Lou Dobbs and CNN lavished the Minuteman border patrols with uncritical coverage, author David Neiwert shows. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File.)
One of my favorite authors about the American right has a new book out last week about the "Minuteman" border patrol nonsense of a few years ago. And I should begin with full disclosure: David Neiwert is a friend of mine. And the volume is from Nation Books, the imprint of this magazine. But trust me on this one. And Hell Followed With Her: Crossing the Dark Side of the American Border is one of the best books you can read on one of the most crucial subjects you can study: how the toxic mindset of white supremacist, anti-government insurrectionist lunacy migrates again and again into the mainstream of American political discussion. And if that's not enough to draw you, here's a bonus: David wraps his lesson in a true crime story Joe Conason blurbs as “reminiscent of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” I couldn't tell you if that's precisely so; I've never read Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I can't tell you much about the crime story either: It's just that gripping and suspenseful, and I don't want to spoil it for you. I can, however, tell you about the debt we all to Neiwert for his work explaining the unacknowledged debt the "mainstream" right owes to the thuggish eliminationists that the mainstream would like us to think they would never have anything to do with.
He's been on the case for decades, every since he was a newspaper reporter getting inside the militia and "Patriot" movements of the 1990s (surely at great personal danger to himself). His masterpiece on the subject was a 2003 blog series, "Rush, Newspeak, and Fascism," on how Rush Limbaugh and others serve as "transmission belts" lending "an aura of mainstream legitimacy to ideas, agendas and organizations that are widely perceived otherwise as radical." Ideas, for instance, like the one that Bill Clinton was such a dangerous threat to the republic that "no hyperbole is too overblown in the campaign to depose him"—born of New World Order conspiricists, and matured in the bosom of the United States Congress.
In the case of the Minutemen, that right-wing sensation that swept the nation in 2005, he traces a lineage back to Robert DePugh and his original "Minutemen," born in 1961, who stockpiled weapons for the imminent Communist-United Nations invasion of the United States. It leads through David Duke and his revived Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s; then the early 1980s efforts to "create a white homeland in the inland Northwest," efforts which "ended in a blaze of gunfire, tear gas and smoke when FBI agents cornered [Robert] Matthews at a hideout on Whidbey Island, Washington." It continues through the "leaderless resistance" of the 1990s Christian Patriot movement—Timothy McVeigh's movement—and an offshoot of that moment which advocated border-patrolling militias.
And it ends up…in the welcoming studios of the Cable News Network.
Minutemen never actually caught many if any immigrants. What they caught, Neiwert shows, were journalists. Fox News journalists, of course; no surprise there, and not much to be done about that. (Sean Hannity hosted an entire show from the Arizona border with co-founders Chris Simcox and Jim Gilchrist beside him.) But it is CNN that is this book's villain as much as the brutal murderers at the center of the true-crime subplot. "Over the years," Neiwert counts, "Simcox would be featured over twenty-five times on CNN." Fifteen of those were on the notorious Lou Dobbs show—which became the transmission belt for the invented claim that thousands of immigrants were carrying leprosy. But ten of those appearances were not. CNN's news side treated the Minuteman as exactly what they claimed to be: a massive (it was tiny) movement, responsibly organized to weed out dangerous extremists (that never happened), successfully helping the Border Patrol by conscientiously calling in intelligence, a process no more threatening than—a favored Minutemen and media trope—one of those "neighborhood watch" organizations (this was before George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin). "Casey," Dobbs said, "I had the opportunity to spend a little time down there with you along the border with the Minutemen. The success is remarkable." In fact all they did was trip ground sensors and call in false alarms.
What did CNN, and many other mainstream media outlets besides, miss in their zealotry in making out Minutemen not to be zealots? Well, for example, the original 2004 Minutemen advertisement ("I invite you to join me in Tombstone, Arizona, in early spring of 2005 to protect our country from a 40-year-long invasion across our southern border with Mexico") ran on the Aryan Nations website, trumpeted as "a call for action on part of ALL ARYAN SOLDIERS." Among those gathered at the original encampment was a faction that called itself "Team 14"—a reference to the neo-Nazi fourteen-word slogan, "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children." A local news crew, more enterprising than the Most Trusted Name in News, recorded what these fine patriots said when they thought the cameras were off: "It should be legal to kill illegals. Just shoot 'em on sight. That's my immigration policy recommendation. You break into my country, you die."
These are people who say things like, in the words of Chris Simcox, "The Mexican Army is driving American vehicles—but carrying Chinese weapons. I have personally seen what I can only believe to be Chinese troops." And, in the words of the founders of one of the first border militias, addressing Mexican immigrants, "You stand around your entire lives, whining about how bad things are in your dog of a nation, waiting for the dog to stick its ass under our fence and shit each one of you into our backyards." Who believe the government has begun to detain citizens with "don't tread snake bumper stickers" on their cars. And that criminal El Salvador gangs were on their way to massacre Minutemen where they stood.
Here were the sort of people who ascended the ranks as leaders: a PTSD-stricken Marine involuntarily retired from the Postal Service after "[W]hat you call a post-traumatic-stress breakdown breakdown. Now I function pretty normal. They tell me it's incurable and blah blah blah, but I function just fine in my opinion." And a woman named Shawna Ford with a criminal record as long as Wilt Chamberlain's arm, who constantly tells her comrades, "I'm the person that is willing to take it to the next level," and who endeavors to prove it by—well, I'm not going to say. That, you're going to have to read about yourself. It will have you on the edge of your seat.
Read Rick Perlstein on minority voters and why the Democrats shouldn't rest on their laurels after the last election.