You are hereAlterNet: How the Tea Party Gave New Life and a Path to Power for Xenophobic Ultra-Right Extremists

AlterNet: How the Tea Party Gave New Life and a Path to Power for Xenophobic Ultra-Right Extremists

A good chunk of the Tea Party Movement's High Command is made up of former leaders and active members of border vigilante groups.

-By Yasha Levine

June 7, 2011- In May 2009, I profiled a nutty 71-year-old border vigilante named Glenn Spencer, who had converted his ranch on the Arizona-Mexico border into a hi-tech militarized security zone packed with infrared cameras, aerial drones and motion detectors. His goal was to demonstrate to the feds how easy it was to stop illegal border-crossers, and he blew through his life savings to prove it. But Spencer’s reputation as a white supremacist and nativist meant no one heard his message in Washington; CNN’s Lou Dobbs was about the only mainstream media figure who took him seriously.

When I left his ranch back in 2009, I was sure that Spencer had reached the end of his line. His project had failed; Obama was heralding in a liberal future; the old geezer had nothing else waiting in the wings and nothing to look forward to, except spending his retirement in an isolated double-wide trailer.

So it was surprising to learn that Spencer was a big player in the Tea Party scene. Suddenly, no one in Arizona cared about his past associations with white supremacists. Instead, they were very keen on hearing his anti-immigration solutions. All of a sudden Spencer found himself hanging out with Arizona state senators, hosting GOP political events, speaking at rallies and rubbing shoulders with the creme de la creme of Arizona’s Tea Party beau monde. He was not only back in the game, he’s bigger than ever.

Yes, sir, Glenn Spencer got a new lease on life. And he owes it all to the good graces of those two enterprising brothers who founded and funded the Tea Party that rescued Spencer from doom: GOP kingpins Charles and David Koch. Thanks to their funding of the Tea Party movement, scores of washed-up white power activists like Spencer were brought back from the dead and reincarnated as proud patriots dedicated to defending the Holy Trinity of the American Republic: Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government, and the Free Markets.

A surprisingly thorough—and curiously ignored—investigation by the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, found that a good chunk of the Tea Party movement’s High Command is made up of former leaders and active members of various border vigilante groups. For some reason the Minutemen, a loose collection of groups infamous for running armed patrols and bagging illegal crossers at the Mexican border, were present in particularly large numbers. Not only did the two leaders of the Minutemen Project segue directly into the Tea Party Movement via the Web site, but the event organizer for the Tea Party Express—that’s the one that did those bus tours with Sarah Palin—worked as a former spokesperson for the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps.

A member of that group was recently sentenced to death for the murder of a 9-year-old girl. With at least another dozen examples like these, one thing’s clear: border vigilantes didn’t just join up with the Tea Party movement. In many cases, they are the Tea Party movement. And that includes Glenn Spencer.

Journalist David Holthouse, writing in Media Matters, described Spencer’s new life at the center of Arizona’s ultra-racist Tea Party GOP:

Last August, more than 600 right-wing activists gathered for a Tea Party Nation rally on private land near the U.S.-Mexico border in Cochise County, Arizona. Fluttering in the desert breeze were hundreds of tiny American flags attached to a border fence of 15-foot-tall rusty poles.

Rally speakers included Tea Party candidates for the US Senate and House of Representatives, as well as marquee names from Arizona’s anti-immigration movement. The headliner was Fox News favorite Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the swaggering lawman whose ski-maskeddeputies terrorize suspected “illegals” in controversial round-ups, and whose idea of a good photo op is the forced march of shackled Latino immigrants down a city street.

Arpaio shared the stage with Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce, the chief architect of Arizona’s infamous Senate Bill 1070.

“We have an invasion going on that’s going to destroy this Republic,” Pearce said.

“USA!” came the chanted reply. “USA!”

Grinning on the sidelines behind mirrored sunglasses was Glenn Spencer, the leader of the border vigilante group American Border Patrol and the owner of the Tea Party Nation rally site.

Spencer’s founding of American Border Patrol in 2002 pre-dated the first Minuteman “civilian border patrols” by three years. Before his ranchland became a Tea Party rallying point it served as both meeting grounds and temporary housing for high-ranking members of various border vigilante factions. Minuteman American Defense leader Shawna Forde lived on the property in an RV owned by Spencer in the summer of 2008.

Shawna FordeIn June 2009, about two months after I visited Spencer’s American Border Patrol, the FBI and a SWAT team tracked Shawna Forde, a 41-year-old female member of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps (that’s the one connected to Palin’s Tea Party Express), to Spencer’s property. She was wanted for the murder of a Hispanic man and his 9-year-old daughter in a bungled robbery meant to finance her group’s militant anti-immigrant operations, and was arrested at a roadblock as she left the ranch. Spencer claimed he had no idea of Forde’s involvement in the murders, and that he’d broken off all contact with her and the Minutemen, saying that she arrived without advance warning and only stayed for 20 minutes.

Whatever Spencer’s relationship with Shawna Forde, the fact that a fellow vigilante accused of murdering a child was arrested on his property should have made Spencer persona non grata to any public figure. But no one cared about the girl’s murder, or Spencer’s connection to it. On the contrary, Spencer hosted a Tea Party Republican soiree on his ranch/hideout, in the summer of 2010, while Forde’s trial was going on. And he continued to host political events on the property even after Forde was sentenced to death in February 2011.



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