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Minutemen spur protests
Local citizens accuse Minutemen of racism due to statements about border protection

By Loren Shane

October 21, 2005

Whatcom County resident and Washington Minuteman Tom Williams decided he would make a political statement this month to express his concern about illegal immigration in the United States.

Along with 13 other citizens of Washington, 12 of whom are Whatcom County residents, Williams said he is serving with the Minutemen group of 13 at the U.S.-Canada border to express to law enforcement officials the need for tightened security in a time of national crisis.

“We’re out there to stop people trying to infiltrate into our country,� Williams said. “We don’t want people coming in with bombs and blowing stuff up.�

Williams, a retired Marine Corps officer and graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy first joined the Minutemen in April when he moved to Tucson, Ariz., to volunteer with the group at the border between Arizona and Mexico.

“Our mission is to report any person who attempts to enter U.S. borders illegally,� he said.

A few members of the Minutemen have permits to carry firearms at all times. Williams, however, said he does not encourage any of the members to bring a firearm while on patrol.

Williams said he wanted to make it clear the Minutemen are stationed at borders to strictly observe and report, not to detain anyone.

“A good citizen alerts authorities if they see a drunk driver or someone illegally using the carpool lane,� he said. “What we’re doing is no different.�

Minutemen protesters, including Western sophomore Ian Morgan, disagree.

“The Minutemen target those who don’t look like Americans, specifically Latinos who are not white,� Morgan said. “I feel that, armed or not, the Minutemen are intimidating immigrants and creating dangerous situations.�

Williams commented for anyone who considers the group racist.

“Those who call us racist are the ones who want borders freely open and don’t want to stop illegal infiltration,� he said. “Our group of 13 serving in Washington consists of four women and three nonwhite residents.�

Morgan, along with approximately 25 other county residents, said he protested against the Minutemen at the Whatcom County Council meeting Oct. 15. Morgan said he and the protesters were at the meeting to express to the councilmembers their disapproval toward the Minutemen.

“There was no emotion from the councilmembers, but you could feel a strong presence from citizens against the Minutemen,� he said.

Morgan said he plans to continue to educate people in the community about the negative effects of the group and offer support to those the group targets.

“Minutemen are not trained border patrol agents,� he said. “They are not in a job where specific rules are followed.�

The Minutemen want to make it clear they are not trying to be border-patrol officers, but are strictly making a political statement, Williams said.

Deputy chief of the Blaine Border Patrol sector Joe Giuliano said the U.S. Border Patrol is indifferent.

“The minutemen are doing something they, like any other citizen, are allowed to do,� Giuliano said. “As long as what they do doesn’t break the law, they’re OK.�

The border patrol has not seen a significant effect or difference with the Minutemen’s presence at the border, Giuliano said.

“They regularly inform us of where they are and what they are doing,� Giuliano said. “Other than that, it’s been very uneventful.�

Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo said he too has had little contact with the Minutemen.

“It’s been quiet,� he said. “We have not received a single call from members who are out patrolling, nor any complaints about them.� Illegal passage into the United States also has an economic effect on property owners at the borders, Williams said.

“Landowners can make $10,000 a month by opening or leasing their land and barns to people trying to traffic drugs into the U.S.,� he said. “These people, of course, don’t want us up here or any form of border patrol for that matter.�

Williams said if he had his way, immigration would simply use the government-run border patrol.

“We just want to see people walk through the front door at the border and sign the guestbook,� he said. “It’s the Department of Homeland Security’s job to figure out if they should be let in or not.�

The Bush administration authorized the addition of 1,000 border-patrol agents throughout the United States after Sept. 11, but supplied only enough funding for 400, Williams said.

“More people are calling wanting to volunteer, and I can’t get off the phone with news organizations like FOX News and USA Today, who both want to run stories about us and our political statement,� Williams said.