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Top Minuteman Rousted in N.Y.

Jim Gilchrist, the illegal-immigration foe from Aliso Viejo, draws demonstrators at Columbia University, who rush the stage.

October 06, 2006|Jennifer Delson | Times Staff Writer

Jim Gilchrist, the Aliso Viejo accountant who co-founded the Minuteman Project, was forced offstage seconds into his speech at Columbia University on Wednesday night by students who said his anti-illegal immigration message was not welcome in New York.

Gilchrist, who was invited by the Columbia University College Republicans, was unharmed but was unable to continue speaking as planned and was forced to leave the stage after an altercation with students.

Afterward, Gilchrist said Columbia "is a gutter school. The students are not being taught how to learn but how to hate.... It is a shame that we cannot discuss the issues."

Referring to immigration enforcement, he said the students "simply do not want to accept that this is about being in a country that respects the rule of law."

Gilchrist said he would continue to take his controversial message anywhere he could. He has talks scheduled in Iowa, Alabama and other locations in coming months.

It was not the first time violence erupted at one of his events. In May 2005, five demonstrators were arrested in Garden Grove after a Gilchrist supporter tried to force his van through a blockade by protesters.

Gilchrist gained a national reputation after organizing citizen border patrols to spot illegal immigrants, an activity that prompted President Bush to call him a vigilante.

The Columbia melee began after two students rushed from behind the stage toward Gilchrist and unrolled a banner that read in Spanish, English and Arabic, "No One Is Illegal."

Seeing the two, others in the audience ran toward the stage, including about two dozen who managed to get onto the 3-foot-high platform, past security guards and ropes, where Gilchrist was only a few words into his speech.

The lectern was knocked over and Gilchrist fell back, smashing his reading glasses.

"It was pandemonium. Tables and chairs were knocked over. The microphones were ripped out. Papers were all over," said Chris Kulawik, president of the College Republicans chapter, which also paid his travel costs.

No one was arrested. The incident was videotaped and shown on TV newscasts.

On Thursday, a statement was issued on the Internet, including on the Minuteman site, by people saying they were "those who occupied the stage":

"We peacefully occupied the stage and spoke ourselves. Our peaceful protest was violently attacked by members of the College Republicans and their supporters.... The Minutemen are not a legitimate voice in the debate on immigration. They are a racist, armed militia who have declared open hunting season on immigrants."

Gilchrist met with hundreds of protesters outside before speaking. They carried signs with messages such as "Minute-Klan, Get the Khell Out of New York" and "The Minutemen Are Not Our America."

Sharon Black, who was among the protesters, said neither Gilchrist nor his message was welcome in New York City. "We are a city of immigrants. His message is one of division, racism and hate."

Black, a volunteer for the New York May 1 Coalition comprising trade unionists, students and immigrants, said New Yorkers were increasingly aware of Gilchrist's activities because of protests conducted by a Minuteman group in the city, and because Gilchrist began promoting his recent book at Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center towers were destroyed by terrorists.

For that reason, Kulawik invited Gilchrist to the campus.

"We wanted to hear views we don't usually hear at Columbia," Kulawik said.

"I'm quite ashamed of the university and my peers. I expected them to listen and ask tough questions."

jennifer.delson@latimes.com

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