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US Anti-Immigrant Activists & Racist Hate Groups

Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release April 17, 2006

Some Anti-Immigrant Activists Have Known Connections with Racist Hate Groups

Interview with Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, onducted by Scott Harris

Listen in RealAudio:

In a series of giant protests demanding fair treatment and legalization, hundreds of thousands of immigrants and their supporters marched in more than 130 cities around the U.S. on April 10. A few days earlier, Dallas, saw more than half a million people come out for one of the largest protests in Texas history.

The unprecedented demonstrations that -- many observers believe proclaimed the birth of a new civil rights movement -- were triggered by provisions in legislation passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives that will make undocumented immigrants and those who assist them felons. Negotiations over other more moderate measures being considered in the Senate made little progress, but will be taken up again when Congress reconvenes after the Easter recess.

Although 63 percent of Americans surveyed in a recent Washington Post-ABC poll reject new laws that would criminalize undocumented immigrants already in the U.S., members of groups like the Minutemen, have been accused of acting as vigilantes and stirring up racism and xenophobia around the immigration issue. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, who discusses known connections between anti-immigrant activists and extreme right -wing and racist groups.

MARK POTOK: We began to see about five years ago, real conflicts coming up in particular in southeast Arizona which, because of the federal government essentially really slamming the door shut on the border in both California and Texas, has become a kind of one major crossing point from the south into this country. Of course, it's a terribly dangerous crossing across the Sonora desert.

Way back then, at the very beginning , we saw some of the traditional anti-immigration groups, or immigration restriction groups like FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform. We saw officials from groups like that at very small meetings in Arizona, even in Alabama where I am and other states -- many of which were also attended by "unrobed" Klansmen. So we saw at the very beginning of this a kind of scary mixing of more mainstream immigration restrictionists and people who are really in our (SPLC) world: Klansmen, Neo-Nazis and so on. That has continued.

I don't mean to suggest that all anti-immigration groups, or all people involved in the recent Minutemen groups are secret Nazis or unrobed Klansmen, but a lot of the leadership does have those kinds of relationships.

We just put out an investigative report that looks at essentially the main leaders of this movement , 20-25 people. And while you cannot say that all of them are racists, straight up racists or white supremacists, what you can certainly say is that a great many of them are racists or certainly bigots. It's really about Hispanic immigration , brown skin immigration for them as opposed to any other kind.

In addition, a lot of people in this movement are extremely, basically para-militaristic. They're a bit like the militias of the 1990s. They're quite fascinated with guns, they want to go down to the border armed with AK-15s and god knows what else, and some how stop what is depicted as a terrible threat to our society, an invasion and so on.

And the last piece of it is that most people in this movement are subscribers to a kind of fantasy conspiracy theory, the so-called , "El Plan de Aztlan," which is supposed to be a secret plan by the Mexican government in league with American-born Hispanics, that is to say Chicanos. What they're up to is making plans to re-capture, re-conquer the American Southwest and make it a part of Mexico. Of course, there's nothing to support it; I mean, there is no such conspiracy. But it's these things working together. The racism, the guns and the conspiracy theories that really are extremely worrying.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What are the connections between the Minutemen , other anti-immigration groups and congressional Republicans that have marshaled through the House of Representatives some pretty draconian legislation that would criminalize the more than 11 million immigrants who are in this country without documents?

MARK POTOK: As far as the relationship of the Minutemen and groups like the Minutemen to some people in power, I think that is a very worrying situation and one worth talking about.

I am thinking in particular of a congressman named Tom Tancredo. Tancredo is a Republican from Colorado and also a man who was viewed I think even within Congress , up until 9/11, as very much an extremist sort of fellow. Listeners may remember that this is the guy who called not so long ago for the bombing of Mecca, among other things.

Tancredo ran a fairl y extremist caucus , called the Congressional Immigration Refor m Caucus, which had about 6 or 7 members until 9/11. Today it's got something more on the order of 80 people.

What's worrying about all this is the following: The way Tom Tancredo talks about illegal immigrants, undocumented workers, is quite amazing and not that different from the way, say some of our Nazi groups talk for instance , about the Jews.

To give you an example of what I'm talking about, Tancredo told an audience recently that illegal aliens , "are coming here to kill me, and kill you and kill our families." That just strikes me as an amazing statement. This is from a U.S. Congressman who is describing literally hundreds of thousands of people, as crossing this border in order to kill us.

It's also obviously I think defaming the 11 million or so people who are here -- the vast majority of whom I think any sensible person understands perfectly well -- are here to make a living.

This is just propaganda. The frightening thing , as I've said, is that a lot of the worst propaganda is coming from people like Tom Tancredo, a U.S. congressman.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What can people do to expose and counter the racist, xenophobic message regarding immigration that's coming from groups like the Minutemen that we've been talking about?

MARK POTOK: I think the best thing for people to do is to join the debate locally. This is a debate that's raging all over the country ; it's quite amazing.

I think that the temperature has changed very significantly in the last few weeks. We have seen in the last few weeks two absolutely massive pro-immigration , or pro-immigrant if you will, demonstrations. That I think was quite unexpected and has also affected the ongoing debate within the Republican party and in Congress in general.

I suspect there's no prospect at all of 11 million people being deported from this country, no matter what certain people may say when they stand up before the TV cameras.

Nevertheless , I think it's a movement that presents a lot of dangers to us as a society . I think that people need to simply get involved. I think that it's an important debate and as members of a democratic society we ought to know something about it.

Contact the Southern Poverty Law Center at (334) 956-8303 or visit their intelligence project website at and

Related links at

* "Felony Threat Rouses Immigrants"
* "Huge Crowds March for Immigration Rights"
* "Crackdowns Smack of Racism"


Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 40 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending April 17, 2006. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Scott Harris and Anna Manzo.

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