Minuteman’s Lecture Draws Crowd of Dissent

    Demonstrators outside the UCSD Extension Complex came prepared with signs expressing their disapproval of Minutemen founder Jim Gilchrist’s presence on campus Oct. 16. The controversial immigration activist was invited to speak at the extension by members of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. (Joyce Lee/Guardian)

    A coalition of nearly 100 UCSD students protested a lecture by anti-immigration activist Jim Gilchrist Oct. 16 at the UCSD Extension Complex. Gilchrist is the founder and ex-president of the Minutemen Project, a controversial civilian activist organization that patrols the Mexican border and tracks illegal immigrants.

    Students from varying campus organizations marched hand-in-hand, chanted and expressed their opinions peacefully for the duration of the two-hour lecture.

    “This country was founded by people who look and speak differently — by immigrants,” ethnic studies graduate student José Fusté said at the protest. “[Gilchrist] says those who oppose [immigration laws] are anarchists, but we want a fair and balanced legislation to fix the immigration policy. No one wants to come to this country illegally.”

    Many students marched with signs calling for Latino unity and rallied with calls of “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us!”

    The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute invited Gilchrist to discuss “the uncertain consequences to the United States if immigration policies and laws are not enforced,” according to a pamphlet distributed at the event.

    “Our mission is the enforcement of the rule of law,” Gilchrist said. “We deal strictly with the immigration laws to protect American rights.”

    Gilchrist considered the protestors, who chanted throughout his lecture, to be encroaching on his freedom of speech.

    “If you ever want to have a dignified and respectful resolution to [immigration] problems, we can’t have those [demonstrators],” Gilchrist said. “Their goal was not for their rights, it was to deprive me of my rights. It’s easy for the adversary to label someone who disagrees with him a racist, murderer, embezzler or a criminal.”

    However, Gilchrist noted extremism on both sides.

    “In any issue we have the ultra left and ultra right, and what they represented was extreme,” Gilchrist said. “The ultra left is dangerous and ultra violent. However, on my side of the argument, there are the same problems.”

    Many student protestors expressed disappointment with Osher — and with UCSD — for hosting Gilchrist as a speaker. Demonstrators were critical of the fact that that they were not allowed to enter the lecture hall, stating that the event failed to allow for a balanced discussion.

    Jim Plant, program coordinator for the event, said that Gilchrist agreed to speak to Osher free of charge, and that the organization has always pursued a diverse variety of speakers for its lecture series.

    “If [President George W.] Bush came, it would a good idea,” Plant said. “The more varied the better. We all want to be heard.”

    The two-hour session was composed of Gilchrist’s one-hour lecture, followed by a one-hour question-and-answer period between Osher members and the speaker.
    “There was a good flow of ideas there,” Plant said. “It was a very balanced crowd.”

    Gilchrist’s Web site for the Minutemen Project describes the controversial organization as “operating within the law to enforce the law” and has drawn attention to the issue of immigration reform since its creation in 2005. Since then, the group has been involved in several violent protests with pro-immigration activists and has been featured on television news numerous times.

    Gilchrist himself drew attention when the Minutemen Project board of directors fired him last year over allegations of fraud and fiscal mismanagement. He has since filed suit against the organization and formed his own offshoot: Jim Gilchrist’s Minuteman Project.

    Osher member Dan Dinan described Gilchrist’s lecture as relieving. He said he entered prepared for a “volatile” speech and left feeling secure.

    “After listening for 1.5 hours, I see [the Minutemen] are no threat,” Dinan said. “Gilchrist sounds like an ineffectual, inarticulate member.”

    Only once throughout the demonstration did protestors approach the front door of the lecture hall, where they were halted by a police line.

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