Someone has kidnapped the Jim Gilchrist I knew and admired. That Gilchrist was a gentleman, a Purple Heart veteran with whom you could disagree but still share a laugh, someone who called my initial profile of him "tough but fair" and defended it against critics after the story hit the streets (see "The Anti-Immigrant Movement's Trotsky," Feb. 10, 2005). Sure, the founder of the Minuteman Project had a few ideas that seemed lifted directly from The Turner Diaries. He insisted, for instance, that "40 years from now, I see neighborhood armies of 20 to 40 going out and killing and invading one another. The United States is going to have 100 tribes with 100 languages and no common bond. It's future mayhem." But Jim didn't blame illegal immigrants for coming into this country. No, his attacks focused on big business, which he lambasted as "professional slave holders" and "capitalist pigs."
A critique of capitalism was rare anywhere but entirely missing in the anti-immigrant movement, and I figured Gilchrist could build a bridge between the Left and Right and fix our nation's immigration morass for good. I respected him, and we shared notes and laughs as recently as this past January, when we appeared on Inside OC, Orange County Business Journal editor Rick Reiff's KOCE-TV show.
But Gilchrist's thoughtful analysis is no more. In its place is Minutemen: The Battle to Secure America's Borders, a paranoid jeremiad that gathers its findings not from populist neo-Marxian critiques but from the furthest fringes of the conservative movement. Gone is the critique of capitalism; in comes Aztln, reconquista and the ominous brown specter of Mexico.
Co-written with Jerome Corsi (co-author of the Swift Boat attack on John Kerry, Unfit for Command), Minutemen is one message—deport illegal aliens now—stretched over 375 pages. There's little in the way of narrative. The book is riddled with typos. It's badly organized and stilted. But its worse sin is that it's boring: the book warns readers again and again of a "Trojan Horse Invasion." In this case, the horse is ridden by a statistician.
People like me who enjoy Coast to Coast—on which Gilchrist recently appeared—will find one exception to that criticism: the book comes alive in its occasional retelling of vast conspiracies. Did you know the New World Order wants to abolish the United States and replace our dollar with a Mexican-American-Canadian currency called an Amero?
About the only unique insight Minutemen offers is what it reveals about Gilchrist himself. His story is truly remarkable: a former runaway abused by his father and stepmother, he served in Vietnam, earned a Purple Heart, became a CPA (now retired in Aliso Viejo), has a Mexican-American son-in-law and owns a Chihuahua named Ta. Most significantly, of course, he sparked a conservative uprising unlike anything since Barry Goldwater.
That story is strangely abbreviated. Gilchrist recounts some of his Vietnam War experiences and a couple of dispatches from Minutemen patrols in the Arizona desert. Nothing on his quixotic run last year against John Campbell for the 48th Congressional District seat, a campaign so dangerous to the local GOP that they smeared Gilchrist as a communist.
Minutemen's bigger problem is its choice of a new culprit. Rather than point the finger at big business as he did just a few months ago, Gilchrist now (conventionally, dully) blames Mexico, liberals, the Bush administration, the Catholic Church and others for illegal immigration. He comes close to the truth—that none of this would happen without the consent of the powerful: "Greed," Gilchrist and Corsi write, "is a factor that must be taken into consideration in order to understand the pull that illegal immigrants are exerting upon the United States." But rather than asking Americans to stop and ask how their own greed might drive illegal immigration, they just pile on the immigrants.
You can hear analysis like that almost anywhere; it's cheap and, frankly, beneath Gilchrist. He was supposed to be different.
But he's no longer there. The original was wonderfully idiosyncratic; this impostor is a dumbed-down icon for small-minded bigots.
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Last month, Jim and I reappeared on Inside OC. I tried joking with him, but he was grim. He dismissed my jokes as the words of "saboteurs." Where our on-air exchanges had always been cordial, this one was venomous. I tried talking to him afterward, but nothing.
I finally let it end with, "Goodbye, Jim." He didn't say a word. He didn't have to.
Minutemen: The Battle to Secure America's Borders by Jim Gilchrist and Jerome R. Corsi; World Ahead Press. Hardcover, 375 pages, $25.95.