A group of Pitzer College students protested an off-campus talk on April 20 by Jim Gilchrist, founder of the anti-immigration group the Minuteman Project, eventually breaking up the meeting. The event was sponsored by the Mountain View Republican Club, a group based in La Verne and not associated with the 5Cs.
The Minuteman Project is a not-for-profit organization which tries to prevent illegal immigration from Mexico into the United States through citizen patrols and enforcement.
Troy Kokinis PI ’10 was one of the protestors. “The message we were trying to send was that this type of rhetoric is not welcome here in our community,” said Kokinis. “And, that Gilchrest as a political voice, is not welcome here and he does not speak for the majority in the community although he speaks for the majority of his small audience.”
Kokinis said that three students, including himself, attended the speech in order to protest rather than joining the protestors demonstrating outside.
Kokinis said that one of his fellow students asked Gilchrist, “You pointed out NAFTA as a problem causing illegal immigration. However, your party is spearheading policies such as these, then also attempting to fight a front on the immigration problem that you are causing yourselves. Perhaps immigration is not the problem, but capitalism and neo-liberalism are the problems.”
Kokinis said that this question riled the crowd. “The crowd was soon to express discontent and a series of shouts occurred between us and the rest of the audience as they shouted words like ‘anti-Americans,’ ‘bad apples,’ and ‘spoiled college kids,’” said Kokinis. “After about five minutes of argument, the crowd became restless and started vacate the building. The goal was met. The meeting was broken up. And the fascist gathering was left with a bad taste in their mouths.”
Mike Whatley CM ’11, president of the Claremont Republicans, said that while the organization does not have an official stance on the Minutemen, they supported the right of Pitzer students to protest. “The Pitzer kids have a right to their opinion and to express it as long as they are not destructive,” said Whatley.
Claudia Strauss, Pitzer anthropology professor and co-leader of the Claremont Progressives, says that the protest was grounded in a stance against hate speech. “I have no problem with legal protest—they have the same right to protest that we do—or thoughtful criticism of our current immigration system,” Strauss said. “My concern with the Minutemen comes when they cross the line to hate speech against immigrants in general, and when they encourage acts of violence and intimidation.”
The Pitzer students’ protest was not the first obstacle the Mountain View Republican Club had encountered in trying to organize the Gilchrist dinner. They were forced to relocate to the Hotel Claremont for the dinner after the original restaurant, Bucca di Beppo, cancelled the event because of its political nature.
“It really comes down to the fact that Bucca di Beppo is a family-friendly restaurant and the nature of this event was different than the provisional reservation that was initially communicated by organizers,” said company spokesman Michael Coldwell.
This Mountain View Republican Club, based in La Verne, California, hosted this dinner at the restaurant for discussion as part of their regular meeting schedule. The group invited Gilchrist and members of the Republican community to attend. Calls to the organization were not returned by press time.
In 2007, Gilchrist was set to participate in a debate on illegal immigration sponsored by the Pomona Student Union. After a March 2007 article appeared in The Student Life that Gilchrist called biased, he canceled his appearance. He then went on Bill O’Reilly’s television show and said that he did not attend the debate because of an “anarchist mindset” at Pomona. This is the first time that Gilchrist has made another public appearance in Claremont since then.