Monday, January 24, 2005

Volunteers set to monitor Arizona border crossings: The New Know-Nothings

Volunteers set to monitor Arizona border crossings: The New Know-Nothings

A retired California businessman has 240 volunteers ready for a 30-day aerial and ground surveillance campaign on the Arizona-Mexico border to highlight what he calls the government's failure to control illegal immigration.

I have an unfortunate penchant for radical solutions, and my gut feeling on immigration is "either open the borders completely or tear down the Statue of Liberty." Admittedly extreme. But a private posse prowling the border is an international incident waiting to happen.

One more sign of the rise of nativism in Red America. The more I think about it the more I think the Republicans are starting to resemble the Know-Nothings.

I can insert any number of Dumb Dubya punchlines here but I promised to stop making Know-Nothing Republican references after Dan Quayle left office. I'm breaking that promise because I'm seeing serious parallels between contemporary GOP nativism and the Know-Nothing Party (officially called the American Party) of the No Irish Need Apply 1850's. They were more than a punchline; in 1854 they appeared poised to replace the Whigs as America's second party until American politics - and America itself - split along the slavery fault line.

The other big nativist movement was the 1920s Klan revival. In the aftermath of WOrld War One the Klan moved into the North and was a key player in many states especially Indiana. As much anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic as it was anti-black, the Klan split the Democrats in the infamous 103 ballot 1924 convention, and also helped lead to the landmark immigration restrictions law of that same year.

Calling the GOP Klannish is asking for trouble, and I don't know the partisanship of the border posse. But in the context of the history of American nativism, consider this statement:

"We're looking for this nation to again be guided by the rule of law, not a nation ruled by an endless mob of illegal aliens streaming across our borders like a tsunami, a culture shock that someday — perhaps soon — we will have neither the manpower nor the will to stop," he said.

Only the insensitive but timely tsunami reference distinguished this rhetoric from the message of the Know-Nothings and the `20s Klan.

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