown Klan in The
Journal of San Diego History, a local, anti-immigrant, racist group
identified itself as the Minutemen more than 70 years ago. Turns out
our current crop of self-proclaimed defenders of America are by no
means the first racists to appropriate the moniker of the young
Massachusetts militiamen of the American Revolution?they're just the
first to closet their racism.
How racist were the old-school Minutemen? L. David Russell, who
actually criticizes Larralde and del Castillo for a lack of nuance in
attacking the KKK, in his Copley Award-winning thesis on the San Diego
Klan, agrees with them on at least this point: the Minutemen of the
1930s were a "militaristic, Nazi-inspired [group] dedicated to
missions of violence" whose "obvious" similarity to the KKK was
"racism." The Minutemen were even worse than the Klan? Wow.
OK, but have any other local, white supremacist, immigrant-hating
groups called themselves Minutemen since then? Why, yes, and, as my
uncle used to say, reading from the Passover Haggadah, "I'm so touched
by your question." Seattle-based independent journalist and author
David Niewert in his "Orcinus" blog, describes the 1960s incarnation
of the Minutemen as extreme right-wingers who stockpiled weapons for
an impending war between the white descendants of Adam and the
communists who'd taken over the U.S. government. Their founder, Robert
De Pugh, a felon convicted on charges of weapons stockpiling and child
sexual molestation, led the Minutemen in terrorist acts, allegedly
including schemes to blow up summer camps and put cyanide in
air-conditioning ducts at a United Nations building in New York. Their
plot to bomb a city hall building in Redmond, Wash., got De Pugh and
his Minute-henchmen nabbed by the FBI and sent to prison.
Oh yeah, and they really, really didn't like Jews or people of color.
For example, one Minutemen member, neo-Nazi Keith Gilbert, wound up in
San Quentin in 1965 for hording 1,500 pounds of dynamite in his
Glendale home, with which he planned to assassinate Martin Luther King
Jr. Years after his release, in the 1980s, he gained some more
notoriety for spitting on a mentally retarded black girl.
Anti-fascist researcher Dave Emory argues that the Minutemen of the
'60s were "the most important of America's paramilitary organizations"
and a "prototype and direct precursor of the modern militia movement
[that] overlapped many domestic fascist organizations, such as the
American Nazi Party, the Christian Defense League, Ku Klux Klan and
National States Rights Party." That overlap is well-represented by
1960s Minutemen member and local crackpot Tom Metzger, leader of the
White Aryan Resistance, former Grand Dragon of the California Klan,
and felon convicted in 1990 of inciting skinheads to murder an
Ethiopian man in Portland, Ore.
Metzger bemoans today's Minutemen for going "out of their way to claim
not to be racist. They are hypocrites of the worst order. They go on
and on that they want no racists among them. What a joke." Metzger
must be delighted that members of racist groups like the National
Alliance show up at Minutemen rallies and fly swastika flags; that
Bill Parmley, former Texas Minutemen leader, quit a few months ago and
denounced the Minutemen as racists, citing comments made by members in
support of shooting and dehydrating border crossers; and that our
local Minutemen leader, Oceanside's Jim Chase, admitted that his armed
patrolling attracted "rogue" elements, likely responsible for the
shootings that wounded two men at the border this summer.
What's in a name? Sometimes a hell of a lot. Simcox and Gilchrist
claim that their Minutemen "have no affiliation with, nor? accept any
assistance by or interference from separatists, racists or supremacy
groups or individuals," but that's lip service, public relations, a
scam?and some mainstream media and right-wing politicians have fallen
for it. They quote Sam Adams and paste illustrations of American
revolutionaries on their website, sidestepping nearly a century of
border-patrolling, immigrant-bashing, like-minded, bloodthirsty Nazis
calling themselves Minutemen, as if they could start over fresh with
the same name?not to mention tactics?and supposedly expunge it of its
But names gain their meaning in real, not ideal, contexts. Nobody
would believe your swastika tattoo represented a lucky Indian sun sign
if you were a white, jack-booted, skinhead leader of an Oi! band.
Think a Muslim political party could call itself "Al-Qaeda, but not
that Al-Qaeda?" It just means "foundation," right? Wrong. It means
flying planes into buildings in the same way Minutemen means harassing
and attacking people at the border. Names, words, symbols and signs
get wrecked. Ignoring their history is disingenuous.
No doubt, if they had contrived a less historically dubious euphemism
like "Citizens in Favor of Building a Giant Electric Fence Around the
U.S.A.," the vigilantes still would've attracted separatists, racists
and supremacy groups because, as we all know, that's who vigilantes
are. But that they can so un-problematically call themselves Minutemen
proves that these assholes are either closet Nazis or selectively
ignorant of U.S. history or, most likely, both.
D.A. Kolodenko resides in Ocean Beach, teaches writing at several
local colleges, lives with a Senegal parrot named Mango, drinks scotch
and votes Democrat. "Presently Tense" will appear semi-regularly in
these pages. Write to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.