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Columbia students shut down Minutemen

Published Oct 13, 2006 9:53 PM

Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minuteman Project, had little time to spout his racist anti-immigrant message at a Columbia University event Oct. 4. As he began speaking, students jumped onto the stage and unfurled a banner proclaiming “Nobody Is Illegal” in English, Spanish and Arabic.

Members of the audience erupted, whooping, clapping and raising their fists in opposition to Gilchrist. Minuteman guards swooped onto the stage and tried to rip a banner away from the protesters.

The College Republicans at Columbia University had invited Gilchrist and fellow Minuteman Jerome Corsi to speak about their book “Minutemen: The Battle to Secure America’s Borders.” The vigilante group posts people along the U.S./Mexico border to capture immigrants as part of its vicious campaign against undocumented workers. But students, led by the Chicano Student Association at Columbia, would not allow the Minutemen to spread their hateful message.

Footage of the protest by CTVnewsonline and Univision was posted on the Internet site YouTube. In the Univision clip a person supporting Gilchrist is shown kicking a protester.

The students who occupied the stage issued a statement explaining why they confronted the Minutemen. “As Chicanos and Latinos, alongside African Americans and progressive people of other nationalities, we took it as our responsibility to give voice to the undocumented immigrant families who live in fear at terrorist vigilante groups like the Minutemen,” they wrote.

“Armed patrols by these groups force more and more people desperate for work to find even more hazardous ways into the United States. Over 3,000 people—including hundreds of children—have died in the desert. Their blood is on the hands of Gilchrist and his thugs.”

Columbia University President Lee Bollinger issued a statement denouncing the students. He said they violated Gilchrist’s right to free speech. The students showed they have a right to protest the violence and racism of the Minutemen, and that using the First Amendment to stop them is a sham.

“We are sure that if the Nazi party held a public meeting on campus, Jewish groups would be there to challenge them—so would we,” the students wrote. “We are sure that if the Ku Klux Klan held a public meeting on campus, African American groups would be there to challenge them—so would we. The Minutemen are no different.”

While the protest was going on inside Columbia’s auditorium, hundreds of people gathered outside to demonstrate against the Minutemen. They chanted, “Minutemen, Nazis, KKK, racists, fascists go away.”

Gilchrist turned reality on its head, claiming to be the one maligned by the students. In a statement on the Minuteman Project Web site he called the protesters “hateful elites who prove themselves to be the real bigots.” His comments appear under the headline “Students: Darky, Keep Thy Place!” One doesn’t need a clearer sign to see who is the racist here.

One of the protesters, Sharon Black, a volunteer for the New York May 1st Coalition for Immigrant Rights, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying Gilchrist was not welcome in New York City. “We are a city of immigrants. His message is one of division, racism and hate,” she said.

The May 1st Coalition sent a message of solidarity to the students and has proposed they speak at an upcoming Oct. 21 rally for immigrant rights at Union Square.