What's Behind a 'Black' Anti-Immigration Group

Activists say a black anti-immigration movement is gathering steam. But it seems to be largely the creation of white people.

An almost entirely white audience erupted in cheers when black anti-immigration activist Terry Anderson denounced Mexican immigrants. Black speakers are extremely popular at such events because, critics say, they provide window dressing for an overwhelmingly white movement.
(Todd Bigelow)

'You're Not Black'
FAIR isn't the only organization trying to put a black face on the anti-immigration movement. The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps (see Ruckus on the Right), an offshoot of the original "citizens border patrol" Minuteman Project, is now identified as "a project of the Declaration Alliance," a right-wing consortium led by African-American ultraconservative Alan Keyes, best known for his many failed runs on the Republican ticket for U.S. Senate and president. Keyes now speaks at Minuteman Civil Defense Corps events wearing a black cowboy hat.

Also, when Minuteman Project co-founder Jim Gilchrist kicked off his group's cross-country caravan to Washington, D.C., last May 3, he picked Leimert Park, a mostly black Los Angeles neighborhood, as the caravan's rallying point. Gilchrist brought out the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, African-American head of the right-wing, Christian fundamentalist Brotherhood Organization for a New Destiny, along with Ted Hayes, the black homeless advocate, to back him up.

The rally was supposed to be an invitation to Minuteman discipleship, but it didn't end in benediction. Faced by dozens of African-Americans calling Gilchrist a racist and labeling his black associates as "Sambos," Gilchrist dropped the friendly face. "Minutemen, stand your ground," he barked. Then, referring to a man leading chants against his followers, Gilchrist added, "If it's war he wants, then let it begin here," according to the Los Angeles Times.

"We confronted them and chased them out of our community with that racist nonsense," says Najee Ali, president of the Islamic H.O.P.E. civil rights organization in Los Angeles. "We wanted to let them know that they are not welcome in our community and we were offended they chose that as their departure point."

Ali's May confrontation with the Minutemen was neither his first nor his last. Throughout the summer Ali hosted a number of forums on black and Latino community relationships. They were sponsored in part by the Latino and African American Leadership Alliance, which lists as co-chairs Ali, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Christine Chavez, granddaughter of union activist César Chavez. Minutemen, both black and white, showed up to heckle panel members -- including California state assemblymen and Los Angeles City Council members -- and to intimidate the audience.

"At first I didn't get why they were there," says Anike Tourse, a panelist at one of Ali's forums representing the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. "The panel wasn't about immigration, it was about relationships between blacks and Latinos. But they made sure it [immigration] came up."

During her presentation, Tourse said Minutemen sat in the front rows making distracting noises and "a big scene."

One of the black Minutemen, adds panelist Xiomara Corpeno, "went up at Ali and said, "You sold out your people. You don't represent black people. You're not black."

Hard evidence shows it is the black Minutemen, however, who don't represent mainstream black thought on the topic of immigration. Several major polls show that most African Americans favor the U.S. Senate's Kennedy-McCain bill, which would allow many undocumented workers to stay in America and eventually earn citizenship. Most mainstream civil rights groups, including the NAACP and the Urban League, have come out in support of Latino immigrants. Historically black colleges and universities have aggressively begun recruiting Latinos, who have an 86% high school graduation rate, according to a recent Pew Hispanic Center study.

Sheila Jackson Lee, an African-American congresswoman from Texas, has called the immigrant rights movement "the civil rights issue of our time."

But for Ted Hayes, it's not that. It's "the greatest threat to U.S. black citizens since slavery."

Pawns in Their Game
Tall and gangly, Hayes dresses in robes and wears a mane of dreadlocks underneath an African kufi. Around his neck hangs a Black Hebrew Israelite pentagram. Hayes was a black-power advocate in the early 1980s, before he became an activist for the homeless, and you won't hear him endorsing white supremacist websites. But he considers himself a Minuteman, and has named his own anti-immigration spinoff group the Crispus Attucks Brigade, after a black man who was first person killed in the Boston Massacre carried out by colonial Britain.

And that led to his showing up at a recent rally and marching side-by-side with a woman named Barbara Coe, founder and leader of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform. Coe, Hayes enthuses, is "a great lady."

Coe is also a self-described member and repeat guest speaker of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a white supremacist group that has described blacks as "a retrograde species of humanity" and once compared pop singer Michael Jackson to a chimpanzee.

"That just shows Ted's ignorance," says Najee Ali, adding that Hayes has "no constituency" in the black community. "He aligned himself to be used as a pawn."

Adds Hutchinson: "Ted and Terry -- other than immigration, they don't have any following. They have none. They are considered, out here in Los Angeles, a joke."

But in the world of the national anti-immigration movement, Anderson and Hayes are major players. The vitriol they spit out about Mexicans has the same incendiary tone as the rhetoric that some black nationalists and Nation of Islam leaders have in the past directed at whites. Now, black activists like Anderson and Hayes are using that same provocative, indicting tone to pick on someone their own size: Latinos, who according to the last census have just edged out blacks as the largest minority in the United States. They say it's Hispanics who are now oppressing black communities -- by depressing wages, taking jobs and killing blacks in the streets, schools and prisons. Explains Terry Anderson, "The 'white man' we're fighting is the Mexicans."

On stage in Vegas, Anderson pardons the entire white race on behalf of the four other blacks in the audience. "White folks weren't always fair to my people. But we forgive and forget." He then calls Latinos "the most racist people I have ever seen in my life," and goes on to mock the idea that "Mexicans do jobs Americans won't do," reeling off a litany of blue-collar jobs he would gladly do: drywalling, roofing, washing cars. "I will even pick cotton," he says. Then he pauses a beat, as if realizing what he's just said. "Nah, I ain't pickin no cotton!"

The audience laughs in approval of Anderson's jolly oratory. He ends with the popular call-and-response catchphrase, delivered in the dialect of South Central Los Angeles, that marks his radio show: "If you ain't mad..."

The audience, well-schooled in following this black man, shouts back as one: "Then you ain't payin' attention!"

Anderson exits the stage to a standing, cheering ovation and makes his way up the aisle, giving high fives as he goes. He spots his wife, still sitting in the dark in the far back row, and resumes his place in the shadows.