Iowa businessman and Republican gubernatorial candidate Christian Fong appeared before the Iowa Minuteman Civil Defense Corps (MCDC) this past weekend, a self-proclaimed vigilante group. Fong, who describes himself as the son of a Chinese immigrant and Nebraska farm girl, urged Iowa minutemen to adopt a friendlier approach towards legal immigrants.
Fong agreed with the minutemen that immigration laws need to be enforced and public benefits to undocumented immigrants restricted, but reminded the crowd that “it’s important for the Republican Party to not sound so angry…otherwise, we lose that whole bunch [immigrant voters].” Fong is referring to the growing population of legal immigrants in Iowa who are becoming US citizens and exercising their right to vote. According to Fong, being inclusive and “sounding more welcoming” towards legal immigrants is simply “good politics.”
However, actions speaks louder than words. It’s doubtful that Fong somehow overlooked the fact that he was speaking to a group that has been repeatedly identified as a right-wing anti-immigrant militia. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) describes the Minutemen as a loose network of local chapters whose primary goal is to keep undocumented immigrants from Mexico out of the country. Nonetheless, they often target anyone who looks like they fit that category. Though it was originally started as a border vigilante group made up of armed volunteers, many chapters — like Iowa’s — aren’t anywhere near the border and instead employ tactics such as videotaping dark-skinned people at their workplace who they believe are undocumented. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) lists 11 local Iowa MCDC chapters on its “nativist extremist group” list and warns that the group is a magnet for violent extremists. Its founder, Chris Simcox denies such warnings, despite the fact that someone like Shawna Forde — a woman recently accused of murdering a 9-year-old Latina and her father — was formerly associated with his group.
It’s wise of Fong to suggest Republicans cool down their anti-immigrant rhetoric, but headlining a MCDC event probably lost him whatever points his moderate tone might have won him within the community of immigrants who “use[d] proper channels” to come to the US. Also, approaching legal immigrants with a more welcoming attitude while shutting the door in the face of many of their undocumented friends and family members will only get Fong so far. Ultimately, Republicans can’t just expect a change of tone without a corresponding adjustment in their immigration platform is going to win them the critical immigrant and Latino vote.
During his speech before the Minuteman, Fong also compared President Obama to mid-20th Century Chinese Communists that promised “hope and change.” Bleeding Heartland asks Fong to “make up his mind” on whether he’s going to be “the GOP’s hopeful, inclusive-talking guy” or not.