Kyle de Beausset, an undergraduate student and migrant advocate, who was one of the original Harvard protesters, said yesterday that Gilchrist’s removal will allow discussions to move toward policy, rather than animosity.
“It’s a victory for people who are trying to get hate out of the immigration debate,” he said. “There’s a difference between having views, and hate speech.”
Beausset said more students have been alerted to the group’s stance since the arrest in June of a woman with ties to the Minuteman Project.
Shawna Ford and two others allegedly shot and killed a father and son, and wounded the mother in a robbery that Beausset said was to “finance her nativist activism.”
He said the episode showed the extremes to which some members of the movement will go.
“I’m concerned about the broader national implications of legitimizing these extremist views with the Harvard name,” he said in a letter to fellow students.Milton Valencia – Boston Globe (16 October 2009)
Jim Gilchrist’s organization, in characteristic fashion, has responded with hyperbole and falsehoods.
Anti-Free Speech Fanatics at Harvard Threaten Disruption and Violence
Despite appearing at last February’s symposium at the Harvard Law
School on immigration law with invited panelists ranging from
legislators and government officials to academics and private
practitioners from across the political spectrum, campus philosophical
fanatics have terrorized the Harvard Undergraduate Legal Committee
(HULC) with disruptive threats if Jim Gilchrist attends their proposed
With just five days notice, after over five months of planning his
appearance, HULC gave Gilchrist notice that it was forced to rescind
its invitation due to serious threats from unnamed anarchist radicals
on the Harvard campus. The spokesperson for HULC said the threats were
sourced in only some errant students. He said no faculty members were
involved in the threat to wreak havoc upon the Cambridge, Massachusetts
campus.Jim Gilchrist’s Minuteman Project (16 October 2009)
Why reporters still consider Gilchrist a worthy commentator on something as important as U.S. migration policy when he so willingly distorts the truth is beyond me. There was never any threat of violence. All I did was send out an email to a bunch of student group lists explaining why I thought Gilchrist shouldn’t be invited.
Before I further elaborate on why Gilchrist shouldn’t have been invited, I want to point out that this isn’t the first time he has distorted the truth about a visit to Harvard. The last time Gilchrist came to Harvard he posted this fictional account of his visit which was torn apart by Katy Glen and Ting Chen of the Harvard Law Record.
As the other panelists discussed the U.S.-generated demand for
immigrant labor, the practice of detaining asylum-seekers, and the need
to increase ways for immigrants to enter the U.S. legally, Mr.
Gilchrist exhibited a dearth of knowledge of basic issues in
immigration law enforcement and policymaking, and spent much of his
speaking time warning the students in the audience that we would pay
the price for the Mexican invasion. Audible laughter at several of Mr.
Gilchrist’s comments indicated the level of absurdity of his
Mr. Gilchrist relied on fear-mongering tactics throughout the panel
discussion, creating an unwelcome distraction from what was otherwise a
lively and intelligent discourse on immigration policy.
After failing to make a substantive contribution to the panel, Mr.
Gilchrist returned home and published an account of the discussion on
the Minuteman Project’s website that depicts an entirely different
event. In Mr. Gilchrist’s creative retelling, the audience broke into
spontaneous applause on two separate occasions after his comments.
Repeated viewings of the video recording of the panel have yet to
reveal this rousing applause. Mr. Gilchrist is also billing himself as
“the perfect guest” for radio talk shows after his appearance at HLS.
While he is certainly profiting from the publicity afforded by his
appearance at Harvard, he has yet to demonstrate his value as a
contributor to the ongoing debate on immigration policy.Katy Glenn and Ting Chen – Harvard Law Record (5 March 2009)
Gilchrist’s willingness to lie is reason enough not to give him a platform at Harvard or at any other respectable institution.
I admire the ideals the U.S. aspires to, and I believe free speech is chief among those ideals. Still, it’s important to be clear about what free speech means, embodied by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of
the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the
Government for a redress of grievances.U.S. Constitution (17 September 1787)
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects people from government abridging their freedom of speech. I will defend Jim Gilchrist’s right to express his views whatever he wants without government interference, but that doesn’t mean a private institution like Harvard is obligated to provide a platform for his views.
Establishing that Harvard is not obligated to provide Gilchrist with a platform under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, let me specify why I don’t think Harvard should have given Gilchrist a platform.
First of all, the Harvard Undergraduate Legal Committee (HULC) messed up in originally putting together their immigration panel for the Public Interest & Law Conference. Aside from Jim Gilchrist the only other two people on the immigration panel were Jessica Vaughn, and Jon Feere of the nativist Center for Immigration Studies. This means the entire panel was anti-migrant! I repeat, there were no pro-migrant perspectives on the immigration panel. Thankfully, the Harvard Undergraduate Legal Committee recognized their mistake, and now both Roberto Lovato of bastadobbs.com and Marcony A
lmeida of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition are on the panel. In other words, the nativist perspective will still be represented by two members of the Center for Immigration Studies.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the reason it would have been irresponsible for HULC to invite Jim Gilchrist is because of the violence he encourages and enables with his speech. There are countless examples of this. Jim Gilchrist advocated violence in his statement about being disinvited at Harvard:
It is obvious why our Founding Fathers placed the Second Amendment
directly after the First Amendment. When free
speech is no longer an irrevocable right, well, that’s what the Second
Amendment is for…to preserve the First Amendment…for everyone on U.S.
territory.Jim Gilchrist – Minuteman Project (16 October 2009)
In a statement about being uninvited from Harvard I can only interpret this as a threat to bring guns to Harvard to “defend” his right to speak. This would be fine if this was all talk and no action, but the case of Shawna Forde has shown us that there can be deadly consequences to this sort of speech.
Forde, the head of Minuteman American Defense, is being tried for shooting and killing a 9-year-old girl Brisenia Flores, and her father, in an apparent attempt to finance her nativist activism. The only way to truly understand the consequences of hateful speech like Gilchrist’s is to hear the audio of Brisenia Flores’ mother when she dialed 911 to report that her husband and her daughter were shot and killed. (WARNING: Listening to this
audio might be traumatic for those who have suffered violence. I have
only listened to it once and that was enough.) Jim Gilchrist is a close associate of Shawna Forde’s and has defended her in the past.
To summarize, Harvard is not obligated to provide Jim Gilchrist with a platform because it is a private institution. That is not what free speech is about. Furthermore, the nativist perspective will still be represented on the immigration panel by the Center for Immigration Studies. Finally, it is irresponsible to give Jim Gilchrist the Harvard platform because he lies and has advocated violence. Violence which has been carried out by those closely associated with him.
I’m not the only one who believes this. The last time Jim Gilchrist came to Harvard Jeanne Butterfield, the former Executive Director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), refused to debate him. I’ll leave you with her letter to the organization that invited Gilchrist, the Journal on Legislation. Butterfield says it better than I ever could:
[To the Journal on Legislation,]
I fully understand and support your objectives of providing a non-partisan approach and of providing a forum for the airing of opposing points of view on immigration at your upcoming symposium. As I stated in my previous email to you, I often appear on panels which include a wide range of perspectives, and I have often debated speakers with opposite points of view to my own, including spokespeople such as Dan Stein of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, and commentator Pat Buchanan. I have appeared on Lou Dobbs, opposite Congressman Tom Tancredo as well. So I am not opposed to a spirited debate.
I draw the line, however, at debating or appearing with members of known hate groups, and those who advocate violence whether explicitly or implicitly. And I continue to believe that while Mr. Gilchrist has indeed attempted to moderate his tone and his rhetoric and perhaps has even changed some of his views, he continues to be the founder and leader of a group that is in essence a vigilante group, the Minutemen, one which intends to take law enforcement into its own hands.
I believe that there are some viewpoints which are outside the range of acceptable and credible dialogue in a democracy. I would not, for example, agree to debate a “Holocaust denier”. Neither would I debate a neo-Nazi, or a member of the Ku Klux Klan. While I would defend any person’s right to free speech, I can and do draw the line at lending my own expertise and credibility to these sorts of people’s agendas by appearing on the same platform with them. I believe that my appearance, my reputation, only lends legitimacy to them if I agree to appear, or debate them. And I believe it is my right and my responsibility to refuse to lend them any credibility whatsoever. There are certain viewpoints, including those which advocate violence, which are simply outside the realm of reasonable differences of opinion. In my judgment, this is the case here with Mr. Gilchrist.
I have been an advocate for immigrants rights and immigration reform for more than 25 years. I have been intimately involved in the debate and in the legislative campaign on Capitol Hill during the past 15 years. I can bring an in-depth analysis and account of the immediate past debate on “comprehensive immigration reform” in a way that none of your other invited panelists can, as I was on the Hill and inside the room in many, many discussions and debates with Senators and advocates alike during the 2006 and 2007 legislative campaign.
I believe that this information and analysis is valuable to your symposium attendees. And I would be happy to provide it on another occasion, or in a panel that does not include someone like Mr. Gilchrist. But I cannot accept an invitation to appear with Mr. Gilchrist, and I will therefore be forced with withdraw my acceptance of your kind invitation.
I hope that you will consider my views, and those that have been voiced by other invited speakers as well, as you proceed with your planning.
I have included some additional facts about Mr. Gilchrist and his organization below, which you may want to consider.
Best wishes for a successful symposium.
Jeanne Butterfield (2 February 2009)