And now, much of the nation is following. First it was just the Minuteman Project, but now it has become a giant monster.
So what is it about these anti-immigration measures taking off in Orange County, and spreading throughout the rest of California, and being copied elsewhere in the nation? As a native Orange County resident, I live in the middle of all of this...
And I want to examine the issues surrounding local governments enforcing immigration law. Today, we begin in Huntington Beach, where anti-immigrant hatemonger Barbara Coe had worked for over 10 years to bring more "awareness" to the issue of all those "Mexicans invading our border as part of a reconquista for Mexico to retake the Southwest". She tried, and she tried, and she tried to "raise awareness", but all she got was a failed initiative that was thrown out of court, and snark from OC Weekly to go with it...
That is, until...
(Cross-posted at Calitics)
Jim Gilchrist took his "Minutemen" on a little trip to the Mexican border. Martin Wisckol, of The OC Register, has more:
It was a match made in activist heaven.
Huntington Beach's Barbara Coe had toiled for more than a decade against illegal immigration, becoming the gritty grande dame of the movement. Just as progress was sputtering, along came Aliso Viejo's Jim Gilchrist and his two-week Minuteman citizen border surveillance.
The April 2005 event along a desolate stretch of the Arizona-Mexico border attracted 880 volunteers and thrust the issue back into the national spotlight. It revitalized the movement and, with Gilchrist, gave it a public face.
Coe and her California Coalition for Immigration Reform found an instant partner in the high-profile upstart. The public debate suddenly included President Bush, who called the Minutemen "vigilantes," and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who praised the border watchers. While still facing an uphill battle, activists saw support swell by the day.
And all of a sudden, immigration became a hot topic again. People started talking about the "illegal aliens" and how much havoc they wreak on our community. People began blaming "illegal aliens" for every problem facing the California and the nation, from the growing health care crisis, to the overcrowded schools, to the out-of-control crime in all the major cities "plagued by all those illegal aliens". And thanks to the Minutemen, people started paying attention to far-right xenophobes like Barbara Coe once again.
Barbara Coe, along with other anti-immigrant activists, soon joined forces with Gilchrist, and they all formed a "Board of Directors" to run the Minuteman Project. This came just after Gilchrist's better than expected third place finish in the race to fill Chris Cox's vacated 48th Congressional District seat in December 2005. Everything seemed to be looking up for Gilchrist, the Minutemen, and the whole anti-immigrant movement... Until...
(From OC Register)
Internal conflicts began surfacing late last year. Gilchrist bounced a series of checks in December. Minuteman Project Director Deborah Ann Courtney came across a newspaper article about a nonprofit group associated with the Minuteman Project being fined for fundraising violations. Other fiscal issues arose.
(From LA Times)
By the fall of 2006, the relationship between Gilchrist and his board began to deteriorate quickly.
There were public accusations of secret bank accounts, missing funds, sloppy accounting and donations that had been collected without the full board's knowledge. None of the claims were made in court and proof wasn't offered. But the seriousness of the charges drove the former allies further apart.
Coe, Stewart and Courtney said in interviews with The Times that they finally concluded that there was as much as $750,000 missing from Minuteman accounts. They said they filed a theft report with the FBI and asked for an investigation.
So what went wrong? Apparently, sloppy accounting from the professional accountant. "Fundraising improprieties", possible Postal Service violations, and IRS worries began to haunt the organization. And all of a sudden, the organization that made the "immigration crisis" into a national issue was itself falling into complete crisis mode.
And then, everything fell apart early this year. (From LA Times)
Minuteman Project co-founder Jim Gilchrist was confronted by three associates who had been his closest allies when he arrived at his group's headquarters in Lake Forest in late January.
"Jim," said Marvin Stewart, "the board has terminated you as president."
Gilchrist recalled that it felt like his heart sank to his stomach, prompting him to instinctively yell, "You're all fired."
"No, Jim, you are fired," Stewart said.
Now, everything is in shambles. Gilchrist accuses Marvin Stewart, Deborah Courtney, and Barbara Coe of "internal terrorism" for "hijacking" his organization. Barbara Coe, on the other hand, still considers Gilchrist to be a "courageous patriot", though she does feel that he was "deceived" and "misled", and "'used' by some others for THEIR personal gain". Meanwhile, Stewart and Courtney are claiming to put an end to the "profit[ing] from an effort to secure America's borders" as they take over the group.
But still, Courtney and Stewart's grip on Minutemen, Inc. is quite tenuous. On March 21, an OC Superior Court judge will hear Gilchrist's case as he sues to retake control of the group that he founded. But whatever happens in court, all seem to agree that "the movement" has lost its way, and that it will be quite difficult for the Minutemen to regain its footing, along with its past glory.