Monday, October 25, 2004

Beating extremism

I suggested yesterday that I'd keep running down some of the more extreme connections between Kobach and his racist allies. The reason is that I think we're entering a period in history when these sorts of wackos will be trying to get into office and to bring the Republican party and the nation further to the right. People on the left definitely need to fight that, and moderates who are philosophically committed to centrism should too.

I'm trying to get a little more context on my quote from a while back about Larry Pratt advocating “Guatemalan style death squads.” The history of that claim is that he wrote a book called Armed People Victorious. Because of that book, he was invited to the “Christian Identity” conference on militias I mentioned earlier. A lot of great background on Pratt's connections to the extremist right is in this 1996 message from Michael Novick.

The argument of the book, summarized in this 1995 op-ed by Pratt, is that, in the Philippines and Guatemala, “[w]hat genocide had not been able to accomplish for years and years, cooperation with an armed people brought peace within months [sic]. Would it not be worth trying the same thing in our violence-torn cities?” This question was the genesis of his militia program which carried the day at the 1992 Estes Park meeting that unified: Identity followers (who believe that Jews are Satan's children, northern Europeans are the true descendants of Abraham, and that dark skinned people are mud people), Christian Reconstructionists (who believe that America should be a Christian theocracy), neo-Nazis, anti-tax “Posse Comitatus” activists, various gun rights groups, anti-immigration groups, and anti-abortion activists.

Refuse and Resist, which seems to be a communist paper, has an extensive profile on Pratt, which is very long and very thorough in drawing connections between Pratt and his advocacy of violence, racism, anti-immigrant xenophobia, and theocracy.

If you think that this is all from eons ago, here's an archive of op-ed pieces he's written in the last couple years. Even in this small sample, a clear picture emerges.

Here's a recent opinion piece he wrote advocating vigilante justice. Someone named Roger Roots had an article out asking “Are Cops Constitutional?” which argues that in the 1800's, grand juries would just be a bunch of folks from the community who would indict someone, and would go over as a posse to arrest the person too. Roots finishes with his own question, “And the reason we changed was ...?”

In an earlier article called “Mexican Embassy Confirms Why Border Citizens Must Be Armed” Pratt offers an annotated transcript of his interview with a press attaché from Mexico's embassy to the U.S., including this exchange:

Q: Article IV, Section IV of our Constitution says the United States shall protect each State in our Union 'against Invasion.' Would you consider all the illegals coming from your country to be an invasion?

A: (laughing) Not at all.

Q: Not at all?

A: No.

Q: Because?

A: Because they come here to get jobs.

Q: So, if millions of your people come here in violation of our laws that, to you, is not an invasion?

A: It is not.

Q: It sounds like an invasion to me.

A: Well, it doesn't sound like an invasion to me.
(For the record: The last dictionary I trust, Noah Webster's 1828 Dictionary Of The English Language, says the following about the words “invade” and “invasion.” The number three definition of “invade” is “to infringe; to encroach on; to violate.” Definition number four is “to go into.” The number two definition of “invasion” is “an attack on the rights of another; infringement or violation.” Thus, it is arguable that when millions of Mexicans infringe our laws, violate them and illegally encroach on our territory, this is an invasion.)

I think we have enough material to start with right there. First, he seems to be entirely unaware that we aren't living in 1829, and that a lot of things in the world have changed since then. I have a facsimile of that same dictionary somewhere, and it's good for a few laughs now and then. It is not the last dictionary I would trust. By the logic of that, things like telephones and computers don't exist, and gay marriages would be common-place. Who could oppose happy weddings?

That's only relevant because a similar argument answers the question he asks about vigilante justice. What's changed since 1829? Everything. Lynchings happened, which soured a lot of people on letting justice be doled out by angry mobs. Union organizers got beaten and killed by company thugs, who claimed to be enforcing their property rights against trespassers. The country grew a lot bigger and a lot denser.

But these two articles, which I found without trying very hard, tell us where the Guatemalan death squad comparisons are coming from. He wants people on the border to have guns so they can “enforce” immigration law. If the illegals come along peacefully, he might let them off with a warning and a trip back across the border. If they struggle, that's why the vigilantes need guns. To Pratt, it's just one more dead Mexican.

Maybe I'm reading too much into Pratt. His argument against gun control rests heavily on the idea that crime should only be defined as an action that causes harm to a person. Since illegal immigration causes no more harm to any particular person than killing a turtle, chopping down a tree, or draining a swamp, why should it be illegal. Why, to take this to a limit, should it be a capital offense to come to this country without a visa? To follow the argument from his first article, where is the victim who can assemble some friends into a posse?

There is harm from excessive illegal immigration. Undocumented workers undermine minimum wage laws and worker safety laws. They can drive down property values and place some additional incremental costs on taxpayers through increased pressure on the police and public welfare agencies. But as with the loss of wetlands or biodiversity or drug abuse, the harm is diffused across time and across the community. That's why we have courts with professional prosecutors and standards for grand juries. Because a crime is a crime, whether it hurts one person a lot or a million people a tiny amount. The state can aggregate that harm and punish it.

Why do I accuse Pratt of being a racist? Here's a recent article on “Why Blacks Tend To Support Gun Control.” I thought he would somehow address the point that gun deaths among young African Americans are catastrophic, and perhaps segue into the perils of the drug trade. But that's just my liberal craziness. It's actually because the NAACP is a bunch of “radical socialists” and because “the black family ... is dependent on the Democrat's government welfare plantation, [and] has become dominated by feminist women who hate men. ... Not surprisingly, one of the elements of the liberal world-view supported by many blacks is opposition to self-defense.” Yes, that's why so many young black men are getting shot, Larry, because they oppose self-defense. I bet a lot of those gun victims are shooting back, are going for their gun, or are getting a taste of your precious vigilante justice. I don't know the numbers, but gang warfare implies that both sides are armed.

Aside from being a stupid argument, it is hopelessly tied up in the notion that blacks are utterly dependent on someone to care for them. This is how slavery was justified, and how Reconstruction era sharecroppers were kept down. Former plantation owners would charge more for supplies than they paid for the work, keeping families in indentured servitude, and when people challenged the system, argued that their slaves workers were dependent on the plantation.

In another article, Pratt sides with Chris Simcox, an advocate of vigilante justice on the Arizona border. This is his transcript of a conversation between Simcox and noted “liberal” Alan Colmes.

Colmes: “And you feel that you have the right to take it upon yourself to do this, disregarding whatever law enforcement authorities tell you to do?”

Simcox: “Disregarding what law? This is our Constitutional right to protect our borders.”

No reply from Colmes. Instead, he wonders just how far Simcox is prepared to go. He notes that two Arizona ranchers wounded “a guy.” And “other people” have been accused of “taking people, holding them, tying them down, doing this on their own.” Does Simcox support this?

Simcox: “Sure. If it means protecting our national security. And again, we're at a time of alert and alarm against enemies, foreign and domestic. They're -- our government tells us they're here. It's been a year since 9/11, and our government's done nothing to seal the borders and to truly protect American interests.”

Simcox adds that his group is made up of “two-thirds retired military personnel and police personnel.” Thus, they believe they have the training they need to do the job in a reasonable way.

Colmes persists. Obviously outraged that private citizens would actually defend themselves, their property and their country, he asks, as if this, and not illegal immigration, is the problem: “Are you going to use guns?” Will they tie people down? He demands an answer to these questions.

Simcox: “Sir, we'll do what's necessary to protect.”

Colmes: “But, necessary doesn't answer specifically the question”

Pratt concludes that he is “glad that neither [American Border Patrol's] Glenn Spencer nor Chris Simcox will in any way be deterred” by accusations of racist and vigilantism.

I think that this little sample of recent writing shows the same agenda that he proposed in Estes Park 10 years ago is still what drives Pratt. He wants to establish militias to root out immigrants. The same system of militias would let him wage war on non-Christians, on people who support abortion rights, or gay rights, or anyone else who doesn't fit into his schemes.