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Minuteman Caravan Gets Testy Send-Off

Times Staff Writer

The Minuteman Project, the self-proclaimed citizen border patrol that has emerged as a vocal opponent of illegal immigration, arrived in the heart of South Los Angeles on Wednesday hoping to recruit blacks to their cause.

But instead, they were met by protesters -- most of them African American -- who compared the group to the Ku Klux Klan and urged them to take their campaign elsewhere.

The event, billed as the Minuteman Project’s launch of a cross-country caravan to Washington, D.C., quickly devolved into a series of shouting matches between two sides punctuated by honking horns and howls from a megaphone.

And newspaper, radio and television reporters far outnumbered the participants.

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“The Minuteman organization has never had any concern with the black Americans,” said Najee Ali, a South Los Angeles community activist who led the protest. “They don’t come into our community and give any assistance to help reduce gang violence, create employment opportunities.”

The Minutemen, who gained national notoriety for their patrols of the U.S.-Mexico border last year, had hoped to get a sympathetic audience in Los Angeles’ black community for their message of tighter border controls and stricter laws against illegal immigration.

They argue that illegal immigrants strip jobs from African Americans.

“Illegal immigration has had and is having a devastating effect on the black community,” said the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, a Minuteman Project supporter and founder of the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny, during the event in Leimert Park. “Black Americans are being put out of jobs, they’re put out of their own homes,” he said.

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Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist cited high unemployment rates, particularly among black teenagers, to make the same case.

But Ali and others said they don’t buy the message -- or the motives of the Minutemen.

“The same system that wants to criminalize immigration is the same system that disproportionately imprisons black men,” yelled Monica Morant, a Highland Park resident who decided to protest the event after hearing about it on the radio that morning.

The event had the feel less of a dialogue than of counter-protests.

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As Ali chanted “Minutemen go home!” through a bullhorn, Gilchrist treated his message as a metaphorical call to arms.

“Minutemen, stand your ground. Do not fire unless fired upon, and if it’s war he wants, then let it begin here,” Gilchrist cried.

Gilchrist then yelled “Let’s roll,” and the Minutemen boarded a fleet of recreational vehicles, campers and cars to begin their cross-country trek aimed at raising awareness of their cause.

The caravan plans to visit rural and urban communities in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Virginia.

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The group will hold rallies in Phoenix and Crawford, Texas, before ending the trip at Capitol Hill.

At rallies, Gilchrist will wear a bulletproof vest in addition to having three or four private bodyguards, Minuteman Project spokesman Tim Bueler said.

“We’re not going to take any chances,” Bueler said. “Mr. Gilchrist gets threatened all the time.”

The spokesman said the group expects many more supporters to join the caravan along its route. He blamed Wednesday’s small turnout -- far below his earlier prediction of 400 people -- on the caravan’s workday start.

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But Minutemen critics said the turnout showed that the group didn’t have popular support.

“As an organizer, you have to be able to produce people who actually care about the issue,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.

The Minutemen did receive some support Wednesday.

Ted Hayes, a longtime Los Angeles homeless advocate and now a vocal critic of illegal immigration, was on hand to support Gilchrist.

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“The illegal invaders are using our hard-earned civil rights as a key to justify their illegal intrusion across our border,” Hayes said at the rally. “If we allow them to take our civil rights -- black people, hear me -- they will take our heart and soul out of our heritage.”

He then turned to Gilchrist and gave him a hug.


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