California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante refused today to disassociate himself from a Hispanic group critics say is as racist as the Ku Klux Klan.

California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante

Students who belong to the Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan, or MEChA, “are just like the students when I was there, pretty much they are trying to get an education,” he told reporters.

“I think the actuality of what takes place in those organizations is to provide student leadership. For me, and many, many others, we were running for student government. That’s how I got here today,” Bustamante said.

That moderate description of MEChA and the students who belong to it differs greatly from a description of the organization’s earlier days, as reported in 1997 by the Arizona Daily Wildcat, the University of Arizona’s newspaper.

According to that story, early Mechistas, as they are called, “had long hair, wore military fatigues and brown berets and were angry and confrontational.”

“Fists in the air, Chicano student activists in the late 1960s marched on high school and college campuses throughout the American Southwest with voices so loud it was impossible for history to forget them,” the paper said.

Today’s members also have been linked to violence. Fox News reported that in 1993 students at UCLA caused $500,000 in damage to the university while demanding a Chicano studies department. Later, in 1996, Mechistas were videotaped beating up demonstrators protesting illegal immigration.

Bustamante joined the organization during his college days at Fresno State University in the 1970s. The group, which has college chapters on 300 campuses – 100 in California alone – has adopted as its motto, ” for the race, everything. For those outside the race, nothing.”

Critics of the group and the lieutenant governor’s endorsement of it say some of the same voices who chastised Republican Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, over supportive comments about Sen. Strom Thurmond’s 1948 presidential bid on a segregationist ticket, and who have tried to make an issue out of California Republican gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger’s father being a Nazi Party member, have given Bustamante a pass.

Supporters have tried to mitigate Bustamante’s membership in the group, if not the group’s radical agenda.

“Whatever you did in your youth, it’s what you did at time. You can’t disassociate from past,” Manuel Olgin, a former MEChA member and now a counselor at Fresno University, told Fox News. “Now if you’re still plugged in and doing stuff, that’s another question. But this is immaterial to me.”

Others said Bustamante was just a “moderate” member of the group, not a radical.

“His involvement in MEChA was not in a leadership position. His involvement was in being a member and doing what he could. He was involved at a higher level and that level was in student government,” Tony Garduque, another former MEChA member, told Fox News.

But critics don’t accept that view.

“What is a moderate member of a racist organization? ‘I was a moderate member of the Klan.’ Imagine if a Republican made that statement,” radio talk show host and WorldNetDaily columnist Larry Elder told the news channel.

MEChA specifically encourages its Chicano and Chicana members to put “raza,” or their race, above all others. And, the group promotes the liberation of “Atzlan,” which includes a major portion of the U.S. Southwest, which Mechistas believe was stolen from Mexico by the United States.

“In the spirit of a new people that is conscious not only of its proud historical heritage but also of the brutal ‘gringo’ invasion of our territories, we, the Chicano inhabitants and civilizers of the northern land of Aztl?n from whence came our forefathers, reclaiming the land of their birth and consecrating the determination of our people of the sun, declare that the call of our blood is our power, our responsibility, and our inevitable destiny,” says the opening passage of “El Plan De Atzl?n, a treatise developed and adopted by Mechistas.

“We are free and sovereign to determine those tasks which are justly called for by our house, our land, the sweat of our brows, and by our hearts. Aztl?n belongs to those who plant the seeds, water the fields, and gather the crops and not to the foreign Europeans. We do not recognize capricious frontiers on the bronze continent,” the treatise says, which is posted on the University of Oregon website.

As for the organization’s treatise, “substitute ‘Aryan’ for ‘mestizo’ and ‘white’ for ‘bronze,'” wrote syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin in a recent column, and there’s “not much difference between the nutty philosophy of Bustamante’s MEChA and Papa Schwarzenegger’s evil Nazi Party” or, as other critics have pointed out, the Klan.

“Like Nazism, MEChA has acquired more than a tinge of racism,” Lowell Ponte pointed out in a column for FrontPage “In their tactics to advance Latinos and ‘La Raza,’ many of its activists have directed racist attacks against not only white-skinned Anglos but also against blacks, Asian-Americans and Jews – in fact, against every non-Latino group.”

Yasser Arafat meeting with members of predecessor to MEChA in Lebanon in 1980

Critics also note members of the predecessor
organization to MEChA, the Raza Unida Party, or RUP, met in Lebanon in 1980
with Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, leading some
today to question whether the current leadership still has terrorist ties.

Related column:

Bustamante, MEChA, and the media

Related special offer:

“Conquest of Atzlan” unveils the aims and methods of a radical movement intent on taking over the American southwest.

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.