While the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps and the Minuteman Project, national anti-immigrant groups formed around “border vigils” in 2005, have been struggling with financial mismanagement and internal strife, the “Minuteman” brand has been a steady presence in many localities, with franchises – affiliated or not – independently focusing nativist anger on the immigrant and Hispanic population in cities and small towns.
Emblematic of such groups is the San Diego Minutemen: We noted their over-the-top protests against a Catholic church last month, and last year pointed to a web site by the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation that provides video of Minutemen aggressively harassing day-laborers and others.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s magazine has an in-depth profile of the group, describing how it’s under investigation for allegedly ransacking a long-term campsite used by migrant workers.
Then, this Jan. 27, the men and women who remained in the McGonigle shantytown returned from a day’s work to find their homes and meager possessions sliced to ribbons. Pants had their seats cut out. Shirts had been cut in half. Sleeping bags were sliced open. Tarp roofs, always scant protection against the chilly winter rains, drooped from their supporting frames in tatters.
Roberto Peña, a migrant who lived in the canyon, told police that he came back to his shack early that afternoon and spotted a group of four men and women using knives to cut up migrant property while a tall, blonde woman videotaped them. The men, he told police, chased him with knives. Peña ducked into the bushes. He lay there, according to a police affidavit, “watching the group destroy his property [when] he heard them saying, ‘Fuck Mexicans’.”
While the national Minuteman organizations nominally reject this chapter, it’s clear that the San Diego Minutemen – called by its enthusiastic founder “the strongest Minuteman group in the nation” – is a major player in the anti-immigrant vigilante movement, and like dozens of other local start-ups, a way in which the Minuteman brand remains a force beyond the control its weakened founders.