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Patriots Parade Is No Place for Minuteman, Organizers Say

January 25, 2006|Jennifer Delson | Times Staff Writer

The Minuteman Project citizen patrol, known for its skirmishes over illegal immigration, is now in a skirmish over a Laguna Beach parade.

At issue is the 40th annual Patriots Day parade, a homespun event put on by a nonprofit group in Laguna.

The Minuteman Project applied to participate in the March 4 event through downtown Laguna this month but was rejected by parade organizers, who cited the 25-year-old parade bylaws that say, "No religious or political entries shall be permitted."

The Minuteman entry "is obviously a political entry," said Charles J. Quilter II, vice president of the Patriots Day Parade Assn. "This isn't that kind of event. It's got Brownies and Boy Scouts and Friends of the Library."

But Minuteman founder James Gilchrist says it has more than that.

The retired accountant, who recently ran unsuccessfully for Congress, says a gay men's choir, a peace group and a local center that runs a day laborer center are participating. They are just as political and potentially controversial as his group, he said.

His group's parade entry was turned down "within an hour" after applying. It left him feeling "offended, insulted and really taken aback," he said.

Gilchrist, who has appeared with supporters in Laguna Beach to protest a day laborer hiring center there, said his right to free speech was being violated.

Parade organizer Quilter said the organizations did not promote political messages.

For example, the chorus sings and holds no signs except for the one with its name, Quilter said.

The parade association expects about 100 groups in the parade.

It rejected two other parade applicants -- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Animal Liberation Front -- because they are controversial, Quilter said.

In 2004, the group decided to allow the Laguna Beach Peace Vigil to join in as long as marchers didn't carry overtly political signs.

The Minuteman group, which was formed in 2005, organized a stakeout in Arizona at the Mexican border in April by civilians to draw attention to the inability of the government to stop the flow of illegal immigration.

President Bush has called members vigilantes, and they've had skirmishes with immigrants rights advocates and illegal immigrants.

Border Patrol officers complained that the Minuteman volunteers tripped sensors used to track illegal immigrants and drug smugglers.

Parade organizers say they aren't rejecting the Minuteman group because of its activities but because it would change the character of the event.

They reconsidered the matter Monday and voted 14 to 0 against allowing the group in the parade. Two members abstained.

Laguna Beach council member and 25-year resident Steve Dicterow agreed with the vote.

The parade is so homespun, he said, "there are probably more people in town in the parade than watching the parade.... I've never seen any political group being involved."

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