In Videos, Minutemen Shown Damaging Migrant Camp

Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2007 | San Diego Minutemen can be seen pulling down migrant workers’ huts and rummaging through migrants’ possessions in a collection of video clips shot by a former member of the group.

The videos, obtained by voiceofsandiego.org from former San Diego Minutemen member Christie Czajkowski, come to light as the San Diego Police Department continues its investigation into alleged vandalism at northern San Diego migrant camps in January.

Police officials estimated that $600 worth of damage was caused in that attack, during which migrants’ possessions and clothes were slashed. The vandalism occurred several weeks after the videos were shot.

In one of the video clips, Jeff Schwilk, founder of the San Diego Minutemen chapter, kicks through the remains of a newly flattened migrant workers’ hut.

“They don’t build them like they used to,” he says, panting.

In another clip, Schwilk pulls a makeshift hut to the ground. Members of the San Diego Minutemen are shown tugging at structures and rummaging through property in San Diego migrant workers’ camps in other videos.

In March, Schwilk’s home was searched by police investigating the alleged vandalism, and last month, several Latino groups increased a reward for information regarding the attacks from $1,000 to $10,000. The SDPD declined to comment on the ongoing investigation, and nobody has yet been charged in relation to January’s alleged vandalism.

The latest batch of videos, which Czajkowski posted briefly on the website YouTube but has since removed, are significant because they show Schwilk and others inside the migrant camps and show Minutemen entering migrants’ huts and removing possessions. Czajkowski said the videos show Minutemen committing vandalism, an allegation Schwilk denies.

Minutemen on Camera

  • The Issue: Videos that have recently surfaced show San Diego Minutemen pulling down migrant workers’ shacks and rummaging through their property.
  • What It Means: Some of the people in the videos have had their homes searched as part of a police investigation into alleged vandalism at a north San Diego migrant camp. That attack caused an estimated $600 in damages and a $10,000 reward has been offered for information leading to an arrest in the case.
  • The Bigger Picture: The footage was captured by Christi Czajkowski, former girlfriend of Jeff Schwilk, founder of the San Diego Minutemen. Czajkowski and Schwilk have been engaged in a bitter public dispute since Schwilk dismissed Czajkowski from his group earlier this year.

Schwilk said the videos are merely another attempt by Czajkowski, his former girlfriend, to sully his name and to bring discredit on his organization. Schwilk and Czajkowski have been engaged in an ongoing legal battle after their romance ended. That feud has played out in the public eye thanks to footage of Schwilk screaming obscenities at Czajkowski and shoving her camera.

Schwilk said the videos released Monday were shot in migrant camps that had already been long abandoned by their residents. He said nobody was living in the camps when he and his fellow Minutemen went through them removing structures in an attempt to stop migrants from returning.

“You can’t vandalize something that is obviously an unoccupied structure,” he said.

Czajkowski told a different story.

She said she shot the footage during one of the Minutemen’s “reconnaissance missions” through a migrant camp in November. She said the day started as a “cleanup,” but that Schwilk and other Minutemen soon began destroying private property.

In one of the videos, Schwilk is seen standing before a small chapel that was built in McGonigle canyon by the migrants. Schwilk goes off-camera and a smashing sound can be heard.

“Oh no, I won’t let you, I’m sorry,” Czajkowski says to Schwilk.

Czajkowski said Schwilk had begun smashing veladoras — Mexican devotional prayer candles — which greatly upset her as she is a Christian.

Schwilk denies smashing any candles, an accusation he called “disgusting.” He said the smashing sound is probably the sound of floor tiles breaking, and said the chapel had long been abandoned by the time the footage was taken.

Services were held at the chapel through January 2007 — two months after Czajkowski said this video was shot. In the footage, a vase of fresh flowers and a potted plant sit next to religious icons on the chapel’s altar.

The other videos are all shot within the camps themselves. Minutemen can be seen removing items from tents while Czajkowski makes comments about the items and the state of the camps. At one point, a Minuteman can be heard asking Czajkowski if she wants a beer.

Czajkowski said the man offering her a beer was San Diego Minuteman Mike Fair. Fair had found a case of beer in one of the tents, she said, and began opening the beers and pouring them over the migrants’ possessions — including a television set and a radio.

Schwilk said none of the items that can be seen in the videos were the private property of migrant workers. He said all the items had been abandoned by migrants when they cleared out of the camps.

But Czajkowski said she can’t be sure whether the camps were unoccupied at the time the footage was taken. In one video, a pot sits on an unlit campfire. The makeshift huts appear to be well-maintained and plastic bags — usually used to store food — hang from trees in the open spaces.

Mónica Muñoz, a spokeswoman for the San Diego Police Department, said the Minutemen are not allowed to conduct “clean-ups” in camps on private land without the landowner’s permission. That permission is rarely granted, she said.

Schwilk declined to say whether his group had permission to be on the property while the video footage was taken. In an e-mail, he expressed his views about the videos.

“This is purely a personal attack on me with lies. 600 of our members are waiting to see what lies you print. They all know Christie is a rogue ‘activist’ who now works for the racist felon Russ Dove in Tucson,” he wrote. “She is totally irrelevant in our movement.”

Please contact Will Carless directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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