Last spring during the outpouring of immigrant-rights demonstrations across the
country, Minutemen Project leaders Jim Gilchrist and Marvin Stewart basked in the media glow as the voice of the “average American” who is upset with the steady arrival of immigrants over the U.S.-Mexican border. Now, the two have turned their battle inwards in a power struggle over the leadership of the anti-immigrant organization, replete with verbal backbiting, lawsuits, accusations of massive embezzlement and a disturbing racial twist.
Stewart and other members of the Minuteman Project’s board of directors recently ousted Gilchrist, who founded the Minutemen in 1995, over charges that he mismanaged the organization and stole $400,000 in donations. Stewart was appointed the new head. Gilchrist has lashed back at his former allies by filing a suit alleging they illegally removed him from his position, hacked into the Project’s website and misallocated organization funds.
Lampooning Stewart and his supporters, the Minuteman homepage currently features “Minuteman Hijacking for Dummies,” with the tagline “Learn how you can cash in by betraying an American hero!”
The dispute among the vigilante group may be welcome news to immigrant-rights proponents because the spat threatens to split, or even dissolve, the organization permanently. But the leadership of Stewart, who is African-American, may also signal a disturbing deeper current in the antiimmigrant movement: the pitting of African-Americans against Latinos.
The Minuteman Project and similar organizations have long been accused by critics of fostering white racism against Latinos. But some black anti-immigration voices have tried to exploit tension between Latinos and African-Americans by blaming African-American economic malaise on cross-border migration.
Organizations such as Choose Black America claim illegal immigration is “the single greatest impediment to black advancement in this country over the past 25 years.”
The website of Choose Black America states that “blacks, in particular, have lost economic opportunities, seen their kids’ schools flooded with non-English speaking students, and felt the socio-economic damage of illegal immigration more acutely than any other group.”
Press releases lambaste the employment of undocumented workers in Hurricane Katrina-related reconstruction and cry out that “amnesty for violating U.S. immigration laws is not a civil rights issue.”
Choose Black America leader Ted Hayes has stated, “We native blacks are a labor class that the government and private industries are allowing to become obsolete while they reach out to foreign-born aliens to fill shrinking opportunities.”
These comments feed into the perception held by some American blacks that Latinos “steal” jobs, lower wages and cut into hard-won African American political power. The goal of the groups is to foment a generalized black resistance toward Latin American immigrants.