Citing safety and manpower concerns, Selah Civic Center administrators have denied meeting space to a local chapter of the controversial Minuteman Civil Defense Corps.
The group had asked to hold regular Sunday afternoon meetings in the center, which is owned by the city of Selah and operated by a city-appointed board.
But Vern Larson, the board’s chairman, confirmed the board turned down the application on the police department’s recommendation.
Bob Dameron, the Minuteman chapter leader, said a letter denying the request—and a check refunding the group’s $75 deposit on the space—arrived in the mail Wednesday.
“It’s absolutely removing our constitutional right to meet,” Dameron said. “We have good, clean outstanding people in our organization. Personally, I’d like to fight this, but it’s not up to me. I’m going to take it up our chain of command and see what they want to do.”
The Arizona-based Minuteman organization has gained national attention as a citizen watchdog group whose members patrol U.S. borders and report illegal activities to law enforcement. Although the group claims to be nonviolent, Chief Rick Gutierrez of the Selah police said he was concerned about documented clashes in other parts of the country between the organization and those protesting them.
“If 20 protesters and 20 Minutemen get into it, the four officers I have on day shift won’t be able to handle that,” Gutierrez said. “I’d have to call in officers on overtime, Sheriff’s Office, State Patrol, Yakima (police). We just don’t have the resources to handle something like that.”
Earlier this week, Minuteman protesters at a Portland day-labor pick-up site encountered some rock throwing and shouting matches. And earlier this month, students at New York’s Columbia University attacked Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist, who’d been invited to speaker to the Columbia College Republicans.
Chief Gutierrez noted that his concerns are not just for the community and residents, but for protesters and Minuteman members themselves.
“It’s a double-edged sword. If we allow them to meet and someone gets hurt, we’ll be blamed. And if we don’t let them meet, people will say we’re discriminating against them,” he said.
Local immigrant-rights advocacy groups—whose members worry about the fact that Minutemen are armed while they patrol borders—are closely watching the organization and promise protests if the group gathers.
“We would definitely be there,” said Maria Cuebas of Aguilas De Norte. “Undocumented immigrants are protected by our Constitution, and no one has the right to detain another person.