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2006-10-11

Minuteman Founder Jim Gilchrist Storms Off Democracy Now! Debate With Columbia Student Organizer

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The anti-immigration group the Minuteman Project announced yesterday that they are seeking to strip Columbia University of federal funding for what they say are violations of their civil rights. Last week, student demonstrators disrupted a speech by Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist who was invited to the school by the College Republicans. Gilchrist and student organizer Karina Garcia joins us for a debate that ends when Gilchrist abruptly pulls the plug. [includes rush transcript]

The anti-immigration group the Minuteman Project announced yesterday that they are seeking to strip Columbia University of federal funding for what they say are violations of their civil rights. Last week, student demonstrators disrupted a speech by Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist who was invited to the school by the College Republicans.

Over 20 students stormed the stage after Gilchrist came to the microphone and two students unfurled a banner reading "No human being is illegal." On Friday, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger issued a statement that read in part: "The disruption on Wednesday night that resulted in the termination of an event organized by the Columbia College Republicans in Lerner Hall represents, in my judgment, one of the most serious breaches of academic faith that can occur in a university such as ours."

Bollinger has vowed to launch an investigation into the student’s actions. But at a press conference on Monday, the students claim that they were assaulted. They point to a video taken by a reporter from Univision. They say it depicts a member of the Minutemen kicking a student in the head.

  • Jim Gilchrist. Founder of the Minuteman Project and co-author of the book "Minutemen: The Battle to Secure America’s Borders."
  • Karina Garcia. Political Chair of the Chicano Caucus at Columbia University. Karina is a senior there.

We asked a representative from Columbia to join us as well but they declined our invitation.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Jim Gilchrist, who was the speaker at the event, joins us now from Irvine, California. He is the founder of the Minuteman Project and the co-author of Minutemen: The Battle to Secure America’s Borders. Here in studio in New York, I’m joined by Karina Garcia. She is the political chair of the Chicano Caucus at Columbia University. Her group organized the protest outside the Minuteman event. We asked a representative from Columbia University to join us as well, but they declined our invitation.

Let’s start with Jim Gilchrist. Can you talk about why you came to Columbia and what your message was?

JIM GILCHRIST: Yes, thanks for having me on your program. We came to Columbia from the invitation of the Republican club, student club at Columbia University, to speak about the book that Dr. Corsi and I wrote — Dr. Corsi also was scheduled to speak right after I was — and also about our views on the illegal immigration crisis that the United States is facing. We were there simply to disseminate information, not engage in what we’ve been accused of, as some kind of xenophobic racism. It’s simply a lecture presented by three of us: Marvin Stewart, an African American member of my board of directors, Dr. Jerome Corsi, and myself.

AMY GOODMAN: And when you got to the university and you were giving your address, what is your view of what happened?

JIM GILCHRIST: There was a concerted effort to forever shut down the First Amendment by those who disagreed with what we were going to talk about. This is not something new. It’s something that’s been attempted in the past by other either student groups or anarchist groups, the International Socialist Organization, whose goal is to stamp out free speech if they do not agree with it, so this was not something new.

I didn’t expect a storming of the stage, although it didn’t surprise me, because I had mentioned earlier to security that they should have uniformed badge-carrying officers in front of the stage to deter something like that from happening. It’s a shame what happened. It will go down in history forever as a day of infamy in Columbia University’s annals.

AMY GOODMAN: Karina Garcia, your perspective on what happened? And where were you?

KARINA GARCIA: Thank you for having me. It’s ridiculous for them to have turned it around and say that it’s an issue of free speech. What we actually saw was two groups exercising their right to freedom of speech. One group was promoting hatred and violence, and the other group was loudly opposing it. We never asked for the university or for anybody, for that matter, to ban this man from speaking. He was able to reserve a hall in our auditorium. He had the security of the New York City Police Department. He had the security of Columbia University Public Safety. Nobody attacked Mr. Gilchrist.

As a matter of fact, if you look at what his comment was the very next day on FOX News, he laughed about the situation and said that he was ready to give the very first Minuteman knuckle sandwich, which just goes to show how this man wasn’t attacked at all. As a matter of fact, we were the ones that were attacked, when we went up to unfurl a banner that said "Say No To Racism!" And it was our right and our duty and our obligation to stand up on the stage and say, "This man is a murderer. This man is a racist. And we do not support him."

AMY GOODMAN: And what then happened, when people went up on the stage?

KARINA GARCIA: When we went up on the stage, we were attacked by the Minutemen, as is evident in the Univision coverage.

AMY GOODMAN: And your response to the president of your university, Lee Bollinger’s statement on Friday?

KARINA GARCIA: I think that he was feeling a lot of pressure from the rightwing media, FOX News, Bill O’Reilly going on TV when the university is in the middle of a capital campaign and telling donors to stop giving money to the university, them turning this into a free speech issue, which it was not. I think that he was feeling a lot of pressure to react and react quickly without actually seeing the evidence, and I think that if you look at his statement now, I think it’s a lot different once the Univision coverage was shown. And then it showed who really were the people who were attacked and who were the aggressors in the situation.

JIM GILCHRIST: Outright propaganda.

AMY GOODMAN: Jim Gilchrist, your response.

JIM GILCHRIST: Yes, I’m going to end this interview until — for the outcome of — based on legal advice. What this lady is doing is putting a complete spin to her advantage. I don’t — I have never murdered anybody. I have never engaged in violence. I have never encouraged any violence or racism, nor has anyone in the Minuteman Project. This was a concerted, premeditated effort by people like Ms. Garcia to stifle the First Amendment.

KARINA GARCIA: What about your ties to the National Alliance?

JIM GILCHRIST: Now, I’m going to end this now, and you can deal with the law firm that’s going to probably name you and your cohorts —

KARINA GARCIA: Cohorts.

JIM GILCHRIST: —as defendants. I’m going to have to end this now, based on advice from legal counsel. I’m sorry.

KARINA GARCIA: Go ahead and run away.

AMY GOODMAN: Jim Gilchrist, I’m puzzled, are you sitting there with a lawyer?

JIM GILCHRIST: That’s it. [line cut]

AMY GOODMAN: We have just been cut off from our contact with Jim Gilchrist, who is in a studio in Irvine, California, says he had legal counsel to stop talking. Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the Minuteman Project and author of the book, Minutemen. Karina Garcia, your response.

KARINA GARCIA: He’s a coward. He is very tough when he has a shotgun and he’s in the middle of a desert intimidating defenseless immigrant families, but when it comes to being challenged by peaceful protesters and by people who understand this man and his organization for what they are, he runs away, and I think that was evident right now.

AMY GOODMAN: What was your comment about the National Alliance?

KARINA GARCIA: It’s very — it’s a known fact, this group recruits people from the National Alliance, one of the biggest neo-Nazi organizations in this country. This is an undisputed fact. Now, the fact that this organization is trying to clean up its image now and the fact that Jim Gilchrist has taken off his Klan hood and put on a suit doesn’t mean that he isn’t what he is and that his organization isn’t what they are. David Duke took off his hood, too. He tried to run for governor of Louisiana, and he put on a suit, and does that change the person that he is, what it represents? Not one bit. What he represents in the Mexican community is the same thing — what the Minutemen represent in the Mexican community is the same thing that David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan represent for the African American community.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m sorry we couldn’t carry on a dialogue, a discussion with you and Jim Gilchrist, but it was the College Republicans at Columbia who invited Gilchrist there. Have you had a discussion with them?

KARINA GARCIA: No.

AMY GOODMAN: And what has been the response on campus of the protest?

KARINA GARCIA: It’s been mixed. We’ve gotten a lot of support from people, but after the terrible coverage that we got from FOX, from the right wing, who mobilized very quickly to turn this into a free speech issue, which it clearly was not. people are mixed up. They don’t understand exactly what happened. And then, that’s why we held our press conference on Monday, to say exactly what happened. We didn’t attack that man. We didn’t attack him at all, and the video coverage shows just that.

AMY GOODMAN: Did the speech continue after you stood up with your signs that said, "No Human Being is Illegal"?

KARINA GARCIA: No, and that is not because this man felt physically threatened. This is because he was in the midst of a crowd of more than 150 people who were chanting when we got up on that stage and held our banner, and they were saying, "Si se puede! Si se puede!" And he felt isolated, because the entire time the crowd was against them, because they saw what they are, they know what they’ve done. And he terminated his own speech when he left, and that was not because he was threatened, like I said, but it was because he felt isolated and because he knew that he couldn’t win, because we knew exactly who he was, and so do the millions of undocumented immigrants in this country who didn’t have the ability to be in that room to call this man what he was.

AMY GOODMAN: Was there a difference between the English-language press coverage and Univision’s coverage?

KARINA GARCIA: Oh, my God. Wow! There’s a world of difference between the two. I mean, if you saw what they showed on Univision, it showed that we were attacked, and if you see what they showed on everything else, it was that this group of angry Mexicans just ran up on stage. And really, all they show is just like the tugging of a banner, which really isn’t violent at all. I mean, there’s no — there’s nobody was attacking anybody in that situation, but they were quick to sell the narrative that we couldn’t control ourselves and that we attacked these people.

And if you think about what Mayor Bloomberg went onto say, all of a sudden he’s become the advocate of free speech and he’s trying to like jump on it and make himself the free speech advocate. Now, if you think back two years ago when the Republican National Convention was in New York City, he wasn’t allowing people protest permits so that they can protect against the war and against the Republican National Convention. This is coming from the same man.

So I think that it’s important that we look at that and we remember who we’re talking about. The fact that they want to silence students — like they don’t — they’re not promoting free speech. What they want is a pristine environment where racists and fascists can promote their agenda and their propaganda without challenge. That’s what they’re asking for.

AMY GOODMAN: Why is this issue so important to you, Karina?

KARINA GARCIA: The issue of immigration? The issue of the Minutemen?

AMY GOODMAN: The issue of immigration, the issue of the Minuteman spokesperson coming to — and founder — coming to Columbia?

KARINA GARCIA: This isn’t an organization with ideas. These are people with guns. These are people with rifles, people that stand on the border in the middle of the desert, and they declare open hunting season on defenseless immigrant families. This isn’t a battle of ideas. Their immigration policy — and I can quote their members — is it should be it legal to shoot illegals, 'just shoot them on sight, that's my immigration policy.’ That’s their connections with the National Alliance, their connections with people like Barbara Coe who have said that Latinos and Central Americans, they’re a bunch of savages.

The fact of the matter is you can’t tell a documented person from an undocumented person. You can’t. They can’t. So many people have died, so many people have been tortured, so many people have been left to die in the desert because of this organization and because of the racism and the hatred that they promote and that they spread.

So when they came to our university, we were speaking to a larger crowd, not just the people in the audience who had already — who were already against them. We were speaking to the country, to other students and saying, "This organization is a racist organization. They commit violent acts against innocent people. Wherever they go, they should be challenged."

AMY GOODMAN: And your response to the Minuteman Project announcing they are seeking to strip Columbia University of federal funding for what they say are violations of their civil rights.

KARINA GARCIA: It goes to show what they are trying to do. They’re not advocating for free speech. They want to create an environment where they’re not challenged, where nobody stands up and speaks out against them. That’s what they want to do. That’s why Michael Bloomberg went on television and said his speech about free speech, not because he is a proponent of free speech, because that was clear two years ago when he wasn’t allowing people to protest against the war.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much with joining us, Karina Garcia, political chair of the Chicano Caucus at Columbia University. She is a senior at Columbia. And I’m sorry Jim Gilchrist left in the midst of the program. It would have been an interesting dialogue. Thank you.

KARINA GARCIA: Thank you.

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