This week’s exit of presidential candidate Tom Tancredo is a blow to anti-illegal immigrant activists like William Gheen. At the same time, the controversial leader of the hard-line Americans for Legal Immigration political action committee (ALI-PAC) has rising GOP darling Mike (“The Huckster”) Huckabee and his own former compatriot, Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist in his cross hairs.In an extensive interview on Wednesday with Colorado Confidential, ALI-PAC’s Gheen praised Tancredo’s endorsement of Mitt Romney for president. He also spoke of his disgust over Gilchrist, who founded the anti-illegal immigration Minuteman Project in 2004 and who has endorsed Huckabee. So far, leaders from 85 like-minded groups have responded with vociferous denouncements of both Gilchrist and “The Huckster” (as Gheen repeatedly refers to the former governor of Arkansas.)
“Romney is still on the viable list, as is Duncan Hunter, Ron Paul and Fred Thompson,” Gheen said of the remaining candidates. “And I will say this: If the Republican Party fails to elect a candidate that is for comprehensive immigration enforcement … then the stage will be set for an historically independent run, perhaps even by CNN anchor Lou Dobbs.”
As for Democrats, Gheen broad-brush criticizes the lot of them, particularly Barack Obama and John Edwards, accusing them of pandering to “special interests.” But he extended his most derogatory commentary to Huckabee and Gilchrist.
“Right now our main mission is to expose The Huckster for the liar he is,” Gheen said. “You and I can disagree about an issue, and that’s fine, but I think that the last thing we need is a liar in the White House.”
Specifically, Gheen said that Huckabee claims to be tough on immigration, but maintains the candidate’s “real agenda,” as he discussed on Fox News on Dec. 9, would allow immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally to “leave” and then return the next day. Specifically, he singles out Mexican nationals.
“They’ll probably just have to go to the Mexican consulate for the afternoon,” Gheen said.
Gilchrist’s Minuteman Project has, among other activities, sponsored armed citizen patrols along the U.S. border with Mexico. But this week, Gheen derided Gilchrist as a “kind of lonely” guy who has not had a successful sweep for more than a year.
“Jim Gilchrist has been an, oh, what’s the best way to say this? Gilchrist has been like the family member that just has some serious problems that you just don’t hope becomes a community topic,” Gheen said.
Gheen declined to specify any of those alleged “problems,” but called Gilchrist’s behavior “bizarre, destructive and unstable.”
As of this Thursday, a total of 85 anti-illegal immigration groups have signed onto a letter denouncing Gilchrist’s endorsement of Huckabee, including Robert M. Copley, Sr., of the Colorado Minutemen who, among other things, has received past recognition for protesting the Denver Public Library’s inclusion of Spanish-language books in its facilities.
“No organizations in our movement have followed [Gilchrist’s] decision to support The Huckster,” Gheen said.
For his part, Gheen, who lives in Raleigh, N.C., has certainly been on the receiving end of criticism, including from Colorado Media Matters. In October, the media watchdog group criticized Gheen, after he appeared as a guest on the Peter Boyles radio show and contended that Mexicans who claim racism is shaping U.S. immigration policy are “brown Nazis.”
Media Matters has also rebuked Gheen for claims during appearances on past Boyles shows, including his assertion that “illegal aliens have shown a pattern of criminality.”
As for Tancredo, Gheen praised the five-term Colorado congressman for directing focus within the GOP on the issue of illegal immigration.
“Tom entered the race not with an expectation to win but to help shape the debate, and he has certainly done that — every single Republican presidential candidate is talking about immigration,” Gheen said.
Gheen says he was “disappointed” by Tancredo’s decision to pull out of the race but called the Colorado congressman’s voice “golden in this movement” and predicted that his endorsement of Romney would bring a huge boost from groups like ALI-PAC, one of the largest organizations on this topic with 25,000 activists on its e-mail alert list and a website that generates a reported three million hits a month.
“We love Tom [Tancredo] — all of us, we admire him and you won’t find anyone more committed to this issue, but he started off to make a point more than win,” Gheen said. “One thing you never do is tell your audience you’re not in it to win.”
“To keep the unity in our movement, we’re not going to endorse, we’re going to cross off the ‘nasties.'” Gheen added.
Those “nasties,” he says, include Huckabee, along with Republicans John McCain and “Rudy ‘Have-You-Hugged-Your-Illegal-Alien-in-Sanctuary-New-York-City-Today’ Giuliani,” as well as all of the Democratic candidates.
At his website, Huckabee has been touting his “Nine-Point Strategy for Immigration Enforcement and Border Security,” to provide a “tough, equitable and comprehensive approach” to enforcement of immigration laws and tightening or border security, which Gilchrist claimed would “open the dialogue and help begin the process of solving the illegal immigration problem.”
But Gheen describes Huckabee as sounding like a “left-wing moonbat” and accused him of calling people who oppose a “thriving” illegal immigration as racist and nativist.
Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential and a columnist and contributing editor at The Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org