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Author Labels Minutemen as Latest
in Long History of Anti-Minority Vigilantes

By Ioana Patringenaru | May 22, 2006

Mike Davis
Mike Davis

The Minutemen who now patrol the U.S. border with Mexico are the direct descendents of the various vigilante groups that have targeted minorities in the United States since the 1800s, author Mike Davis told an audience of about 100 at UCSD Thursday night.  

Davis was giving a talk tracing racial strife in California, from present-day rhetoric on immigration to the mid-19th century committees that meted out terror to many non-Anglo and non-Protestant groups. The California Cultures in Comparative Perspectives program sponsored the event.

Reading from extensive notes laden with dates and body counts, Davis gave his audience a crash course in the history of vigilantism, in the United States in general and in California in particular. In this state, vigilantes often acted on behalf of businessmen who were trying to keep their workers from unifying, Davis said.

“California’s golden hills too often have been irrigated with the blood of its workers,” he said.

Up until the 1960s, conflicts often pitted farm workers against armed men working for landowners. Many groups were targeted, including immigrants from Oklahoma, China, Japan and Mexico. Since then, unions have made some headway, but most farm workers remain disorganized and desperately poor, Davis told his audience.

Today, illegal immigrants are the vigilantes’ new target, he said. Interestingly, the Minuteman movement enjoys strong support in former citrus-growing areas, where clashes between vigilantes and farm workers took place in the past, Davis said. He cautioned that the Minutemen should be taken seriously.

“The Minutemen helped radicalize the debate about immigration in the Republican party,” he said.

Davis’ talk was interesting, especially when he talked about the Minutemen, student Denise Chavez said.

“It can be looked at as laughable, but it affects us all,” she said.

Davis was born in Fontana and raised in Bostonia, Calif. He worked as a meat cutter and truck driver and was a member of the Teamsters. He now teaches history at the University of California, Irvine. He has written many books, including “Planet of Slums,” “Under the Perfect Sun: The San Diego Tourists Never See,” and “City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles.” He is a longtime activist dating back to the late 1960s. He currently writes about the aftermath of Hurricane Kathrina for The Nation and several European newspapers. He also is working on a book about the history of car bombings.
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