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

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.

In 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.

According to Media Matters’ Holthouse, Spencer not only isn’t shunned, he’s now a sought-after speaker on the Tea Party lecture circuit:

Spencer informed Media Matters that he travels almost weekly to speak at Tea Party events, and that his ranch, the onetime vigilante outpost where Forde took shelter, is now a Tea Party rallying point. “Plans are for Tea Party groups to come to the ranch every week from now on,” he said. “They are really fired up over the border issue.”

Despite his association with Forde and his well-documented history of bigoted ranting and “reconquista” conspiracy mongering, Spencer is a rising star in the Tea Party movement.

True to form, a couple of Arizona’s elected officials swung by Spencer’s ranch this past May as part of an event organized by the Maricopa County Republican Committee. Maricopa is the home of meat-head Sheriff Joe Arpaio. One of the pols, state Senator Sylvia Allen, who thinks the earth is only 6,000 years oldpraised Spencer in her account of the event:

The last leg of the trip was to American Border Patrol where we met and visited with Glenn Spencer, president of ABP. Ten years ago, Mr. Spencer moved to the border area from California. For years he had wanted to do something about illegal aliens. He worked hard in California to get legislation passed. When finally the voters approved an SB1070-look-alike bill, Governor Davis would not implement it.

Once he was settled in his new home in Arizona, Glenn built a small, remote-controlled plane with cameras mounted on it. From his headquarters, Glenn can fly the plane along the entire Arizona border, from east to west. He has been able to inform the Border Patrol where illegals are crossing the border and help them to know where to go to capture them. At one point, he was offered $40,000 to stop calling the border patrol so the drug runners could pass through his property without a problem, but he refused. Shortly thereafter, two of his vehicles were torched.

Just across the border from Glenn Spencer’s property (on the Mexico side) is a ranch that was once owned by John Wayne. It is now owned by a drug cartel. In fact, vast amounts of land along the border are being bought up by the cartels.

America is losing her sovereignty. Borders define the customs, culture, traditions, language, and government of the people who live there. American’s unique form of government based on God-given rights and personal responsibilities has created our standard of living.

So here you have Arizona’s Tea Partiers, who are supposed to be all about small government and protecting civil liberties, embracing a nutter who fantasizes about the total militarization of America’s borders, including increased land and aerial video surveillance, expanded police powers, police checkpoints, and racial profiling—not to mention a fence running the whole length of the border with Mexico. But none of them care about Spencer’s white supremacist history, or that he pals around with child murderers. The fact that Arizona’s politicians don’t consider Spencer a massive political liability that could be exploited by an opponent is a major sign of how extreme and racist the Tea Party has become–and how far right they’ve pushed the “center” of this country.

In the Arizona Tea Party, overt and violent racism is no longer stigmatized. On the contrary, it’s a badge of honor, a sign of purity of purpose and unwavering conviction to the Cause. And why shouldn’t it be? The Tea Party movement was launched by oligarchs in order to defend said oligarchs. And there might be no oligarchy preservation technique that is as effective and time-tested as whipping up ethnic and racial hatred between two groups of uppity peasants.


According to Glenn Spencer, illegal immigration is part of a clandestine war against the U.S., a slow invasion planned at the highest levels of the Mexican government to recapture California, Texas, and much of the Southwest to reestablish the mythical Aztec empire of Aztlan. Spencer lays the blame for a host of contemporary social ills—everything from LA’s Rodney King riots to meth addiction—on Mexico’s attempt to destabilize America. Any fool can see that a country of God-fearing, family-oriented Protestants is much to harder to invade and occupy than one one that’s full of rioting crackheads. He’s even produced several documentaries outlining “La Reconquista,” which he sells through his Web site.

“What really got me, though, was the Rodney King riots,” Spencer told a journalist from the Los Angeles Weekly in 2005. “I watched as TV helicopters zoomed in on the people who were tearing down my old neighborhood. They weren’t black. They were Hispanic. They were Mexicans.”

Lou Dobbs outlines the conquest of Aztlan conspiracy theory for CNN viewers…

Spencer’s right. There is a conspiracy to flood America with illegal immigrants, but it’s not being hatched by the Mexican government, which can’t even control its own territory. He and his anti-immigration vigilante buddies have no problem criticizing the federal government and blaming the Jew-controlled liberal media for aiding and abetting the Mexican invasion, but they’re too racist and wrapped up in right-wing propaganda to pay much attention to the real culprit: multi-billion dollar corporations, which have come to rely on a constant stream of cheap, disposable labor to keep their profit margins high and their investors happy.

“Illegal immigration” is not an immigration issue at all. It’s a labor issue. And the way you go about stopping much of the illegal immigration into this country is not by building fences or by bagging Mexicans at the border, but by enforcing existing labor and employment laws in a few key industries dominated by huge corporations.

There are an estimated 6 to 8 million undocumented workers in America; nearly 40 percent of them slave on corporate farms and in slaughterhouses, while 20 percent build houses on Wall Street’s behalf (at least during the housing boom). For the business you can’t offshore to China, illegal labor provides the next best alternative. Call it the “domestic offshoring solution.”

A 2007 report by the the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy shows just how reliant some corporations have become on imported serf labor:

In the United States, agribusiness has been one of the main beneficiaries of new immigrants, who are usually non-union and work for low wages. For example, Swift & Company had to shut down 100 percent of its beef production and 77 percent of its pork production following the high-profile immigration raids earlier this year that resulted in the arrest of 1,282 workers. In February 2007, Smithfield Packing Co., the largest U.S. hog processer, had to shut down its North Carolina plant after hundreds of workers left their jobs or refused to come to work to protest a crackdown on undocumented immigrants.

Agribusinesses are particularly agressive about securing a cheap labor supply. If they don’t have enough illegal labor to meet their demands domestically, some companies routinely send out headhunting/smuggling expeditions to bring fresh, exploitable workers directly to them. According to a 2001 Department of Justice indictment against a bunch of executives at Tyson Foods, a publicly traded corporation with revenues of nearly $30 billion in 2010, smuggling illegal immigrants and providing them with forged documents is part of a plant manager’s job description:

INS Investigation of Tyson Foods, Inc. Leads to 36 Count Indictment for Conspiracy to Smuggle Illegal Aliens for Corporate Profit

WASHINGTON, D.C. – – Michael Chertoff, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division announced today that a federal grand jury in Chattanooga, Tennessee returned a thirty-six count indictment against executives and managers of Tyson Foods, Inc., the world’s largest producer, processor, and marketer of poultry-based food products, for conspiracy to smuggle illegal aliens to Tyson Foods processing facilities in the United States for profit.…

The thirty-six count indictment unsealed today in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, is the result of a two-and-one-half year undercover investigation conducted by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) into the business practices of Tyson Foods. Tyson Foods executives and managers are accused in the indictment of conspiring to import and transport illegal alien workers from the Southwest border to Tyson plants throughout the United States. Fifteen Tyson Foods plants in nine states have been implicated in this conspiracy to defraud the United States government.

According to the indictment, Tyson Foods cultivated a corporate culture in which the hiring of illegal alien workers was condoned in order to meet production goals and cut costs to maximize profits. The indictment describes a scheme by which the defendants requested delivery of illegal aliens to work at Tyson plants in the United States and aided and abetted them in obtaining false documents so they could work at Tyson poultry processing plants “under the false pretense of being legally employable.”

A judge threw out most of the charges against Tyson’s execs, and a jury acquitted them of whatever impossible-to-prove charges the judge allowed to proceed. Tyson was sued again for a different illegal immigrant hiring scheme two years later. A judge ruled in Tyson’s favor in that case as well. Like most companies profiting off illegal labor, Tyson avoided getting pinched by the feds. But every year there are handful of companies actually that do get caught and fined. In 1998, food processing giant ConAgra paid $223,000 after an INS investigation exposed its the company's practice of knowingly hiring illegal aliens at one of its plants in Kentucky. In 2009, a company called House of Raeford Farms was fined $1.5 million for employing 300 illegal immigrants at a farm it owned in South Carolina. In 2006, Golden State Fence Co. agreed to pay a $4.7 million fine for hiring undocumented workers from 1999 to 2005—a period during which the company's profits shot up from from $60 million to $150 million, and in the same period that it was constructing a 14-mile border fence in San Diego. 

But most companies that depend on illegal labor to have charges like this stick, or can escape with paying fines. Why do you think former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who should be as much of a race-baiting Mexican-basher as Colorado’s Tom Tancredo, is such a gung-ho proponent of illegal immigration? Because Tyson Foods is headquartered in Arkansas.

Huckabee Promotes Open Door' Policy at LULAC Convention Posted on 29 June 2005

LITTLE ROCK – In a impassioned speech before hundreds of influential Hispanic civil rights leaders from across the nation, Gov. Mike Huckabee told a captive audience Wednesday that America is great because it has always opened it doors up to people seeking a better way of life.

…“I have tried to govern that way and it stands to reason that I really do believe that what made this great country so great and so unique is that it has always been a place for people to run to – and not run from.

“I would hope that no matter who we are, or where we are from, that America should always be a place that opens its arms, opens it heart, opens its spirit to people who come because they want the best for their families,” Huckabee said as the largely Hispanic audience gave him a standing ovation.

Huckabee was the keynote speaker, along with Tyson Foods Inc. Chairman and CEO John Tyson, at a noon luncheon of the League of United Latin American Citizens, which is holding its 76th annual convention in Little Rock.

…Although he never actually talked about the U.S. or Arkansas immigration policy, Huckabee made it very clear where he stood on the issue…

“Pretty soon, Southern white guys like me may be in the minority,” Huckabee said jokingly as the crowd roared in laughter.

Gosh. What an open minded, multi-racial guy Huckabee turned out to be. And deep down inside, regardless of what they say in public, most Republicans and Democrats are just as open-minded as he is, and are all for doing whatever they can to keep the flow of undocumented workers into America unimpeded. Perhaps the biggest recent influx of illegal immigrants from down south was caused by NAFTA, which put millions of farmers out of work by flooding Mexico with cheap, subsidized crops from America. Guess where many of them went? According to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, they went up north in pursuit of the American dream:

Agricultural employment in Mexico was at about 8.1 million in the early 1990s efore NAFTA and the 1996 Farm Bill. In 2006, it had only 6 million employed—a loss of more than 2 million agriculture-related jobs. The loss of agricultural jobs was consistent with a major shift from Mexico’s rural countryside to both U.S. and Mexican urban cities. NAFTA and the 1996 Farm Bill accelerated that trend.

…Although Mexican farmers have been particularly hard hit by NAFTA and the 1996 Farm Bill, U.S. family farmers have faced the same low prices and increased market power from a few agribusiness companies. From 1992 to 2002, the U.S. lost over 200,000 farmers, as farms got fewer and larger. Within the U.S. Farm Bill, the same policies that would benefit family farmers in the U.S. (fair prices, greater market competition) would also benefit farmers in Mexico.

Now many of these farmers have gone to the U.S. looking for jobs, only to find themselves under attack by people like Glenn Spencer, who don’t realize that the real enemy is their right-wing pro-corporate ideology. That’s the big prank the oligarchy is playing on racist blue-collar Americans.


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