Juan Williams, filling in for Bill O'Reilly last Friday on The O'Reilly Factor, had on my friend Kyle de Beausset (who blogs as Kyledeb at Citizen Orange) to discuss Kyle's role in Harvard University's decision to rescind a speaking invitation to Minuteman leader Jim Gilchrist. As you can see, Williams was perplexed by what should be an obvious matter: While Harvard is well served by hearing all sides of a debate, it serves neither the university nor the public to legitimize the rantings of a hatemonger whose rhetoric inspires violence.
At least the Harvard Crimson got it straight:
The movement to ban Gilchrist from the conference was largely initiated by Kyle A. de Beausset ’11, who in early October began using different university mailing lists to build support for uninviting Gilchrist due to his involvement in the Minuteman Project, which organizes civilians to patrol the border for illegal immigrants and to report crossings to the Border Patrol.
“It might be an interesting intellectual exercise for Harvard students to hear extremist views,” de Beausset wrote in one of these e-mails, but he added that the “broader implications of legitimizing these extremist views with the Harvard name” were more important.
“Jim Gilchrist’s willingness to spout falsehoods shows that he shouldn’t be given the legitimacy of open and free academic debate...His irresponsible rhetoric has led to violence,” de Beausset told The Crimson in an interview.
In a statement released on the conference Web site, the Undergraduate Legal Committee said that Gilchrist’s presence would detract from the conference because his attitude and views were inconsistent with the conference’s mission of promoting law and public service to foster social justice.
“Unfortunately, Mr. Gilchrist’s participation in the conference on the behalf of the Minuteman Project was not compatible with providing an environment for civil, educational, and productive discourse on immigration, and we cannot host him at this time,” it said.
What may have been the deciding factor, it turns out, may have been Jim Gilchrist's history of bad judgment catching up to him -- namely, his long association with Shawna Forde, the leader of a gang of "tacital" Minutemen who, in a failed effort to finance their activities through robbery, shot and killed a 9-year-old girl and her father late at night in their home in cold blood.
Kyle de Beausset, an undergraduate student and migrant advocate, who was one of the original Harvard protesters, said yesterday that Gilchrist’s removal will allow discussions to move toward policy, rather than animosity.
“It’s a victory for people who are trying to get hate out of the immigration debate,’’ he said. “There’s a difference between having views, and hate speech.’’
Beausset said more students have been alerted to the group’s stance since the arrest in June of a woman with ties to the Minuteman Project.
Shawna Ford and two others allegedly shot and killed a father and son, and wounded the mother in a robbery that Beausset said was to “finance her nativist activism.’’
He said the episode showed the extremes to which some members of the movement will go.
“I’m concerned about the broader national implications of legitimizing these extremist views with the Harvard name,’’ he said in a letter to fellow students.
[Note: The Globe story has its facts slightly mangled; the Minuteman gang's young victim was a girl.]
Arizona Star reporter Tim Steller noted the role played by Gilchrist's ties to Forde as well.
Clearing the Propaganda and Educating the Uninformed:
Neither I nor the MInuteman Project ever had an “extensive” association with Shawna Forde. I met her in person briefly only three times over a four year period. The last time was in early 2008 as she sat in an audience listening to me and a retired career DEA agent speak. A phone call was made to her when I received an email that law enforcement was supposedly looking for her in June 2009. She denied any wrongdoing when confronted over the phone about that “inquiry.” That is essentially all the so-called “association” Minuteman Project had with Forde.
Propaganda may bode well for Kyle de Beausset and his egomaniacal demand for attention, but the price paid by Harvard’s loss of stature as a beacon of free thhought and free speech is irreparable.
Read my essay on immigration published by Georgetown U Law School. It is at my web site. It that essay represents hate speech, then so does Mary Poppins. I rest my case.
Jim Gichrist, President, The Minuteman Project
— Jim Gilchrist 10/21/2009 09:20 PM
Well, one of those "brief meetings" with Forde involved a big public Minuteman rally organized by Forde in Everett, Washington, back in 2006, about the same time Forde was appearing onstage representing the Minutemen in public-TV forums, too. Gilchrist was the star attraction at the Everett rally, and he and Forde praised each other onstage.
In an earlier report, moreover, Steller pointed out that Gilchrist was up to his ankles in communicating with Forde right up to the point of her arrest -- and in fact appears to have tried to tip her off that federal authorities were looking for her:
Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minuteman Project and an early leader of the movement, said last week that he donated $200 to a member of Forde's group, that he called Forde a few days after the murders as investigators closed in, and that his group removed postings by and about Forde from its Web site after the arrests. But he called Forde and her associates "rogues," and denied that he or his group had a formal relationship with her.
"They happened to use the Minuteman movement as a guise, as a mask," he said.
... On June 2, three days after the murders, Gilchrist received an e-mail from a Southern Arizona associate who had been visited by investigators looking for Forde. Gilchrist forwarded the e-mail to Forde, he said.
He said he called her and asked if there was a warrant for her arrest. She said no.
And as LongIslandWins reported earlier, Forde was given a prominent role for some time in Gilchrist's outfit:
According to rival Minutemen, Jim Gilchrist's Minuteman Project listed Shawna Forde as a leader of the so-called "mainstream" group for more than a year. Forde was recently charged in the politically motivated killing of two Latinos.
... Jeff Schwilk, a California Minuteman leader, said he tried to warn other Minutemen that "she was a danger to our movement”, but, he said, nationally known Minuteman co-founder Jim Gilchrist wouldn't listen.
Schwilk told a reporter that Forde "was (listed as) his [Gilchrists] official border operations director on his Web site for more than a year (in 2008 and 2009)...He used her and she used him to promote each other.” And while Gilchrist's aides have claimed that he had no close connection to Forde, Gilchrist participated in a rally she organized in 2007.
And Steven Eichler, the current executive director of the Minutemen Project, admits that he periodically posted communications from Forde on the organization's web site. As I noted last week, most references to Shawna Forde on the network of Minuteman websites have been scrubbed this week to avoid the obvious connection to the killing of Latinos. But the Green Valley News was able to obtain and preserve some postings before the cover-up began. Here is what that newspaper uncovered:
One link that was active Saturday afternoon but removed later in the day included a September 2008 message from Gilchrist stating, “I salute all the brave Minutemen and Minutewomen of the Minutemen American Defense [Forde's supposedly "marginal" outfit]. Their bravery and dedication is a sterling example of true patriotism. The members of the Minutemen American Defense are a positive example for all Americans to follow.”
Another “Message from Forde,” since removed, was posted eight days after the May 30 murders of Flores and his 9-year-old daughter, Brisenia, but several days before Forde, Jason Eugene “Gunny” Bush and Albert Gaxiola were arrested in the case. It introduced Bush as MAD’s new operations director and stated, “We are in full operation we have people coming from Florida and other parts of the country to assist in gathering exclusive footage of drug cartel drug smuggling and humane (sic) trafficking.”
Forde sent the article to Gilchrist and Eichler on June 6 via an e-mail obtained by the Green Valley News.
Eichler responded in the e-mail the next day, writing, “Do you want a large volumne (sic) of volunteers to go to the border under your watch? If you are going to expand, then you will get all the way from lawn chair lookie lous to hard core combat ready Minutemen.”
In an interview, Eichler said he remembered the correspondence, but had no idea then that Forde might have been involved in the murders. Hindsight is 20-20, he said, but nothing tipped him off to Forde’s potential for violence.
“We facilitated the publicizing of her organization like we’ve facilitated many others,” he said. “We want to work with as many people as we can. But in doing so, there is still that risk.”
So the Executive Director of the Minuteman Project contacts Shawna Forde on June 7, 2009, not a year ago, but right before she is arrested, and offers to place a large number of his armed troops "under your [Forde's] watch". Some of these volunteers he refers to as "hard core combat ready Minutemen".
In other words, in spite of the warnings of a few Minutemen, there is ample reason to think that Forde was considered "part of the movement" right up until the minute she was arrested. And far from being the "neighborhood watch" group that Lou Dobbs likes to depict the Minutemen as, their own leader calls them "combat ready".
Yep, that's Jim Gilchrist, all right.
The ironic thing is that, as I noted in my investigative report on the Minutemen for The American Prospect, Gilchrist even last year was already ruing the violent turn the movement had taken, in part because it attracted people like ... Shawna Forde, as it turned out:
The Minuteman movement has fallen on such hard times that even Gilchrist has publicly admitted that he regrets the "Saddam Hussein mentality" within its ranks, particularly some of its smaller, independent offshoots. "Am I happy at the outcome of this whole movement? I am very, very sad, very disappointed," Gilchrist told The Orange County Register in June. His concern may have been disingenuous, but it was far from groundless. Over the past year, several incidents of violence have been associated with various subfactions of the Minutemen. Last summer, a couple of Minutemen created a video portraying the shooting of border-crossers--which they later admitted was a hoax but decidedly a reflection of their real attitudes. The men were in a group that had spun off from the San Diego Minutemen, itself an independent offshoot of the movement.
But then, the fact that the Minutemen were a giant magnet for the worst kinds of violent extremists was obvious to many observers right from the start.