Friday, February 09, 2007

Minutemen say bring on the protests

Minutemen say publicity draws more members

Protesters' efforts to warn the public about the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps' November meeting in Selah may have backfired, the group says.

News coverage of the Nov. 12 gathering drew at least a dozen new faces to the Minutemen's December meeting at the Selah Civic Center, the new spokesman for the Western Washington chapter said Wednesday.

The spokesman, Bruce Lloyd, said he was among those who showed up for the second meeting to learn more about the group and ended up joining.

At the Minutemen's first meeting in Selah, immigrant rights demonstrators rallied across the street from the civic center while Minuteman supporters lined up opposite them along First Street. About 60 people went into the meeting, organizers said, but verbal sparring outside only added to the Minutemen's numbers when the group reassembled in December, said Lloyd, a former on-air personality for Yakima's KIT-AM radio station.

"That (November) meeting brought in quite a few new members," he said. "A lot of people didn't like what went on.

"From what I saw on the news, the Minutemen kept their cool and conducted an organized meeting, but the protesters were out of control."

Anti-Minuteman protesters said despite the benefits the Minutemen apparently derived from local TV, radio and newspaper coverage, the demonstration was important in that it let the community know what was happening.

"Definitely no regrets," said Maria Cuevas, a member of the group Aguila del Norte and an intercultural communications instructor at Yakima Valley Community College. "What we saw was dangerous was the insertion of their rhetoric, which was not based upon any empirical data ... that's why we were there."

According to the Minuteman Web site, the group is dedicated to helping the U.S. Border Patrol keep tabs on illegal activity by acting as voluntary eyes and ears along the border. Immigrant rights organizations have countered that the Minutemen harass undocumented immigrants and promote a "racist" agenda, Cuevas said.

One such example, she said, was before the Kennewick City Council, where Minutemen showed up in December to support a proposed ordinance that would have punished landlords who rent to undocumented immigrants. The ordinance failed.

Hal Washburn, volunteer coordinator for the Bellingham-based Western Washington Minuteman Chapter, said the organization plans other public events, including a counter-protest against an immigration rights demonstration planned for Feb. 10 at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. Washburn also said Minuteman organizers from Arizona -- where the group originated -- plan on coming to Washington this month to help organize new chapters. Washington currently has two Minuteman chapters, in Yakima and Bellingham.

"We have members scattered all over the place and it's difficult to get together because of distance involved and we're encouraging people to open up local chapters," Washburn said.

Cuevas said no further protests are planned at future Minutemen meetings or events. However, she said Aguila del Norte and other groups like it are watching the Minutemen just as they watch the border.

"We're keeping our eyes open, but our focus right now is educating the community," she said.

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