In what can only be labeled a strange coincidence, Caltrans has awarded the San Diego chapter of the Minutemen an “Adopt-A-Highway” designation on a stretch of Interstate 5. Surprisingly–and completely by chance, says Caltrans–the Minutemen were awarded the two miles of highway which includes a U.S. Border Patrol Checkpoint.
The “Adopt-A-Highway” program is something California does to promote a clean highway and provide a forum for community organizations to do something for the greater good. Groups apply and are then awarded the responsibility of keeping about two miles of highway clean. Caltrans provides them training, and then they are given the right to advertise their efforts with two signs marking their sponsorship, one on each side of the highway. Though Caltrans advertises on their website that it will not consider “entities that advocate violence, violation of the law, or discrimination based upon race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry,” they did approve the Minutemen. An article in today’s L.A. Times quotes their press release on the issue as also saying “The Department will not discriminate against groups that otherwise meet the program criteria based on the fact that some members of the public might disagree with the particular group’s agenda or reputation.” [Source.]
If you are in possession of any skills of critical inquiry, you will see the gross irony in all this.
The San Diego Minutemen–like their parent organization–is a nationalist group who believes in “taking back our cities, county, state, and nation from those that believe in open borders between sovereign nations and the free flow of unchecked foreign nationals into our country.” [See source.] Openly conspiratorial (do you think the nation has been taken over by “open border” advocates?) and alarmist, they also mobilize to take matters into their own hands as they “assist the U.S. Border Patrol in securing the U.S.-Mexican Border from terrorists, criminals, drugs, and illegal aliens.” [Ibid.] As they conclude on their website, “We must act now before it is too late!”
Now, I can understand how in this climate of fear and economic uncertainty, where people are barraged with misinformation and contradictory data by a host of hard to verify media outlets, that some people might feel this way. Aside from all that, the issue of immigration is an exceedingly complex one, rooted in multiple arenas of history and public policy. But, undeniably, organizations like this one prey on people’s anxieties and desire for order and manipulate them into acting in ways that are hardly beneficial to our society.
The San Diego Minutemen are a racist organization whose operations in the past few years have included promoting a climate of fear and verbal violence against people who look like Mexican immigrants and their supporters. If you have any doubts, check out this report from summer 2007, issued by The Southern Poverty Law Center. This organization–who has built a decades-long history of supporting Constitutional civil rights and exposing hate groups who foster violence–actually monitors this group regularly as part of its efforts to create a record of the activities of “hate groups.” As these instances show, from their leadership down to their rank-and-file regular members, the San Diego chapter of the Minutemen is a hate group, in the most literal sense.
The lesson here is not so much that Caltrans has made a poor decision, for whatever reason. And it really isn’t that the San Diego Minutemen are a collection of individuals who by their words and deeds promote a climate of hate against poor people of color. The larger issue is that this is a further reminder of the extent to which views like those held by this chapter of the Minutemen are naturalized and normalized in our political culture. They are seen as “legitimate,” just another position that some may disagree with but that has the right to be recognized.
While I will be the first to say that people have the right to believe what they want, and even to support what they want, that doesn’t mean we as a society should institutionalize those beliefs by pretending they are just one spot on the political spectrum. If our goal is to be one of fashioning a more humane world, then we do not have the luxury for such intellectualisms.