There have been a number of massive protests across the United States for immigrant rights in recent weeks. The particular impetus for these protests is a bill authored by the anti-immigrant Congressmen Rep. Sensenbrenner and his allies that was passed by the House in late 2005 and is currently being considered in the Senate. The bill, numbered H.B. 4437, is a repressive piece of legislation authored by one of the most reactionary legislators in the Congress. Not only would it penalize undocumented workers, it would also criminalize any acts designed to help these members of US society. This bill is just the most obvious aspect of a growing wave of anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States.
Back in October, the anti-immigrant vigilante group The Minutemen held a conference in Arlington Heights, Illinois. People opposed to the Minutemen’s agenda protested the event. Five were arrested by police in what many witnesses agreed were rather brutal arrests. The Anti-Minutemen Five-as they are known in the Chicago area–are scheduled to stand trial on April 25, 2006 on a variety of charges. I recently contacted the arrestees through their defense organization. Some of them agreed to answer some questions I emailed to them. A transcript of our email conversation follows:
Ron:Hi. I want to start with an introduction. Can you tell me your name and what you do for a living?
My name is Cynthia “Linda” Gómez, and I make my living doing office work.
My name is Kara “Penny” Norlander. I recently graduated from Columbia College with a degree in film and video, then I was working as a waitress but I quit my job over the summer to organize more full time with the World Can’t Wait- Drive Out the Bush Regime.
Hi Ron, my name is Eric W. Zenke, I’m a publicist for a Chicago author and volunteer for a local bookstore.
Hey there. My name is Sabah Khan and I’m a graduate of Univ of IL at Chicago, I’m not working at the moment, but my last job was with the Albany Park Neighborhood Council, which is a community organization and I worked with immigrants and youth.
Ron:Thanks. Let’s go to the event you were protesting. What exactly was its purpose? Where was it being held? Who was attending?
Eric:The purpose of the Minutemen event, as far as I know, was to recruit people from the Chicago-land area for their border patrols. The purpose of the protest was to stop this from happening, and to let the neighborhood, and everyone else, know who these people really were. Both the Minutemen meeting and the rally were at the Christian Academy in Arlington Heights.
Penny: We were protesting a conference of the Illinois Chapter of the Minutemen Project in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights. The Minutemen are a national organization best known for their vigilante actions at the Mexican border, where they hunt and trap people trying to cross. They are spreading across the country in an attempt to put a terrible chill on immigrants’ communities- protesting, threatening, and taking actions to deport people. This was what they were talking about at the conference, and this was what we were demonstrating against.
Sabah: The protest on Oct 15, as you know, was to oppose the Minutemen. There were two protests that were planned, all in the same spirit though of course. The first had the initial call out from the Students for Social Justice at College of Dupage to be at the site at 8 am, it wasn’t really organized by them. In fact it wasn’t much organized at all! There were a bunch of people basically publicizing for it and doing minimal planning. It was awesome though, because there was just a call out for it and many people came. There were about 100 people at the first part.
We (the activists that I usually work with, and I) had heard of the kind of horrible racist vigilante group that the Minutemen were, and found it appalling that they were coming to Chicago. We basically thought that there was no way that we could sit by and watch this fascist group try to establish itself in our city to terrorize our large immigrant population. We did it for our friends, family, neighbors, and ourselves. The flyer that my friend made and we were passing out said “No Pasaran”, that is “They shall Not pass” , as well as “Un Mundo Sin Fronteras” which means “One World Without Borders”. We did not want the Minutemen to establish themselves here, that’s why the flyer said ‘they shall not pass’, which is what inspired the human chain. But it is sad now that they are here and in other towns, spreading their anti-immigrant propaganda. But we’re still here struggling against them and hopefully our case can help bring this issue to the forefront and that is why we think it is important that people understand our case to be a political one. Because it is. We opposed the racist vigilante Minutemen and now we’re on trial?? No way, we’re going to turn it around on them and put the Minutemen on trial well that’s our plan at least.
The second protest was organized by CAAELI (Coalition of African Asian, European, and Latino Immigrants). Around 400 people arrived in buses to the school at around 11 am for this part. But everyone was there for the same reason and it just merged together with people hanging around all around the school.
Cynthia:The Minutemen held an inaugural meeting of the Illinois Minuteman Project at the Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights, a suburb northwest of Chicago, last October 15. Their actions since that date have given a pretty good idea of what they were planning in there: They have held demonstrations at everywhere from churches that help immigrants fight for their rights, to Home Depot stores, where they come out in force to intimidate day laborers, who are already some of the most exploited immigrants. When two undocumented immigrants spoke out against their working conditions at the Oberweiss Dairy, the Minutemen called the INS on them–and even demanded that the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights be prosecuted for helping them!
Ron:Now the protest itself. Who called it? How many people were there? Were there counter-protestors? Lots of cops?
Cynthia:There were about 50 protesters in the morning, of the group that got there about 8 or 9 AM, and two hours later a group of about 300 or so more people came. (I don’t remember who called the earlier protest; I think it was a loose coalition of groups out of UIC and other places. One of the organizers of the later one was a group called CALI. ) I didn’t see any official counter-protesters, but looking at the Minutemen’s blogs shows that they bragged about having infiltrated the protesters. The scene initially did not involve a lot of cops–no more than 20 or so, from my guess. However, the police called in a NIPAS (Northern Illinois Police Alarm System) team, and an ILEAS (Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System) team, which brought out at least 50 more cops, decked out in full riot gear and with police dogs and paddy wagons. One of the things that remains to be seen is whether they prepared that force well before the day of the protest itself.
Penny: The protest was held and attended by a number of different groups and individuals. I came out as a member of the World Can’t Wait- Drive Out the Bush Regime, and we were there in solidarity with those standing up against the Minutemen, while we also were trying to connect up what these vigilantes represent to the whole way the Bush regime is remaking society in fascist direction, and for generations to come, and the need to change the whole political dynamics in this country, and force out the Administration. It started early in the morning, where there was a smaller crowd, but it grew by lunchtime to a few hundred people- activists, community organizations, students, and immigrants. The entire time, people attending the Minutemen conference were coming outside, scouting out the protestors, pointing, and taking pictures. And the police report says explicitly that it was at the request of people attending the conference that they moved in on a peaceful demonstration. There were not many police at first but later the Arlington Heights Police Department called in two regional task forces that are connected to the Department of Homeland Security and draw from 90 police departments in the area. They brought full riot gear, dogs, and two large armored vehicles.
Sabah: There were no counter protests, and there were a few cops, not too many, until afterwards when the riot cops came but I didn’t see it, because I was already taken away by then.
Eric: I’m not sure who called for the protest… a bunch of friends (not including any of the codefendants) had a van heading up to Arlington Heights to protest fascists, so I jumped in at 7 in the morning, half asleep. At first there were only about 30 people there, and 4 or 5 cops, by the time I was arrested there were probably 400, and at least 150 police in full riot gear. There were no counter-protesters.
Ron:How and why did you get arrested? Did the cops beat you? How long were you in jail? What are the charges?
Eric: I was arrested for supposed “Battery on a police officer” and “Resisting arrest,” both misdemeanors. I was arrested at a park after leaving the area to meet back with my friends and go home. I was handcuffed and made to walk 2 blocks next to a motorcycle cop to the squad car. I was in custody for around 4 hours that day. I was taken into custody and released without incident from the police.
Cynthia:The actual details of the day–the arrests, etc — will be answered in court; our lawyer has asked us not to get into any of that with the press, but the trial will tell the story of how key people were singled out at the protest for having been identified by the police as being leaders on that day, and that the charges are completely baseless. As far as the actual charges, I was charged with one count of battery and one count of resisting arrest, both Class A misdemeanors which carry up to a year in jail each. Each defendant has at least one count of battery and one of resisting, and some have additional counts of battery. I understand that Rehana Sabah Khan was given four counts, which means up to four years in jail for her.
Sabah: So like is written above the CAAELI buses arrived at around 11 am. After that everyone was just hanging around. I was talking to people I knew who came on the buses, including a co-worker of mine and some youth from our center, when I saw a bunch of cops and people run towards an area. Over there, there was a lot of commotion which resulted in the police arresting 2 of the AMM5. I was arrested further away a short while after, and am accused of resisting arrest and battery against police officers, 3 to be exact. They are completely ridiculous charges. I had a lot of bruises after being arrested and my arresting officer totally violated my rights by removing my headscarf as she walked me back to the protest area and the police car. Although, it didn’t stay off for long because I protested and told them they had a law suit coming!
I was in jail, or more like the Arlington Hts police station holding cell, for around 3-4 hrs.
Penny:We’ve been to court a number of times and the charges against us still are not clear. We know there are different counts for each of us, for resisting a peace officer and battery on a police officer(both misdemeanors). But the police and the state’s attorney still have not really said what specifically we are supposed to have done and when. In the course of my arrest, I was flung about and shoved to the ground- but again, they have not made clear why I was put in this situation, why I spent the afternoon in jail, and why I’m now facing up to three years in Cook County. The same goes for the other defendants.
Ron:Let’s get to some more political questions. To what do you attribute the increasingly higher profile of groups like the Minutemen? I myself place them in the same space as groups like the Klan and the Nazis–groups that seem to appear during times of economic difficulty in the United States. Indeed, various strains of the US Nazi movement have been the sponsors of at least two rallies in the US in recent months (one in Ohio and one in Florida) that erupted into violence when locals responded angrily to the Nazis presence. In both cases, police protected the Nazis and arrested members of the crowd protesting them. Do you see the Minutemen in this way or are they substantively different?
Penny: The Minutemen are a group of vigilantes who seek to hunt, trap, and put a terrible chill on immigrant communities across the country- and they’re on the rise. They have gained praise numerous times from the governor of California as well as U.S. Congress people. They recently held a rally on Capitol Hill, with national media attention, and it seems like every day they’re popping up in interviews on the radio, in print, or on television. I think there’s a very strong connection between groups like the Minutemen and the whole onslaught of vicious attacks on immigrants we’re seeing today- the round-ups and detentions in the dead of night without due process, and House Bill 4437 that would make it a felony to be an undocumented person in this country or to give any aid, including in an emergency to an undocumented person (we’re talking about millions of people suddenly becoming felons.) It was also recently revealed that the U.S. government is granting nearly $400 million to a subsidiary of Haliburton to build immigrant detention centers that could hold tens of thousands of people in case of an “immigration emergency” (pretty scary with House Bill 4437 already having passed the House, and this being authorized and run by the same Administration that brings us Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.) In this climate come the Minutemen, who I think represent the semi-official shock troops of this anti-immigrant agenda. While people on high levels of government make ominous changes in the law, vigilante groups like this represent the more “radical face” that take supposedly “more extreme” actions on the ground to further legitimize the legislation and further the chill being put on immigrant communities, those who support them, and (as in the case of the persecution of the Anti-Minutemen 5)those who would oppose this whole direction.
Eric: Funny you should ask … Many of the supporters and allies of Save Our State and the Minutemen are US Neo Nazi organizations such as National Vanguard, and the National Alliance. Also, there is a strange connection between what David Duke and his lackeys were doing in the late 1970’s called “Klan Border Watch” it was a complete KKK sponsored border watch, not unlike what the minutemen are doing today. California Border Watch said in 2005 that they no longer support the Minutemen Project, along with numerous other projects, simply because many of their members and allies were of racist or fascist origin. The original Minutemen of the San Diego KKK n the 1930’s had similar ideas and ethics of todays Minutemen.
Sabah: Well many of the people that oppose the minutemen definitely put them in the same groups as the Klan and Nazis, but I think they can get away with a much higher profile because they operate on a façade. They adamantly proclaim that they are not a racist group and that their views have nothing to do with race and all to do with the law and ‘securing our country’. Now a group like this, can in fact, be much more dangerous. They’re basically doing the same thing as the Bush administration when it says they want to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq, whilst bombing the crap out of the place. So the Minutemen are taken much more lightly than Nazis and are featured in news segments, and features like the recent huge article about it in the (Chicago) Reader. One of their favorite lines is about the head of the Illinois Minutemen being a Mexican woman as if that automatically negates any racist accusation. That’s like saying that Condaleeza Rice will do wonderful things for women and African Americans just because she’s a black woman. She can be as racist and sexist as anyone else. And being a person who is of color I definitely know there is something called internalized racism. People have to look at what the Minutemen are doing, first of all, and that’s where we get the racist and fascist conclusion. Also if you look at their websites and forums they are way worse at being pc, and openly make racist and ignorant comments, as well as talk very hatefully towards immigrants and ‘socialists’ i.e. protesters like us.
But it tells something about the political and social climate we’re in with these Minutemen getting by so easily. And it definitely should be seen in light of these Nazi rallies, the horrible anti- immigrant bill, the renewal of the patriot act, the unending ‘war on terror’, and more.
Cynthia:I would describe the Minutemen’s role in this way: they are the shock troops and brownshirts of these Nazi-like anti-immigrant programs we’re seeing. As you alluded to in your question, there is one key similarity they have with groups like the KKK and Neo-Nazi party, as was very clearly illustrated the weekend of October 15: that same weekend, our protest against the Minutemen in Arlington Heights was attacked, again on the orders of the Minutemen (they admit as much in the police report), and the police called a high-level attack squad with two different alarm systems, bringing in forces of police drawn from three counties and more than 90 towns, complete with attack dogs and riot gear–to a peaceful protest. That same weekend, masses of people who came out to oppose the Neo-Nazi Party in Toledo were attacked by the police, while the Neo-Nazis were allowed to march. At a recent anti-Minutemen protest in Garden Grove, California, a Minuteman supporter drove his car into the crowd and the police standing right there did nothing to arrest him, until about a half hour later and massive outcry from the crowd.
But a key difference is this Brownshirt point: the Minutemen are playing the role of carrying out and enforcing this anti-immigrant agenda, and whipping up other people to do the same, while attacking and threatening anyone from churches to the Mexican Consulate that opposes those measures. And so they are actually given much more open legitimacy than the KKK is, and not just in the form of open police protection: bills have been proposed to give them funding for their armed patrols, co-founder Chris Simcox almost won a Congressional seat from California, Arnold Schwarzenegger has praised their work. The media swarmed all over their “debut” patrols last April, and when Chris Simcox accused his opposition of being “terrorists”, the Associated Press picked it up and ran it, giving credence and legitimacy to his claim, and almost definitely getting Homeland Security on the tail of those groups–which is the entire point. And something like that would definitely not happen if the tables were turned.
Ron:I’ve been following House Bill 4437 that is currently being considered in the Senate. Can you explain the major pieces of this bill and why you oppose it?
Cynthia: Legislation like this is being compared to Nazi Germany, and it should be: it’s creating whole categories of people who have no rights, and threatening the armed force of the state on anyone who helps them. It would turn immigrants into felons–it would make crossing into this country without permission into a felony, which would in turn have two effects: it would forever bar immigrants from getting legal permission to enter this country ever again, once they’ve been caught. And Halliburton recently got awarded a $385 million contract to build detention centers for immigrants in the U.S. So you have the country that runs notorious torture camps like Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, and Baghram Air Force Base, now running detention centers for people who have been legally cast as people with no rights, as invading hordes who represent a threat to the economic and cultural survival of this country, if not a major security threat. So just what kinds of horrors will happen to people who have been demonized and legally disenfranchised in this way?
(The second effect would be that) It would also make it a felony for anyone to aid or assist undocumented immigrants–words that don’t even begin to capture the monstrous nature of a law like this. It would legally require their death and suffering, by making it illegal for anyone to help them in any way. Giving medical care–or a ride to the hospital in an emergency–would make you a felon. So would renting an apartment or teaching English or leaving out water to keep someone from dying in the desert.
Penny: House Bill 4437 (the Sensenbrenner law) would make it a federal offense to be an undocumented person in this country or to give any aid (a job, housing, medical care, education, or even water or anything in an emergency situation) to an undocumented person. It would also further extend, fortify, and militarize the wall at the border to Mexico. Any person with a conscience should oppose this bill.
Sabah: I oppose the bill because it would make any undocumented person an automatic felon, which is a heavy criminal charge, and bar them from ever getting good status. Furthermore it would make a felon out of anyone who helps them. That includes teachers, churches, medical assistance, even giving someone a ride. It is utterly ridiculous. We’re talking about people here, human beings. It is an incredibly fascist bill. Furthermore it is completely missing the fact that all these ‘illegals’ as they are termed are for the most part good hard-working people, who are very much a vital part of our economy. What we have is a complete creation of the global capitalism that the U.S promotes. I think people don’t get the story straight for the undocumented. America messes up the economy in Mexico with things like NAFTA, people over there have trouble getting by, there are jobs and ‘hope’ for them here, they risk everything to cross the border, and then when they are here they’re given menial wages, long hours, and have their labor abused. This gives companies the ability to get away with cheap labor, and the ‘undocumented’ have to sneak around, unable to get any papers, any security, treated like basically the lowest class, because they are ‘illegal’–this strange invention by people that proclaims that someone, because of where they were born, or because of their skin color, or because of their situation that they couldn’t help, that they are wrong and deserve no rights. And then in the midst of this, the Minutemen are complaining that they’re coming to invade our economy and use up our health services its completely absurd. And then the bill that wants to make them and anybody who helps them into felons.. what is this, Nazi Germany?? Oh yes and in the bill it also calls for the building of a wall on the border. Need I say more?
Ron: Although I disagree with the terminology that calls immigrants “aliens” and their presence the “immigration problem,” how does one address this issue when talking to other US residents?
Eric: I just don’t understand how anyone living in America can have a problem with immigrants. As a matter of fact, after calling us domestic terrorists, one of the Minutemen said “Of all the freedoms you have, please execute this freedom you have, LEAVE,” It’s kind of funny to think that someone so opposed to immigration would suggest that someone leave the country they were born in.
Sabah: There are a lot of different ways that one can approach US residents, and it really matters who you’re talking to. First off is to break down the idea that there is an “immigration problem”. America is a land of immigrants, and if anybody should be pissed that more people are coming into the country it would be Native peoples not run of the mill Americans. And I don’t think the Minutemen have any Native Americans in their group! Also one could explain about the economy and how these ‘aliens’ aren’t taking all our jobs and resources, and turn it around so that they understand that the problem with the economy lies in our system but not in individuals. I would explain how I understand the situation of the undocumented like I said earlier, and help people to understand that the problem here is not other humans that they’re trying to make us scapegoat, but it is the corporations, NAFTA, the government, and hate groups like the minutemen all in an effort to keep us divided and squabbling amongst each other so that we do not realize where the real problems stem from.. above. That’s one track you can go on with it, but the main thing is to take the issue out of the context that the anti-immigrant groups have boxed it into, and bring up all of these other points that people probably had not thought, like the term ‘alien’, etc.
Penny: I’ve seen it estimated that one in six people on this planet has emigrated from their country,including tens of millions in this country- millions being undocumented. I think people have to ask themselves: why is that the case? Is it because people are just trying to “reap American benefits” or is it because of something much deeper? As an important example, what is the relationship between the United States and Mexico?
Cynthia:I think you have to tell the truth, and you can’t be afraid to challenge people. The truth is that immigrants are forced to come here in order to survive, because they cannot possibly earn a living in their own countries. And the truth is that the United States is an imperialist country that dominates the economies of many of the countries in the world, and in particular Latin America. Just to shed a little light on this: the top 3 sources of Mexico’s income are earnings that immigrants send back home, tourism (principally from U.S. tourists) and income from maquiladoras on the border. Thus, the fate of its nearly 300 million people is continually under the shadow of the U.S. I think that many people have no idea what kind of conditions drive immigrants to come here, how many lose their lives on the way, or what kinds of awful conditions they live under once they get here. You have to blow out of the water the lie that immigrants are a drain on this country–it is actually literally the other way around. This economy is based on the exploitation of labor, and a huge element in that is the exploiting of immigrants at incredibly low-paid, dangerous, back-breaking, and insecure jobs. Exploitation is not just some word. The Revolution newspaper (when it was still called the Revolutionary Worker-a journal of the RCP) did a feature in 2003 on immigrants who wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning to work 11 hours in the fields; one of these workers had been in this country for more than 30 years and had nothing more to show for it than the day he arrived. This country is going through tremendous economic changes, where the “social compact” — things like Social Security, health benefits, pensions, etc–is being eroded and where the cost of living is growing much, much faster than wages are. And there’s a lot of trying to blame this on immigrants and pitting different groups against each other. But to paint this as the result of immigration is to obscure the fact that the same forces behind this ever “leaner and meaner” capitalism that is squeezing many U.S. citizens are the exact same forces relentlessly exploiting immigrants.
Ron:In my experience it isn’t always just white-skinned US residents that think illegal immigration is a problem. While this reality is testimony to the strength of the media propaganda machine, it presents a situation for those organizing against anti-immigrant groups and legislation. How do you address this?
Sabah: Like I said earlier, regardless of skin-color it is their agenda which is racist, and a majority of non-white people understand that. There are a few, like Rosanno Pulido, who is the head of the Illinois chapter, which presents an odd situation, but just because someone is brown does not mean that they automatically wish the best for their people, or understand what is good for their people. She calls herself an American and proclaims that she is working for what is good for America her skin color has nothing to do with anything, but to confuse us. And I would not be surprised if she wasn’t chosen exactly to do that.
Cynthia: Again, you have to start with the truth. This is a country that forces many immigrants to come here and then exploits them viciously when they do. Just because some immigrants are able to “make it” and the vast majority are not, that doesn’t change the nature of this system and what it does to people, any more than a few wealthy Black conservatives changes the fact that Black people are oppressed in this country. And just because groups like the Minutemen use brown faces, like Rosana Pulido, that doesn’t change the fact that their agenda is racist, pure and simple, and very, very thinly veiled. The Minutemen employ rhetoric very similar to what was used in Nazi Germany against the Jews: speeches by Chris Simcox or the Minutemen’s own blogs are full of allusions to the idea that the “cultural fabric of America” (a phrase they would use, not I) is threatened by the arrival of immigrants with a different cultural background than the dominant white culture. They equate immigrants with terrorists ( a sign at a recent Minutemen rally read: “Mexican Border = Drugs, Gangs, Al Qaeda.”) There are sections of the rulers and prominent figures in this country who are promoting and fighting for a whole anti-immigrant program. From CNN’s Lou Dobbs and his constant CNN stories of the immigrant “invasion”, to Samuel Huntington’s white supremacy with a Harvard pedigree.
I think that once you get clear on the actual nature of these anti-immigrant movements, then from that basis you can confront people, of all nationalities: why would you be behind this?
Why is it acceptable for immigrants to die from dehydration on the border, or to freeze in the winter? Why is it acceptable for families to be ripped apart families by deportation? Why is forced detention in prison camps acceptable for someone trying to keep their family from starving? Why is it acceptable for undocumented immigrants to live in constant fear, for their families to be at constant risk of being torn apart because of the legal status of one member? Why are these forced roundups of Arabs and Muslim and South Asian immigrants, this profiling and criminalizing of entire peoples, something that anyone can live with? What human being with a conscience would support a bill like HR 4437, that legally requires immigrants to suffer and die by criminalizing anyone who helps them? And if things like all this are allowed to go down, what more horrors will come next?
Penny: I have seen a lot of people, even very progressive people, who have a really negative view of immigration- especially undocumented immigration. But where I see a lot of that coming from is that people are suffering, including in this country- even middle class people are being hit very hard economically right now, and this is especially true in the most oppressed and exploited parts of this country, like in urban areas where there’s places that half of the population (this is especially in ghettoized black neighborhoods) will never see employment any time in their lives. That kind of statistic is just staggering when you think about it, and then in that climate you have the media and politicians and everything telling you that it’s the immigrants that are the problem- they’re “draining all our resources” and stuff like that, then you can start to see why people start turning on immigrants, on each other. For example, I heard recently that the Minutemen are organizing in Watts, in South Central L.A. But really people need to get above that, to look at the big picture of how all this is connected- for example, why have millions of people uprooted their lives, left their homes and often their families, everything they’ve ever known, and risked their lives through the conditions of travel across the border, including the vigilantes patrolling with guns, and come to this country where they’re forced to live in fear every second of their existence, and take the absolute bottom level of jobs in this country, earning basically nothing?
Ultimately, it’s the same reason as why whole sections of the population in Watts are forced into the kind of conditions where they make money illegally and join gangs and all that. It’s because of capitalism, it’s because a whole group, specifically a whole class of people at the top owns everything and earns wealth at the expense of everyone else. It’s because across the planet, the way of organizing society is driven by profit and accumulation, rather than meeting peoples’ needs. And these days, with heightened globalization and the days of leaner, meaner capitalist exploitation, including trade agreements like NAFTA, billions of people across the planet are having their lives turned upside down, and forced to migrate and work in sweatshops or be bought and sold as sexual slaves, and face other unimaginable conditions of life. That’s why there’s a huge up swell in the level of immigration. But it’s not “illegal immigration” that’s the problem- it’s capitalism, and I don’t think we’ll solve any of the problems we’re talking about until we have a different way of organizing society, where what’s guiding is the interests of the people at the bottom.
Ron:The (“revised”) PATRIOT Act was passed while I was composing these questions. I have to admit that this was no surprise. How do you see that repressive legislation fitting in with other pieces of legislation like HB 4437?
Penny: I think the whole climate of attacks on immigrants holds a strong relationship to what the Democrats and the Republicans are calling the “War on Terror.” Really, this is an open-ended war on the world that even Dick Cheney has said could last “a generation or more.” Right now, the U.S. imperialists have both the perceived need as well as the unique opportunity to really change the face of the planet as we’ve known it (as horrible as it’s been and already is.) I think their ambitions are truly world-historic in a horrifying sense, where they envision bringing into being a planet where the U.S. has obliterated even the potential for any other imperialist country to rise to the point where economically, politically, or (importantly) militarily, they could offer any sort of a challenge to the sole-superpower status of the United States. I think we’re only seeing the very beginning of this with Afghanistan and Iraq- where the Bush Administration has identified a strategically very important region if you’re going to run the planet, and just bombed the shit out of these countries; and is attempting to completely reshape the whole way the region, and these countries within that, are formed, in the interests of American empire. (And I think we’re also seeing very important possibilities for this to get very out of hand for the imperialists, including the current situation in Iraq, as well as where millions of people, in this country and around the world, stood up in mass opposition to the invasion well before it even began- something quite unprecedented.)
And I think the imperialists have relatively agreed on the need and possibility to go forward with that agenda of unending war and re-shaping of the world, and then there’s a relationship between that and what’s going on in the Fatherland (err, “homeland.”) Millions don’t (and won’t) want to go along with this open-ended war, what Condoleeza Rice and others like to call “democratization.” So there’s both a broad culture of fear and intolerance that’s being whipped up by different sections of the rulers and their representatives, as well as a whole clampdown on dissent and clampdowns on sections of the population that could potentially pose a real opposition to this program. As the U.S. is attempting to re-shape the Middle East (perhaps we might call this “phase one” of the non-existent “War on Terror”) the Bush Administration sees a possibility, and maybe some need to clamp down and terrify the Middle-Eastern, Muslim, and Arab people in this country, through measures legitimized by the Patriot Act. (And obviously, as the votes have shown, the Democrats either just overwhelmingly agree with this, or capitulate to it.) Similar with those who exercise critical thinking or dissent on any or all of this. And in Chicago, just last week, we saw a huge potential for immigrants, especially Latino, to stand up and take independent political action opposing the direction things are going, to break out of the confines being set by the people at the top, when hundreds of thousands took to the streets to oppose House Bill 4437, the Minutemen, and attacks on immigrants’ rights. Well that’s a huge Achilles’ heel for U.S. imperialism, here in the Fatherland, and I think that’s at least a basic part of why we’re seeing all this horrible legislation come down.
Sabah: The Patriot Act is definitely in line with a repressive bill like HR4437. It is the government slowly chipping away at our rights and hiding it in legislation that is outwardly their to make us more secure.
Cynthia: Like some of my other answers, it’s tough to summarize in a short space what is actually a very complex phenomenon. But speaking for myself, I think that you have to interpret laws like the PATRIOT Act as 1930s pre-Nazi Germany laws. Laws that flatten the opposition, that deem even mild opposition as a security threat and that aim to crush any kind of fundamental questioning of the system or anyone fighting for a radical or revolutionary alternative.
I think that one aspect of laws like this is that since 9/11, there’s a section of the ruling class that is really trying to expand the reach of U.S. empire around the world, and keep any other force from growing strong enough to rival them. Invading Iraq, plans on invading Iran, declaring the right to peremptorily strike against any country the U.S. deems a threat, holding an economic stranglehold through sanctions and approving or withdrawing loans–the U.S. has really taken a huge leap in these last few years, acting on plans that in many cases were drawn up years before 9/11. And in particular, from the perspective of those in the ruling class who are carrying this stuff out, immigrants who are from that country or that region of the world, who tend to still have ties and stay in touch with developments from and still feel a connection to that country (especially if the U.S’ actions were responsible for them having to immigrate here in the first place) — they see those people as an Achilles heel, as a potential threat. Laws like the PATRIOT Act are the rulers making their position clear: we’re going to carry out these invasions and we’re going to devastate and occupy whatever country we want, wherever we want, for the reasons we choose–and we will not tolerate, by any means, any kind of opposition. I think HR 4437 would pave the way for even more vicious exploitation of immigrants, by driving millions of them into the shadows where they can be treated ruthlessly, with complete impunity. And it would also force everyone else to go along with all of this. And groups like the Minutemen are the semi-official enforcers of all of this–they are like the Hitlerjugend that came out in force to attack anyone who helped the Jews in Germany.
Ron:I read in the press release that one of the arrestees is a Muslim woman. Are Muslims being specifically targeted in the new legislation? If so, how? Having lived in Muslim countries as a youngster, I see the similarities between so-called Judeo-Christian culture and Muslim culture being much greater than the differences, but most people in the US tend to see the differences more. Consequently, their fear of the other tends to overcome their rational sense, especially in today’s climate where that fear is whipped up by reactionary religious and political leaders. More importantly, how does one get US residents to move beyond their fear of the Muslim religion and culture?
Sabah: I don’t know if Muslims are being specifically targeted with this new bill, I know the target seems to be Mexicans, but it is certainly going to be used on Muslim and Arab immigrants as well, and Mexicans are not the only undocumented in the U.S, there are all sorts of other immigrants that will be effected too. I think the first attack after 9/11 was on Muslim and Arabs with the Patriot Act. Knowledge is essential to move US residents beyond their fear of Islam. The media portrays Muslims negatively and the only way to counter this is to teach people about Muslims and take away this xenophobia. Muslims are just like other people. You are right that there are much more similarities between the three Abrahamic faiths then people know, and this is what we should try to inform people about.
I am a Muslim woman, and I don’t think it is a coincidence that I was violated the most by the cops, in that they targeted me for my scarf, which is evident by the fact that my arresting officer was so focused on it that she took it off my head while angrily saying, “take that thing off your head”. We’ve seen the Minutemen express racism and hatred towards Muslims as well, especially in their forums and blogs. I think it is definitely connected, immigrants are under attack, Muslims and Arabs are under attack, and those that stand up in opposition to these injustices are under attack. But the solution is what they fear most, for us to unite in solidarity with each other, because although we are different communities, we are all being targeted by the same source, and their goal is to divide and conquer. The AMM5 is a very diverse group, and we take pride in that, I hope that we can be a symbol of solidarity, and bring many different groups together around our cause, because it is all of our cause.
Cynthia: I think that the blame for this fear and ignorance lies not principally on people living in the U.S. but in those in power, and that a good part of the solution lies in getting people broadly to understand that they’ve been lied to and manipulated. I think that, for those who are motivated by a fear of “terrorism” or a generalized fear for their own safety, and so are willing to go along with attacks on immigrants in the name of keeping them safe, you have to actually challenge people with some doses of reality for a second. Can a government that left thousands of its own citizens to die in New Orleans really claim to be providing “safety” for anyone? And you have to ask people if they’re willing to go along with anything– mass deportations, imprisonment, torture, the casting of millions of human beings into the shadows–for their “safety”. Because to say that, to say “whatever you do, whoever you hurt, as long as I’m safe”, is really a bargain with the devil, that I think lots of people in their hearts would not be willing to make. And even if you do make a bargain with the devil thinking he’s going to protect you, you have to realize it’s not going to work. I think that people should really compare that “go along with anything in the name of my safety” with a statement by Craig Murray, who used to be a UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, at the International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity by the Bush Administration: ” … this administration has introduced a dehumanization of our Muslim brothers and sisters which means that anything done to them doesn’t count. And that is a step along the road to the ultimate evil. And that, ladies and gentleman, is I believe where we areWhich is just to say I don’t believe it works, but even if it did work, I would personally rather die than have anyone tortured to save my life.”
Ron:One more question. While writing that last question, I realized that it is not the religions of any culture that have necessarily created tolerance. Indeed, it is much more likely that it is the rationalist elements. What do you think?
Penny:I might go ahead and do some exposure, specifically on “tolerance” of religions- bring in the Christian fascist morality drawn from the literal interpretation of the bible. The connection between that and Islamic fundamentalist, rooted in the underlying material conditions: collapse of Soviet Union, turbo-capitalism. The need for a different morality based on the critical examination of reality and the desire/potential to change that for the better for all of humanity.
Sabah: Well I’m not sure, if you look at religious texts they often preach tolerance, understanding and forgiveness, and least I know this is the case for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I think the question should be addressed the other way around. It is not religions that have created intolerance it is people who seek power and divisions who have created intolerance.
Cynthia:That’s a pretty complex question and I think it would be hard for me to give an answer justice in the amount of time I’ve got for these questions … it’s not that I don’t have any opinions — as an atheist, I do — but I don’t want to give a partial or inadequate answer, so I’ll pass on this question for now.
Ron: Back to the trial. What happens next? How can people contact you and support you?
Cynthia: Our trial is currently set for April 25, but we are fighting for the case to be dropped before it ever gets to that point. People should spread the word really broadly about this case. Organizations should sign on to support us and build for our case. We really need thousands of dollars in donations for legal expenses –the huge expense of going to trial has always been a major part of how the state attempts to punish and crush opposition. People should send thousands of letters to the state’s attorney, asking that the case be dismissed. And if it isn’t dismissed, they should come out to the courthouse on April 25 and rally and demand “No Jail Time for the Anti-Minutemen 5!” We have a web site: antiminutemen5.tk, and a blog: antiminutemen5.blogspot.com, and an email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Well, I think first of all, people need to be armed with the understanding that fighting against these charges is a key part of the fight against all these attacks on immigrants and the whole direction society is being taken. We’ve been telling people: If you want to oppose groups like the Minutemen, if you don’t want to live in a society where you have thug shock troops showing up at your door if you help “illegal” people, then you have to defend those people that are getting attacked and arrested for opposing this. With these charges and their determination to jail us, the state is trying to make a very strong statement: To people who stand up for immigrants’ rights: “Don’t even think about opposing the Minutemen.”. And think twice before protesting at all.”
And, to immigrants: “You have no friends. No one will help you. No one will defend you.” This needs to really get turned around completely on them! It should become an exposure of the Minutemen and what they represent, and I really hope the battle to defeat these charges is part of strengthening the whole opposition to these attacks on immigrants overall.
Penny: We go to trial April 25th. The state has shown in a number of hearings that they are serious about jail time for trumped-up charges on protestors acting peacefully and symbolically. And something we’re learning is that people who protest the Minutemen are being attacked across the country: in Vermont, the head of this vigilante group labeled peaceful demonstrators “domestic terrorists” and this got picked up by mainstream media, and in California one of the Minutemen drove a car through a picket line, knocking people down, and nothing was done for over half an hour (and eventually anti-Minutemen protestors were arrested and given felony charges.) So we see our case, and rallying to the defense of the Anti-Minutemen 5 as a crucial way to stand up in opposition to the Minutemen. And on that basis, we’re finding lots of support but we still need to raise upwards of $10,000 in legal fees (address for donations below) and need to have the real deal on the Minutemen much more broadly understood, including our case. We also need letters of support and demands that the charges be dismissed sent to the judge and state’s attorney right away (see below).
And people can contact us through our website: www.antiminutemen5.tk.
Beyond that, I think the resistance to these vigilantes, as well as attacks on immigrants generally, and ultimately resistance to the whole way the Bush Administration is remaking the entire planet in a fascist direction, needs to be raised to a whole other level very quickly in this country. People need to check out the call to Drive Out the Bush Regime from World Can’t Wait, which takes on the whole Bush program- I think it’s the only vehicle in this country that can actually change the whole disastrous course these people are setting us on- as the call concludes, “The future is unwritten. Which one we get is up to us.”
Sabah: Our trial is set for April 25th. We really need support as far as legal funds go and letters. I really would like to make a call out for people to send letters asking that the charges be dropped to Dick Divine the States Attorney, as we believe this will really help our case. Thank you for all your effort, Ron. We really appreciate this. Sorry if we took long getting back to you. Its been crazy over here. Peace.
Send letters now- they need thousands- to the State’s Attorney, asking that the case be immediately dismissed:
Richard A. Devine
Cook County State’s Attorney
500 Richard J. Daley Center
Chicago, IL 60602
Funds are needed very urgently; they need to raise upwards of $10,000 in legal expenses in a few weeks.Send contributions and make checks out to:
Law Office of Jim Fennerty
36 South Wabash, Suite 1310
Chicago, IL 60603 Attn: anti-MM5
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: email@example.com