Illegal Immigration Debate Fueling White Supremacists

The passion surrounding the debate over illegal immigration is breathing new life into the white supremacist movement, reports TIME magazine.

With immigration perhaps America’s most volatile issue, a troubling backlash has erupted among its most fervent foes. There are, of course, the Minutemen, the self-appointed border vigilantes who operate in several states. And now groups of militiamen, white supremacists and neo-Nazis are using resentment over the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. as a potent rallying cry. “The immigration furor has been critical to the growth we’ve seen” in hate groups, says Mark Potok, head of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. The center counts some 800 racist groups operating in the U.S. today, a 5% spurt in the past year and a 33% jump from 2000. “They think they’ve found an issue with racial overtones and a real resonance with the American public,” says Potok, “and they are exploiting it as effectively as they can.”

Both Potok’s group and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) are worried that extremists are burrowing their way into the anti-immigration mainstream. Mark Martin, 43, of Covington, Ohio, is a chef at a French restaurant and tends his backyard organic garden. But he also dons the black and brown uniform of western Ohio’s National Socialist (read: Nazi) Movement. “There’s nothing neo about us,” he says. Martin admits he frequently harasses day laborers and threatens them with deportation. “As Americans, we have the right to make a citizen’s arrest and detain them,” he insists. “And if they try to get away, we have the right to get physical with them.” Martin gleefully boasts about leading eight fellow storm troopers in disrupting a May 1 pro-immigrant rally in Dayton by taunting protesters. Although police ultimately restrained him, Martin believes his agitation was worthwhile because it attracted new recruits. “After the rally, the Klan called us,” he says. “Now we’ve started working together more often.”

In addition to white supremacists, the immigration debate seems to have reinvigorated members of the antigovernment militias of the 1990s. Those groups largely disbanded after the Oklahoma City bombing orchestrated by militia groupie Timothy McVeigh and, later, the failure of a Y2K bug to trigger the mass chaos some militia members expected. “We’ve seen people from Missouri and Kentucky militias involved in border-vigilante activity, especially with the gung-ho Arizona group Ranch Rescue that used face paint, military uniforms and weapons,” says Mark Pitcavage, fact-finding director of the ADL. “It’s a natural shift. Militias fell on hard times, and this anti-immigration movement is new and fresh.”

This isn’t really surprising. While the vast majority of the people sending bricks to their Congressman and otherwise agitated over the potential granting of amnesty to those who crossed the border illegally are genuinely motivated by something other than racial animus, there is undeniably a racial-ethnic-cultural element to the controversy. Further, most activist groups will try to use the polarizing issues of the day to their advantage.

The breathlessness of this story, though, is of some concern. While I agree with author Jeffrey Ressner that the Minutemen are essentially vigilantes, it is a rather loaded term for straight news reportage.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Race and Politics, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. LJD says:

    Perhaps I am mistaken, but my knowledge of the Minutemen is that they merely observe and report. The do not arrest or administer justice on illegals. If that is indeed true, I do not see them as vigilantes.

    What they are doing is protecting their property, one of THEIR rights as Americans, and something the government will NOT do FOR them.

    What the media is doing, is lumping the Minutemen together with idiotic white trash. Shameful.

  2. LB says:

    You are correct, LJD. The Minutemen are not vigilantes.

    Their presence near the border is the point. They don’t shoot at, harm, or detain border jumpers.

    A vigilante is one who takes law enforcement into his own hands. Standing on a border to discourage people from entering a country they have no right to enter is not a law enforcement activity.

  3. floyd says:

    jeffrey ressner finding himself losing the war of ideas,resorts to racist labeling in an attempt to quiet his opposition.despicable!

  4. If the minutemen are vigilantes, then neighborhood watches or the nosy neighbor who calls the cops on every suspicious car are also vigilantes.

    Of course, we can’t expect the MSM to report on any attempts by the Aztlan people to increase their membership. After all, there are good racists and bad racists aren’t their?

  5. TLB says:

    This is a standard attempt by the MSM to smear opponents of illegal immigration as just one step away from the KKK. In fact, the excerpt of the article above is similar to an ADL “report”. Here’s more on the SPLC.

    Note also the attempt to link the MMP et al to the militia movement. Perhaps Time is trying to support the Feds cracking down on the MMP in the same way that they have against various militias. In fact:

  6. RJN says:

    Only groups approved by the Southern Poverty Law Center have any right to operate in the United States. If you wish to have an opinion check with them before you speak it or write it.

    If the Southern Poverty offices are closed go to the ADL for approval.