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The Ghost of George Wallace


When the late Alabama Governor George Wallace–surrounded by armed guards–stood on the steps of the University of Alabama to prevent a young Black woman from entering the University of Alabama, he declared, “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”

He also inspired a man who would later stand at the US / Mexican border, armed to the teeth, to prevent other brown skinned people from entering someplace he didn’t want to them to enter–the United States.

A year ago Jim Gilchrist brought the mainstream media to a frenzy as they reported on his Minuteman Project, a group of racist vigilantes who’d traveled to the border–guns in hand–to stop the immigrant “invasion” and the “re-conquest,” they said, of the US Southwest by Mexicans.

Later, Gilchrist ran for the US House of Representatives as a member of American Independent Party–the party founded by Wallace, the arch-segregationist.

Like Wallace with the Dixiecrats of his day, Gilchrist has plenty of allies in Congress–chief among them Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo, best known for advocating that the US “take out” the Muslim holy city of Mecca with a nuclear weapon. Tancredo is also known as the head of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, where, chillingly, he leads 91 members of Congress.

Tancredo and his crew don’t like migrants–when the Denver Post profiled an undocumented high school student with a 3.9 GPA, the Congressman tried to have the boy deported.

Tancredo’s Caucus is also credited with pushing through Congress the passage of the now-notorious Sensenbrenner immigration bill–the one that, if approved by the Senate, would make all people in the US who lack papers into instant felons, a criminalized, stigmatized and profoundly vulnerable under-caste.

The Congressman is consistent. After taking out Mecca, it would seem, Tancredo holds that undocumented immigrants “need to be found before it is too late. They’re coming here to kill you, and you, and me, and my grandchildren.”

The Minutemen love Rep. Tancredo, and they do not leave the man to suffer alone in his profound paranoia.

Minutemen co-leader Chris Simcox would have us believe that “we need the National Guard to clean out all our cities and round them [migrants] up. They are hard-core criminals. They have no problem slitting your throat and taking your money or selling drugs to your kids or raping your daughters and they are evil people.”

The temptation, of course, is to dismiss these people as mere crackpots. The problem with that analysis however, is clear. These people have power. They’ve dominated and defined the debate on immigration for the past year–at least until this past weekend, when well over a million–even two million people–marched in opposition to their xenophobic and persecutorial dementia.

Southern California activists have seen that racist dementia up close, time and again, as we confronted the Minutemen and their allies in an effort to keep things from ever getting this far.

We saw it in the eyes of breakaway Minuteman leader James Chase in the darkness of the southern desert at midnight, he armed with a shotgun; we with nothing but our bare hearts.

We saw it in the eyes of Minuteman supporter Hal Netkin as he slammed his car into a crowd of mostly Chicano protestors as Jim Gilchrist addressed the California Coalition for Immigration Reform. Gilchrist joined the Coalition, which has been identified as a racist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Painted as American a hero by the likes of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gilchrist has been accused by a former campaign volunteer of integrating Nazi activists into his campaign for Congress.

He lost the special election, despite his endorsement by Sensenbrenner ally Tancredo.

But he put fear into Republican politicians–fear that incumbents would face vote draining, immigrant bashing third party candidates in November if they didn’t take a hard right line against migrants.

They feared Gilchrist sympathizers like the rightist California group Save Our State, which has regularly drawn organized Nazis to their protests, and which uses the exact rhetoric used by open white nationalists and supremacists–such as calling Mexican culture a “cesspool.”

The corporate media, informed time and again of Nazi, white nationalist and militia connections to the anti-migrant movement, has continued to paint the anti-migrants as part of a mainstream. Gilchrist himself has claimed he has “240 million” supporters, despite the fact that the anti-immigrant movement as a whole could field only 700 activists for its “National Day of Protest” this year. They were outnumbered 10 to 1 wherever they turned across the country.

Even so, Tancredo, Sensenbrenner and the extreme, racist, right wing elements they represent were on the verge of a major legislative victory. They were so close they could taste it.

Until Sunday.

Until La Gran Marcha in Los Angeles.

Then their dominance cracked.

They were on the verge of a walled off country. On the verge of migrants hunted down, rounded up by La Migra and the police–of brown skinned people disappearing in the streets and penned in concentration camps they call “detention centers.” They were on the verge of passing a cruel law that would make all migrants without papers felons and make all Brown people suspects in a hostile nation. They were on the verge of a new ethnic cleansing of America.

And even though the mass protests of recent days have deeply shaken them, they still might win.

Sensenbrenner says he’s not intimidated.

Gilchrist, of course, is promising his followers “absolute” victory.

He says the things more seasoned power brokers won’t say. Although they’re on the same side, he says the Sensenbrenner bill doesn’t go far enough. He wants a wall from sea to sea. He wants the National Guard at the border.

He called the families who marched together “throngs of illegal alien bullies” and dubbed the mass demonstrations for basic human rights a “classic insurrection.” He pledges to stand, “stoically unmoved”–one might imagine like George Wallace on the steps of the university, facing down a lone young African woman, armed thugs in tow.

The future will be decided in the days to come. As senators debate their take on migrants, they will continue to put their fingers to the wind, to see just how far they can go without profoundly alienating their middle class allies and without provoking rebellion from below. Senate Republican leader Bill Frist plans to let two bills be debated there, including his own draconian take-off on the Sensenbrenner bill.

As the debate begins this week, at least 20 LA area high schools are planning a massive walkout, on the birthday of Cesar Chavez. A national network of migrant support groups will lay out a strategy for more vast demonstrations like La Gran Marcha.

They must not stand alone. You must stand with them.

If you don’t, the dream of George Wallace’s ghost may yet come true–a racist, even fascist USA. Today, tomorrow and forever.

JUAN SANTOS is editor of Mexica Tlahtolli, a Chicano and Native American newspaper in Los Angeles. He can be reached at



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