Will the mainstream media ever stop trying to whitewash the Minuteman Project?

Last month, when Lou Dobbs of CNN used “The Council of Conservative Citizens” as a source for a story on “immigration reform”, very few of us were surprised. After all, Dobbs is a well-known anti-immigrant bigot and a couple of hours looking at the Viagra and Franklin Mint commercials on any of the cable news networks will leave you with few illusions about their core demographic.

In spite of the recent takeover of the Village Voice by New Times Media and the purge of James Ridgeway and 17 other Voice staffers, however, one would expect the famous liberal weekly (with its ads for transvestite hookers and leather fetish shops) to take a slightly different approach. But in a pair of articles for the Voice’s blog “Power Plays”, “Minutemen Take Border Battle to 39th Street” and “Standing up AgainstSocialism” Voice staff writer Jarrett Murphy shows a disturbing kinship with Dobbs and CNN.

Paul Krugman once remarked that if George Bush ever said that the earth is flat, the headlines the next day would read "Opinions Differ on Shape of the Earth.” Murphy, who seems to consider himself both liberal and sympathetic to immigrants, nevertheless can’t stop himself from falling into the narrative Krugman so succinctly described. This allows the Minutemen, or in this case, a shadowy affiliate of the Minutemen, “New Yorkers for Immigration Control and Enforcement”, to play for fools not only Murphy, but the New York Times, The New York Post, and CBS as skillfully as Karl Rove or any other experienced political operative.

Indeed, the description of the coverage (and of their goals for the media) on the “New Yorkers for Immigration Control and Enforcement” website sums it up almost as well as Krugman does.

The rally started at 11:00am, and for 45 minutes it was peaceful and orderly. At that point about a dozen noisy counter-protesters showed up, who, according to the report in The NY Times, were in fact Trotskyites (the ultimate in fringy, powerless losers). They were loud and stupid, but they may very well have helped get our demonstration into the press, and if so then they served a good purpose.

Anybody who’s ever seen a group of “Protest Warriors” at an anti-war demonstration knows the drill here. You get a small group of people together together, bring a few obnoxious looking t-shirts and big, loud signs and do your best to provoke outrage, pick a fight so that the nice photographer for the AP or Reuters will get to take some cool photos of anti-war protesters screaming at young Republicans. The media, in their everlasting desire to see “both sides of the story” (even if there’s only one side or as many as one hundred sides) will blunder right into the trap and, even if there are only 20 pro-Bush protesters to 500,000 anti-war protesters, will do their best to be “fair and balanced.” What they’ll never do is dig beneath the facades of the various groups, do any research, or conduct anything more than a cursory interview.

Tapped by “New Yorkers for Immigration Control and Enforcement” to be their spokesman, Jarrett Murphy performs his assigned role nicely.

In the first of the two articles, “Minutemen Take Border Battle to 39th Street”, Murphy approvingly quotes Jason Megill (the leader of the New York Chapter of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps”), doing his best to play up Megill as a moderate. Describing a rally that drew all of 50 people and about 20 counter protesters and yet which garnered an article in the New York Times (Name me one anti-war rally of 50 people that would get a New York Times article. Just one.), Murphy talks about Megill’s concerns about security in a post 9/11 world.

"We're really concerned about the lack of border security," Megill tells the Voice. He points to the thousands who sneak across each day, and to 9-11 as an example of where more uncontrolled immigration might lead. "We have to call attention to the fact that this administration doesn't enforce immigration laws." And not just on the border: The Minutemen want to see more "interior enforcement"— cops asking people their immigration status (this is expressly restricted in New York City). Megill believes that would "reduce illegal immigration and reduce crime."

In spite of the well-documented connections between the Minutemen and the white power and militia movements, written about in great detail by David Neiwert and groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, Murphy even acts like a good high-school guidance counselor, helping Megill polish his resume and phrase his talking points.

The group's leader is Jason Megill, a 30-year-old son of Canadian immigrants who works as a trader on Wall Street.

Yes, Jason Megill, whose parents worked their way up from the grinding poverty of Canada’s nationalized healthcare system to see their son succeed on Wall Street, no extremist here. Touching, but unfortunately when Murphy mentioned me on the Village Voice blog, he fails to describe me as “the grandson of Polish and Swiss immigrants”. Where’s the fairness and the balance?

And while Megill himself is open about the fact that The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps wants new legislation (the HH4437 bill that provoked the massive immigrants rights rallies over the Spring), Murphy distorts Megill’s straightforward phrasing to make him look more moderate, to make it look as if the anti-immigrant group is only demanding stricter enforcement of existing laws, not calling for new legislation that would make it a felony even to give an illegal immigrant medical aide.

The people who'll gather outside the Mexican Consulate on East 39th Street are calling for more—not less—border enforcement and less—not more—immigration.

Seeing how skillfully they played Murphy with the Mexican consulate protest, “New Yorkers for Immigration Control and Enforcement” perceptively senses that the way to Jarrett Murphy’s fair and balanced heart is to give him a set of extremist bookends between which he can place his witty moderate perspective.

Since the group that protested “New Yorkers for Immigration Control and Enforcement” Mexican Consulate protest is, by their own description, “Trotskyites (the ultimate in fringy, powerless losers)” and for the sake of argument I’ll call Trotskyites “The Judean Peoples Front”, the next stop on the “New Yorkers for Immigration Control and Enforcement” protest tour and traveling circle is, of course, “Revolution Books,” the home of the Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party (who for the sake of argument I’ll call the “Peoples Front for the Liberation of Judea”). Never mind that Maoists and Trotskyites hate each other almost as much as the Israelis and Palestinians hate one another (I don’t really expect anybody out of one or two zip codes in the whole country to get that joke), “New Yorkers for Immigration Control and Enforcement” has correctly guessed that the Revolutionary Communist Party is a supporter of the immigrant rights movement.

And Murphy, in his fair and balanced way, can’t help but draw a moral equivalence between both groups. Indeed, for establishment liberals like Murphy and mainstream press outlets like the Village Voice, all those “extremists” look alike and, not surprisingly, their main flaw in Murphy’s eyes is a mistrust and hostility towards big business.

The funny thing is that NY I.C.E. and the RCP sound quite a bit alike in some of their critiques of the current immigration system. NY I.C.E. blames big business for abetting illegal immigration, depressing U.S. workers' wages, and supporting politicians who allow it to happen. The newly updated RCP manifesto similarly wags a finger at the elites: "The bourgeoisie brags about its 'great melting pot' as it lures immigrants into its cheap labor pools."

But Murphy stops with the most superficial descriptions of both groups. He doesn’t bother to walk into Revolution Books. He merely notes what they have sitting in their window (Chomsky and Bob Avakian) and quotes a few of the most radical sounding parts of their “Draft Program”.

"Of all the tyrants and oppressors in the world, there is none that has caused more untold misery and committed more screaming injustices against the people of the world than the rulers of the U.S."

And he never bothers to find out that the people behind New Yorkers for Immigration Control and Enforcement” are Ron Bass and the “United Patriots of America” and John Clark from the Council of Conservative Citizens (best known as Lou Dobb’s source of information about the Chicano movement), well known white supremacist front groups. He merely quotes an unnamed member of the New Yorkers for “Immigration Control and Reform” about how flat out mean the “socialists” were to them in front of the Mexican consulate:

the counterprotestors at the previous rally reported to the press that they belong to Socialist groups . . . Furthermore, these counterprotestors also demonstrated their affinity for intimidation tactics when, AFTER THE RALLY, they stalked and surrounded at least one member of NY I.C.E., screaming repeatedly "racist." . . . NY I.C.E. officially denounces racism. One of our key leaders herself is Hispanic and the granddaughter of legal immigrants.

It would of course have been helpful had Murphy given us the source of the quote or even posed the question of who precisely the counterprotesters had been, but instead he just takes him at his word. Indeed, a more intrepid journalist might have skipped the facile “oh they’re all just extremists to my virtuous moderation” framing and looked more deeply into the differences and similarities between both groups. While neither the Revolutionary Communist Party nor New Yorkers for Immigration Control and Enforcement could be considered “mainstream”, Revolution Books is in fact a long established brick and mortar store that’s been located just off of Union Square for over 20 years. New Yorkers for Immigration Control and Enforcement, on the other hand, has no contact list, no name attached to it, no office, just a website and an e-mail address.

And yet, in spite of the fringe quality of any of their individual chapters, the Minutemen are a well-known, well-financed group that receives lavishly favorable attention in the mainstream media, kind words from Republican politicians, and puff pieces in alternative weeklies like the Village Voice. Like the Swiftboat Vets for Truth, New Yorkers for Immigration Control and Reform is a perfect manifestation of the right’s use of fringe, expendable, or in David Neiwert’s words, “transmitter” groups to get the most extremist positions to the public without any consequence being attached to any mainstream right-wing politician or organization. All they have to do is find some way of getting the media’s attention, and the larger frame, or narrative of the media goes to work, pushing their ideas out into the public and making them look respectable.

With a few Jarrett Murphy’s unconsciously shilling for them, who knows, they could ride Tom Tancredo all the way to the White House.