In trying to make sense as to why most Americans and even a large number of Latinos are so complacent about so-called minutemen running amok on the border, searching for undocumented people, I recently re-read Herbert Marcuse’s 1965 essay on “Repressive Tolerance.”
Marcuse wrote that “[t]olerance is an end in itself”and necessary for the preservation of the status quo and the strengthening of the tyranny of the majority…” When tolerance is turned into a passive state it promotes laissez-fairez, entrenching the established attitudes and ideas of the right wing. The result is that we passively tolerate ideas and actions that are damaging to man and nature.
The University of California professor argued that there was a difference between true and false tolerance and it was an abuse of tolerance to ignore unjust attitudes and ideas because the truth may antagonize sympathizers.
According to Marcuse, a liberating tolerance was intolerance toward unjust ideas and movements. Marcuse was later posited that it was the intolerance of students on campuses that removed Dow Chemical and the recruiters off the university campuses.
Marcuse distinguishes the Right from the Left and movements that help people versus those that keep them in their place. These movements are difficult to distinguish because of the historical amnesia of Americans. They believe that the Right and the Left have contributed equally to social legislation that protects the average citizen.
The truth be told, as a historian, I cannot remember a single piece of progressive social legislation sponsored by right wing senators or representatives. Indeed, they opposed the end of slavery, the protection of children’s rights, social security, and civil and human rights, for starters.
Society’s lack of historical awareness of these facts and the reluctance of liberals to call the Trent Lotts of this world liars perpetuates this false consciousness.
In respect to undocumented workers and immigrants this repressive tolerance has allowed racist nativist to blur reason and sanction border violence. It has allowed the historically illiterate like California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to praise Arizona vigilantes. “They’ve done a terrific job. And they have cut down the crossing of illegal immigrants by a huge percentage.” We are conditioned to tolerate this undemocratic behavior and forget that in another time these vigilantes would be wearing white hoods.
Border violence is not an aberration and is as American as apple pie. At least, 597 Mexicans were lynched near or on the border. The majority of those lynched were not bandits; they were lynched because they were Mexicans. Witness that there has been no similar history on the Canadian border. Why?
What will be the cost of tolerating these vigilantes?
In the summer of 1976, George Hannigan, a Douglas, Arizona, rancher and Dairy Queen owner, and his two sons, Patrick, 22, and Thomas, 17, kidnaped three undocumented workers looking for work. They “stripped, stabbed, burned [them] with hot pokers and dragged [them] across the desert.” The Hannigans held a mock hanging for one of the Mexicans and shot another with buckshot. Judge Anthony Deddens, a friend of the Hannigans, refused to issue arrest warrants. Finally, an all-white jury acquitted the Hannigans. Activists on both sides of the border protested the verdict and pressured U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell to indict them. A federal grand jury, in 1979 indicted the Hannigans for violating the Hobbs Act. That prohibited interference in interstate commerce. After deadlocks and s retrial a jury found the Hannigans guilty.
Since the Hannigan case, the hate groups have expanded. Historically, extremist groups have preyed on the fears and xenophobia of the American majority. Klansman David Duke organized “border patrols in the late 1970’s.” In the early 1980s Louis Beam and his Texas Knights harassed immigrant Vietnamese fishermen in Texas.
During the 1980s, these hate groups grew as a product of the Internet where pornography and hate became profitable enterprises.
The idea of sending organized para-military groups to the border remained a right wing affair. The cry of “Close our Borders!” was the creation of white supremacist groups that are integrated in the ranks of the so-called “Minutemena” and spearhead their activities.
The agenda of many of these self described patriots goes well beyond “the protection of the border,” however. The ADL reports that Glenn Spencer of Voices of Citizens Together and the American Patrol has “departed sharply from that of legitimate immigration reform groups.” Much Spencer’s rhetoric and writing “did not target immigration so much as he targeted Hispanics, particularly those of Mexican origin, regardless of whether they were immigrants or not.” The Anti-Defamation League ADL cites a 1996 letter to the Los Angles Times in which he wrote “the Mexican culture is based on deceit.”
Spencer’s pal Roger Barnett, a rancher from Cochise Country, Arizona, attracted national attention by running around with pistols and assault rifles capturing undocumented brown people and holding them against their will.
Meanwhile, other kooks like Jack Foote, based in Arlington, Texas, have been inspired by Roger Barnett. He formed Ranch Rescue, like the other hate groups, has a Web Site, spreading fear and collecting money.
In March 2003 two of Ranch Rescue’s “Minutemen” were arrested for allegedly detaining two Salvadorans and pistol whipping one of them.
On July 23, 2003, Claudine LoMonaco of the Tucson Citizen reported that “from the start of the fiscal year in October 2002 through Sunday, as many as 171 people have died in Arizona — 43 percent more than the official Border Patrol figure of 119.”
Where is this history of tolerance going end? The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reports that in October 2002, New Jersey white supremacist radio talk show host Hal Turner told listeners to “kill every single one of these invaders.”