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Sunday, Jul. 10, 2005 at 8:35 AM
The political context of white vigilantism and why white people need to fight it.
The Minuteman Project: Modern Day Slave Patrols
The political context of white vigilantism and why white people need to fight it.
By Brian T.
From The Phoenix Insurgent #1
On April 10, 2005, white private citizen Patrick Haab held at gunpoint seven Mexican migrants at a rest stop outside of Phoenix. Based only on racist assumptions, he called the police alleging that the men were “illegal immigrants” and detained them against their will. When police arrived, Haab was arrested for aggravated assault but several days later Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas dropped all charges against him.
Though Thomas claimed that letting Haab off the hook “[was] not a green light to intimidate, threaten, or detain anyone merely suspected of being in this country illegally,” the signal it sent was clear: county government condones white people treating brown-skinned Spanish-speaking people like criminals and acting as vigilantes to apprehend them.
Remarking on Haag’s response to his arrest, a longtime friend said, "He was dumbfounded. He doesn’t understand why he’s been arrested. He was just doing what he was trained to do." What training? Haag was no cop. He was an Army reservist. What made Haag think he had the right to police seven migrants? The answer is white supremacy.
At the same time, a little further south, the Minuteman Project had been camping out on the border, where for a month they detained and turned in any migrants they saw. Though it claims a race-neutral homeland security mission, in reality the Minuteman Project has set itself up as a white vigilante police force to harass people of color at the border.
Despite assertions from the Minutemen, the truth is violent white supremacist groups across the country lined up behind the project. The National Alliance enthusiastically endorsed it and the Aryan Nation called the project "a white pride event" that "all Aryan soldiers” should support. National Alliance members actively participated. If the Minuteman Project isn’t violent now, history shows that it very likely will be in the future, especially now that the project stands poised to expand across the Border States.
Throughout American history, working class white people have frequently been encouraged to form vigilante groups in order to police people of color. Just like Haab and the Minuteman Project do to suspected “illegals”, who they identify by their skin color and their language, under slavery any white person could challenge any black person to prove his or her status as a free person. This required blacks, free or not, to carry documents that proved their right to travel or status as freemen. Failure to provide adequate documentation meant imprisonment and a return to the desperate conditions of slavery that so many slaves justifiably sought to flee.
White people, encouraged by the aristocratic plantation owners who ran Southern society, organized slave patrols to capture and return escaped slaves. Further, the KKK menaced blacks with extreme violence after the Civil War, and White Citizens Councils attacked civil rights activists in the 50’s and 60’s. In the Southwest, white vigilante groups like the Texas White Caps terrorized the Mexican and black population on behalf of rich white landowners. During the Great Depression, working class whites and the organizations they dominated, including the American Federation of Labor, fed a hysteria that led to a massive government organized deportation and expropriation of tens of thousands of Latino workers – a great many of them United States citizens.
In all white racist movements, the poor and working classes compose a large portion of the participants. This is because in America, capitalism depends on white supremacy, a system in which even the poorest white people receive special privileges that are disproportionately denied to significant numbers of people of color. These privileges - like the right of free movement or not to be presumed guilty based solely on one’s skin color or language - ought to be human rights, guaranteed to everyone regardless of their race or national origin.
Under white supremacy, white people act loyal to their special status over their common class interest with people of color. This allows the continued exploitation of the working class by the rich who can count on working class white people to fight against working class people of color, rather than to unite with them. It also helps keep people of color as second class citizens, which provides a super-cheap pool of labor for capitalists to exploit as well as a ready source of tension to tap into in times of economic hardship or restructuring. It’s important to remember that it isn’t workers, legal or not, who determine wages. Immigrant labor does not drive down wages; capitalists drive down wages. The solution to low wages is to support migrant laborers, not to attack them.
The current political context in Arizona provides a case in point. While it is white working class people who so frequently act as the shock troops for white supremacy, it is the white ruling class that writes the laws, controls the economy and encourages the larger climate of white supremacy.
And so car dealer and local multi-millionaire Rusty Childress served as the treasurer and a main organizer for the racist Protect Arizona Now initiative, which denies basic human rights to undocumented immigrants by requiring proof of citizenship for many basic services. But while the rich whites legislate, the vigilante violence is left to white working class racists like Steve Boggs, recently convicted of the brutal murders of two Latino and one Navajo Jack In The Box workers. Explaining his actions, Boggs wrote, "My motive was to rid the world of a few needless illegals.” Angry at losing his job and low paycheck, Boggs blamed working-class non-whites rather than the rich capitalists who determined his dismal pay rate.
And now the rich white supremacist elite is expanding its gains by pushing an English-Only law, intended to further marginalize and attack immigrants in Arizona. But in the field, it is working class whites that compose much of the front line forces at the border, fighting against their own class rather than supporting migrants in their struggle against capitalism and the state.
White people need to understand the way that white supremacy operates in America and fight against it. This means opposing racist organizations like the Minuteman Project and supporting the rights of migrants. It means fighting against English-Only laws and police repression against migrants, legal or otherwise. We need to support human rights for everyone, regardless of where they come from.
We need to support the right of all people to travel freely and we should not support calls for securing the border with an increased police or military presence as an alternative to border vigilantism. Just because we are against vigilantes enforcing racist immigration laws doesn’t mean we should support utilizing police or border agents to enforce them instead. Conservatives who support the vigilantes and liberals who merely want government to do the job instead ought to be equally opposed. This includes rejecting both Governor Napolitano’s plan to have local police enforce Federal immigration laws and right wing plans to further militarize the border.
When we fight for free movement and equal rights for all people, we strike a blow right at the heart of the system that serves the interests of a few rich people at the expense of the vast majority. When we fight for the rights of people of color, we improve the situation for all of us and take the first steps towards smashing capitalism forever.
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