(CNSNews.com) - A webpage featuring pictures of Uncle Sam in a 15th century suit of armor with the words "I want you to come back to Europe!" is one of the worst nightmares of the anti-immigrant movement.
"We're angry enough to say the problem is that Europeans forced their way into our continent, maybe they should go home," said Olin Tezcatlitoca, who runs the site. "This is outrageous for us who are indigenous people to be told we cannot migrate on our own land."
Tezcatlitoca is the leader of a tiny group called the "Mexica Movement," which advocates on behalf of "indigenous Americans," or those people without European ancestry.
"Kind of like the Jews wanted to take their land back after 2,000 years," said Tezcatlitoca. "We're saying we lost this land 150 years ago in a clearly unjust war, in a clearly racist war against our people."
Groups like Tezcatlitoca's are taking fire from pro-immigrant groups such as the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and observers of the immigration debate.
"It's a red herring, it's a logical fallacy," said Devin Burghart of the Chicago-based Building Democracy Initiative.
The BDI mission statement says the group "counters organized racism, anti-immigrant activity, and other forms of bigotry through strategic research, community organizing, education and training around the globe." It means addressing extremists on either side of the debate and debunking what the group calls myths.
"Racist conspiracy theories permeate virtually entire anti-immigrant movements," said Burghart.
He said groups like the Mexica Movement are so small and so far out on the fringe that they are not worth talking about. But another group, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA), does get talked about, often in the context of a conspiracy to "reconquista," or reconquer, the Southwestern United States.
Born of left-wing radicalism in the 1960s, MEChA's constitution refers to continuing "the struggle for the self-determination of the Chicano people for the purpose of liberating Aztlan."
Aztlan refers to a legendary homeland for those of Mexican descent in the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico. Other MEChA documents refer to plans for mobilizing Chicano youth for "self defense against the occupying forces of the oppressors."
Yet, according to observers on the left and the right, the modern MEChA movement is run by college students and focuses mainly on encouraging Latino high school students to go to college and the retention of Latino students already enrolled in universities.
Indeed, the group is so decentralized that Cybercast News Service could not even locate a national spokesperson. Several messages for campus organizers to comment on this article went unreturned.
Burghart said MEChA is being used as a bogeyman by the anti-immigrant movement.
"It's clear that what's happened is from whatever remnants [of 1960s radicalism] may have existed ... the idea has been racialized and blown up to the point that all brown-skinned people have become co-conspirators," he said.
The problem has become so acute that NCLR includes a statement on its website distancing itself from the idea of Aztlan and the more radical elements of MEChA, or any separatist Hispanic movement.
Adding gasoline to the fire -- sometimes literally -- is the presence of ultra-leftist anarchist groups at many of the major demonstrations on the West Coast. These groups may lack a coherent political agenda, but they often refer to police and state authorities as rightists or fascists.
"It puts a great deal of pressure on law enforcement" when these groups show up, said Rick Eaton of the anti-racism Simon Wiesenthal Center.
"They've been taking advantage of both sides. They showed up at the Echo Park [pro-immigrant] rally... they've shown up at white supremacist rallies," said Eaton. "There's almost no talk about that ... but you can clearly see them if you look at the tapes."
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a liberal advocacy group that tracks what it considers to be fringe groups -- and whose methodology has at times been called into question -- said that the number of extremist pro-immigrant groups is a fraction of those espousing neo-Nazi and white supremacist ideology.
The center does concede, however, that the fringe has a disproportionate impact, especially in the anti-immigrant movement.
The SPLC's Mark Potok claimed that "conspiracy theories" about Aztlan originated among far-right "hate groups" and later worked their way into the wider debate.
For his part, Mexica's Tezcatlitoca said he'll continue to try and get his group's agenda into the national debate on immigration. He describes NCLR as a "mainstream organization which isn't working in the interests of the people" and views MEChA as being "more like college party clubs."
"We want to reframe this whole question, not about our people being illegals but about Europeans being illegal," said Tezcatlitoca. "It's something that European people should be ashamed of ... when they say 'Okay, how can we right this?' then we can have a real discussion."
See Related Story:
White Supremacists Influence Immigration Debate, Critics Say (July 3, 2007)
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