About a month ago, there was a press release from Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club. They had filed a FOI act claim against Dick Cheney’s secretive energy task force. Among the documents that they had obtained were maps of Iraq’s oilfields and a document entitled “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts.” Some people took this as proof that the war on Iraq had been planned before September 11, 2001, in order to transfer control of Iraqi oilfields to American companies. After a few small mentions in the mainstream media, the story died, except on left-wing blogs.
I don’t know why the story didn’t hit the national news. Maybe it was because Dick Cheney’s office stonewalled, and the press couldn’t get enough information to make it a worthwhile story. Maybe the media is so cowed by right-wing carping that they won’t pursue stories about right-wing malfeasance without either airtight evidence or a lot of momentum from the press pack.
But I’d like to believe that the story died because honest reporters looked into the allegations and saw that it was a bullshit story. There is nothing suspicious about an energy task force gathering information about major oil wells, no matter where they are. Oil is a commodity, Iraqi oil was on the market under the oil-for-food program, and it would have been very strange if Cheney’s group had neglected this. Furthermore, when you read the “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts” document, it seems to be all about non-US companies who began working with the Iraqi oil company under the oil-for-food progam. There are no American companies on the list.
I bring this up because the same news outlets whose commitment to truth and honesty brought you such bullshit stories as “Paul Wellstone’s memorial was nothing but a political rally,” “Bill Clinton’s staff vandalized the White House on the way out,” and “Gen. Wesley Clark is a deranged liar” are proud to bring you a new one:
“Cruz Bustamante is refusing to repudiate his association as a student with the racist group MEChA. Why is the media ignoring this story?”
Now, the MEChA question actually seems to come up quite a bit in stories about Bustamante. But I can’t deny that major media haven’t given the question the prime-time treatment. Why is that? Again, I don’t know. I’d like to think that it’s because the media have examined the charges, called some members of MEChA, and decided that a full-court press is inappropriate.
You see, this is a bullshit story.
Let’s look a little closer.
First of all, is MEChA, in fact, a racist organization? (Or as Glenn Reynolds put it, is MEChA a group of “fascist hatemongers”?)
It seems to me that this question rests on a more basic question: “Is MEChA, in any meaningful sense, an organization?” According to Rodolfo F. Acuna:
MECHA is a student organization with no formal central body, it has no national office, it has no budget, and it has no constitution. Each MECHA chapter has a set of bylaws that the student affairs office must approve. These bylaws state that the organization is open to all students no matter their race, sexual orientation, gender or religion.
Now, the distinction between a “constitution” and a “set of bylaws” leaves some room for fudging. It does seem apparent, though, that a chapter of MEChA at UCLA can be quite different from a chapter at Yale. But both groups are forbidden to discriminate by race, which seems like a strange bylaw for a racist organization of fascist hatemongers. Since so many conservatives have said that MEChA is the moral equivalent of the Klu Klux Klan, I can only assume that the Klan is open to everyone, regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender or religion.
(UPDATE: Rodolfo Acuna is wrong (and by extension, I’m wrong) that MEChA has no constitution. Tacitus points to this document, which certainly appears to be a constitution.)
(Side note: I was a member of a music fraternity at Northwestern. Unlike MEChA, this organization has a national office and a constitution. Nonetheless, some the chapters are very different from each other. For example, some chapters are quite proudly redneck, and some are predominantly gay. I should also say that many, many members would be horrified if someone was to quote me and then conclude that the group is a liberal organization.)
I don’t know how trustworthy Rodolfo Acuna is. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that it makes sense to think of MEChA as a nationwide organization, rather than a group of student organizations who share a name.
Is MEChA a hate group?
There are certain organizations who keep close tabs on hate groups. The most well-known is Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. They don’t consider MEChA to be a hate group. (And they’re not blind to Latino extremism; they do consider Voz de Aztlán to be a hate group.)
I don’t know anything about the Hate Directory or the Ross Institute. It is possible that their lists are just a product of their own bias, or of the obscurity of the MEChA organization.
However, there are about 300 chapters of MEChA all across the country. If MEChA is a “fascist hatemongering” organization, it has spread its horrid tentacles into 300 colleges and high schools. I’m a little surprised that the fascism and hatemongering of this organization only came to anyone’s attention when they could be used to discredit a Democratic politician.
The actual members of MEChA seem to be a little surprised to hear it described as a hate group.
Even during the campus tumult of the ‘60s and ‘70s, MEChA, which stands for Movimieto Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (Chicano student movement), was more dedicated to peaceful political activity at the colleges than to revolution in the streets, its supporters say.
“MEChA has always been a group to incorporate Latino students into the college experience,” said Fernando Guerra, head of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, which has a chapter on campus.
“It’s bizarre to assume this is some kind of radical group, seeking to overthrow part of the United States,” said Mike Madrid, who has worked on Latino affairs for the state Republican Party. “It was part of the Brown Beret and Chicano studies movement, but it’s mainly a social group and has been for years. To suggest it’s involved in paramilitary training or some underhanded conspiracy is ludicrous.”
Plenty of Latino politicians and businesspeople were involved with MEChA during their college days, said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund.
“MEChA was basically the Hispanic student organization on campuses,” said Vargas, who was a MEChA member at Stanford in the 1980s. “Anybody who had a sense of social activism and community involvement probably found their involvement through MEChA.”
For many, the group was a springboard into politics.
“For me, and many, many others, we were running for student government,” Bustamante said Thursday. “That’s how I got here.”
Of course, not everyone will trust these Latino activists to be fair and balanced. They probably wouldn’t trust Tacitus’s commentator, either:
When I was in high school, I joined MEChA for one semester. It’s actually pretty funny in retrospect because I’m not Mexican. But I grew up in Highland Park (Northeast Los Angeles) and almost EVERYONE I knew was Mexican, or Chicano, as was hip at the time. I was/am Dominican, but all my friends were Mexican, so I was a Mexican when it came to the culture and customs of the neighborhood. At that time (late 70’s) MEChA, at my high school, was more a positive organization than it is today. There were many Mexican gangs in the area, and MEChA counseled to “Get an education. Stay away from gangs. Stay away from drugs. Don’t drink. Be responsible. Make something of yourself.”
I only stopped going to the meetings because they interferred with my sports teams. But back then it was a very positive experience.
I’d hate to think that someone could demean what I’ve accomplished by using my membership in MEChA 20+ years ago to “smear” me.
Gosh, Ed, where did you get that idea?
Is the official slogan of MEChA “For the Race, Everything. For Those Outside the Race, Nothing”?
I don’t know. I did a google seach on “For the Race, Everything. For Those Outside the Race, Nothing” and MEChA. Maybe someone can correct me, because I couldn’t find a MEChA site which used that phrase. They seem to think that their slogan is “La union hace la fuerza (Unity creates power)”.
I did get a lot of hits, though, from such diverse sources as:
So who knows? On the one hand, you have the actual websites of the actual group in question. On the other hand, you have the honor and integrity of NewsMax, FrontPage Magazine, and Michelle Malkin. I guess, as Jack Shafer would say, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
I should say that conservative commentators didn’t just make up this phrase, although they may have mistranslated it. It comes from a document called El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan that is prominently linked by several MEChA chapters. Mickey Kaus says that a better translation might be “By means of the Race, everything. Outside the Race, nothing.” or “On behalf of the Race, everything. Outside the Race, nothing.” In some ways, I’m not totally comfortable with the tone of the document in question. But I’m not sure how much it has to do with the character of MEChA 30 years ago, or the character of the organization today.
My honest opinion, after a lot of surfing and reading, is that some MEChA chapters seem to exhibit a brand of identity politics that I don’t approve of. They seem to be very touchy and very PC. Some chapters seem to be social clubs for Latino students. Some chapters seem to be very positive, stressing individual achievement and educational outreach to Latinos at risk. Nothing makes me think that this is a racist, fascist, or hatemongering organization.
Even if MEChA itself isn’t a hate group, isn’t it closely associated with hate groups like Voz de Atzlan?
Good question. Tacitus has spent a lot of time concentrating on MEChA “fellow travellers”.
Mechista fellow-travellers are people like Professor of Chicano Studies at the University of New Mexico Charles Truxillo, who proposes the formation of an Aztlán-style polity called La Republica del Norte “by any means necessary.” … Mechista fellow-travellers are also people like Hector Carreon and Ernesto Cienfuegos, who vigorously tout the idea of Aztlán via their website. I wouldn’t click on this link at work—Aztlán.net is a hate site as surely as any Aryan Nations site is. Their target of choice? The Jews, of course….
A quick tour of their site will reveal that Voz de Atzlán is, indeed, a loathsome racist group. Of course, Southern Poverty Law Center seems to believe that there are only about a dozen members (link via Orcinus). Cruz Bustamante, needless to say, has never been one of them.
As far as I can tell, Voz de Atzlán doesn’t link to MEChA, and I haven’t find a MEChA page that links to Voz de Atzlán. (I’m not saying they don’t exist; there are hundreds of chapters out there, and I’m not reading them all.)
If Bustamante is a “fellow traveller” with Voz de Atzlán, it makes sense that they would be generally supportive of Bustamante, right?
LA VOZ DE AZTLÁN NEWS BULLETIN
August 11, 2003
…Once again, Mexican-Americans are caught in a quandary within the two party dictatorship. Cruz Bustamante of the Democratic Party does not seem to be a viable alternative. He appears to be a mere hispanic “replica” of the incompetent and crooked Gray Davis who is called “Our Jewish Governor” by the Jews of California.
Well, maybe Bustamante isn’t sufficiently hard-core for la Voz. Fair enough. But at the very least, surely Bustamante’s fellow travellers in Voz de Atzlán would encourage Latinos to support Bustamante in the recall?
La Voz de Aztlán Editorial
Los Angeles, Alta California
August 7, 2003
…There is no question that the incompetent and corrupt Gray Davis will be ousted. Most Californians would like to recall the entire current legislature as well. We are fed up with the entire bunch of sleazy politicians. They have sold out the interests of the people to greedy special interests. It is time to “terminate” all of them. Perhaps, “The Terminator” who is already a millionaire and not a professional politician can accomplish this on behalf of the people.
Wait, that makes it sound like they’re supporting Schwarzenegger. Not Bustamante.
Funny, I don’t remember hearing that before.
As a point of comparison, are the ties between MEChA and Voz de Aztlán weaker or stronger than… say…. the ties between the NRA and “Patriot” anti-government militias? (Hint: Weaker.) Would conservative commentators jumping on the anti-MEChA bandwagon agree with a hypothetical left-wing movement which demanded that Republican candidates distance themselves from the NRA? (Hint: No.)
For that matter, are the ties between MEChA and Voz de Aztlán weaker or stronger than the links between the Republican party and David Duke? As you may know, David Duke ran for the Louisiana State Legislature, and won, as a Republican. Running as a Republican, Duke won 43.5 percent of the vote in an unsuccessful 1990 U.S. Senate race and won 700,000 votes in a 1991 race for the governorship of Louisiana.
I rush to point out that David Duke’s candidacy was in no way endorsed by the GOP organization, and they certainly had no use for him. Well… maybe “no use” isn’t quite the right term. They got some use out of David Duke’s mailing list. In 1995 and in 1997, Republican Mike Foster paid $152,000 for mailing lists of David Duke’s supporters. (Foster, understandably but illegally, kept the purchases secret. He was fined $20,000 by the Louisiana Board of Ethics for “failing to accurately … report campaign expenditures.”)
Mike Foster was George W. Bush’s campaign manager in Louisiana in the 2000 presidential elections.
Bustamante has been asked about his 30-year old ties to MEChA. He hasn’t renounced them. Many on the right are very upset about that.
What happened when George W. Bush was asked about his contemporary, continuing ties to Mike Foster, a man who had bought lists of white supremicist-backers for his own campaign and broke the law to conceal it? Did Bush show the moral clarity he’s famous for?
When asked a few weeks ago whether Foster, who is now Bush’s Louisiana campaign chair, should have purchased a mailing list of racists to target for votes, Bush said, “Here’s my position. Gov. Foster is a good and decent man. He’s an honorable fellow. I respect him a lot. I’m fortunate to have him as a friend and ally.”
When asked if he would have purchased a mailing list, Bush said, “I don’t know all the facts. I don’t know what the facts are. I do know I trust Mike Foster, and know he’s a good man.”
I’m just saying.
Last question. Bustamante could have defused this controversy by distancing himself from MEChA earlier on. Why didn’t he?
Good question, and I don’t know the answer. Maybe, as Mickey Kaus and others have asserted, it’s a way to energize Latino voters. Maybe, as Glenn Reynolds has insinuated, Democrats “care more about winning than they do about racism.”
Or maybe it’s this. Michelle Malkin points out that other former Mechistas include California State Assembly Speaker and Los Angeles mayoral candidate Antonio Villaraigosa, State Assemblyman Gil Cadillo, State Sen. Joe Baca, and Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva. I’m not familiar with those politicians. However, I’m a bit of a political junkie, and I’ve never heard of any of them making any attempt to cede the Southwestern United States to Mexico. At first appearance, all they seem to have in common are Latino surnames.
If I were of a conspiratorial mindset, I’d start to think about this: Cruz Bustamante is a moderate Democrat with a thirty year political career. As far as I know, no one even tried to accuse him of Latino extremisism on the basis of his record in public service. He’s so moderate that he’s endorsed Joe Lieberman for president.
And yet many on the right are trying to tie him to a repugnant extremist philosophy. The only evidence that they have is his involvement, thirty years ago, in an organization that no one considered extremist a few weeks ago. (I can’t blame them; it’s more fun than trying to justify voting for an actor with no budget plan, no ideas, and no political exprience.)
I might start to think that the right was engaged in a cynical smear job, blurring the difference between mainstream and extremist Latino organizations in order to hurt a winning Latino Democrat. I’d start to think that just about anyone who was a member of a Latino student group in college could be tarred in exactly the same way. I might think that if they succeed with Bustamante, they’ll do it the next Latino Democrat, and the next one, and the next one.
So here’s one theory. Maybe his experience with MEChA was completely benign. Maybe Bustamante hasn’t distanced himself because he’s reflected on his experience with MEChA, and he’s doesn’t see any reason why he should. Maybe he has decided that when people with no principles start telling him to jump, he’s not obligated to ask, “How high, sir?”
Maybe, in his politically tone-deaf way, Bustamante is acting like a man.
But I’m just guessing.
UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds has pointed out that I had typed “Bustamente” instead of the correct name, Bustamante. I regret the error, and it has been corrected.
I should point out that I am Ted Barlow, not Crooked Timber, and I can’t assume that the other members of this blog share my conclusions of Bustamante and MEChA.