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Originally published October 14, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 14, 2005 at 8:31 AM

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Minutemen meet resistance

The city of Bellingham and the state's Democratic Party have denounced as racist and divisive the presence of civilian patrols at the U...

Seattle Times staff reporter

The city of Bellingham and the state's Democratic Party have denounced as racist and divisive the presence of civilian patrols at the U.S.-Canada border and want Gov. Christine Gregoire to tell them they're not needed.

Referring to the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps as "self-appointed militia and vigilantes with limited training," Bellingham's City Council this week passed a resolution condemning the volunteer guards, who stationed themselves Oct. 1 at eight posts between Blaine and Sumas.

"We're hoping that Gov. Gregoire takes a serious look at this and make it clear that militia and the Minutemen with their violence and racism are not welcomed here," said Bellingham Councilwoman Barbara Ryan, who sponsored the measure. She said the city has sent the resolution to Gregoire's office urging her to adopt a similar position for the state.

"The presence of these folks is disturbing because we have a long history of militia activity that has targeted people of color," said Ryan. "This is not the image we need here."

The Washington State Democratic Party passed a similar resolution last month in anticipation of the Minutemen's arrival.

There are about 17 Minutemen stationed at the eight posts, far from the 50 or so organizers originally anticipated. Nearly two weeks after they began their border watch, the patrols are mostly cold, wet and bored.

The Washington Minutemen, headquartered at a private range in Whatcom County north of Ferndale, are part of the Arizona-based organization whose volunteers began patrolling areas of the Arizona-Mexico border last spring.

Its latest operation, launched this month, placed civilian patrols in seven states along the Canadian and Mexican borders. The patrols, originally expected to run through the end of October, may extend beyond that, the organizers say.

Claude LaBas, one of the local organizers, said the case against them is based on lies and driven by fear.

"In the end, the government will either assign a civil-defense corps to assist in guarding the border or some other measure will be taken. That's our goal. Period. And then we can go back to living our lives."

LaBas said activity has been slow at posts along the border. While he said one patrol this week spotted a vehicle dropping off people at a spot along the border, Joe Giuliano, deputy chief of the Blaine Border Patrol Sector, said he has no report of such an incident.

Giuliano said he's not seeing a huge community uprising for or against the group.

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While some property owners have put up signs asking the patrols not to trespass on their property, others have welcomed them.

"I don't sense a major groundswell," he said. "I think most people would rather they didn't show up but are willing to ride out the month."

The Blaine City Council and the Whatcom County Council appear divided over whether to condemn the group's presence, and other communities along the border haven't taken a position either.

Bill Fairwolf, Lynden city administrator, said there've been no complaints in that city: "We've had no problems here."

And Geri Lewis, clerk and treasurer for the city of Sumas, where at least one of the patrols is based, said there have been no calls to the city regarding the patrols — good or bad.

"I don't think people care. Personally, I think an extra set of eyes can never be bad as long as they don't go off half-cocked. Border Patrol can't be everywhere."

This kind of position worries Rosalinda Guillen, chairwoman of the Coalition for Professional Law and Border Enforcement, an immigrant advocacy group that opposes the Minutemen.

Such apathy is especially troubling in a place like Whatcom County, where the history of local militias is widely known, she said. The movement was chronicled in the book "The Lone Patriot" by Jane Kramer.

"I don't like the fact that people are coming in from out of our county and a small group from within our county and deciding how the issue of border control will happen," said Guillen.

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com

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