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April 8, 2005

Gilchrist Crossing the Delaware

Bordervigilante

Have you been following this story about the Minutemen, the border vigilantes who are “voluntarily” helping deter illegal immigration in Southeastern Arizona?

Just one day after the LA Times ran this image on it’s front page (with the article: A Roadblock, Not a Barrier for Migrants), it followed up with another front page article on the group.  In the second story (Border Watchers Capture Their Prey — The Media), they explained how the outfit had attracted more than 200 journalists from around the world.  The article also reported how James Gilchrist, the guy with the gut, had transformed himself into an overnight celebrity.

(Ironically, the NYT had a front page story on illegal immigration that second day, as well.  That article, however — Illegal Immigrants Are Bolstering Social Security With Billions – link — had to do with how much money illegal workers are kicking into Social Security and Medicare, although they have no stake in either system.)

I understand how the LA Times might be feeling pretty good about it’s latest Pulitzers.  What I don’t understand, however, is how they can justify either this photo alone, or the photograph in the context of their follow up piece.

I’m no Revolutionary War expert, but doesn’t this shot reinforce and romanticize the Minutemen connection?  To draw the connection even tighter, doesn’t this shot look suspiciously like the famous painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware?  Unless you’re buying this image at face value, you would have to conclude that either a.) these guys naturally stand around like this, or b.) the picture is posed.  (Of course, with the credit The Times lends this lunatic fringe through the bold black-and-white and the dramatic lighting, I’m inclined to go with “option b.”)

If the photo bestows credibility through visual drama, as well as historical and patriotic allusion, these aren’t the only allusions to be drawn.  I’m not one to call out a person’s weight, but this Gilchrist guy (great name, huh?) offers up his spot lit midsection as if it was an independent player.  Maybe the naive viewer (or the red state one) would see it as representing that much more pride, but that belly reads like arrogance to me.  It says: Throwing weight around is our birthright.  Boundaries are for you, not for us.  One fast food nation, under God.  Consume free, or die.

On the other hand, maybe there’s something grossly typical about this shot.  Isn’t it standard in dramas (particularly Westerns) to find an ultimately weak and slovenly bad guy accompanied by a passive (either short or rail thin) sidekick who is just there to hold his megaphone? 

(image: Rick Loomis/LA Times)

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