This past weekend, 200,000 people representing a broad coalition of labor, faith, progressives, and conservatives peacefully marched on the National Mall in support of comprehensive immigration reform. Roy Beck, director of the anti-immigrant group NumbersUSA, decided to bring himself, his cameras, and his bodyguards to the march as part of his organization’s counter campaign, S.T.O.P. Amnesty in 4 Days.
Robert Erickson, an activist from Minneapolis, was one of the demonstrators who Beck interviewed. Erickson satirically presented himself as a sympathetic activist concerned about “European illegal immigration.” By employing the charged rhetoric of immigration restrictionists, Erickson successfully engaged Beck in an extended conversation that highlighted the hypocrisy and inconsistencies that encompass the anti-immigrant movement.
He even riled Beck up about the supposed dangers of “illegal European immigration” that date back to the days of Columbus:
ERICKSON: I want to say that illegal European immigration is one of the worst things we have going in this country. It’s not a new problem, it’s been going on for hundreds of years. Illegal European immigrants have committed some of the worst crimes in history, including slavery, genocide, and theft of indigenous lands. Have you thought about this at all Roy?
BECK: Yeah, in fact, our very open immigration system in the 1880s and 1890s very much helped finish off the Indians in terms of pushing them into the reservations…
ERICKSON: Colombus go home?
BECK: Ok. [...]
ERICKSON: I’m not sure if E-verify is enough, when we’re talking about murder…
BECK: Now you’re into the organized crime. You are exactly right. Some of the worst organized crime in this country are white Europeans.
At first, Beck appeared happy to find someone who he thought was a like-minded supporter. Rather than realizing that the joke was on him, Beck seemed intent on trying to find some common ground with Erickson. While condemning the actions of European explorers like Columbus, Beck goes out of his way to draw an implicit parallel when he points out that “They [Native Americans] got overrun, they lost their country, they lost their land, they lost their societies, and, for the most part, they lost their culture…No nation should allow themselves for that to happen.” Several minutes into the interview, once Beck realizes that Erickson is sarcastically advocating the deportation of all white Europeans, Beck brings the conversation to an embarrassing halt.
Last fall, Erickson managed to get on the speaking list of an anti-immigrant tea party protest. Erickson orated on the perils of illegal European immigration and led a crowd of counter-protesters in his chants of “Columbus go home!” and “Europeans out!”