Racist jet-set: Rusty Childress and the false class consciousness of the Minutemen

A takedown of a wealthy anti-immigrant business owner who plays up an image as 'an average working class guy'.

Submitted by Juan Conatz on February 9, 2012

After some prodding from comrades, I've been considering putting out a collection of Phoenix Insurgent pieces from the last few years. As a result, I've been re-reading older pieces in order to evaluate what might make a cut if I went ahead and did it. I'm still not convinced there's much point in the project, given that everything is already mostly available free on the internet. One of the problems, of course, is that the old PI articles tended not to fit too well into either the blog format or the article format: they were long pieces but I'm not really sure that they translate well into print, given all the hyper-links and quoting going on. Putting some of the essays into physical form would require some work to annotate and I'm not sure I want to do that.

Anyhow, in the course of this re-visiting -- and partly inspired by a reunion with my old enemy Rusty Childress at one of the recent pro-migrant marches in Phoenix -- I rediscovered an piece that I wrote about this rich playboy masquerading as a working class Joe. Given the ongoing crisis surrounding migration, especially in the context of racist politico Russell Pierce's recent spate of xenophobic legislation, I thought it would be worthwhile to bring this piece back, both for comment and for consideration.

One of the problems with the immigrant movement, as I see it, is the failure to develop an understanding of why white people act politically the way they do. After all, why don't white working class people find common cause with folks of color from their same class? This question is the eternal demand made of revolutionary actors and theoreticians in the US. Answering it is important.

We here at PCWC subscribe to an analysis of American society that says that whiteness is a political identity rather than a racial one -- an alliance -- in which what we call 'white people' create a cross-class bargain, poor and rich, to defend collectively a privileged position for some people over others in exchange for not overturning the apple cart of capitalism. This undermines class unity and pits whites against people of color and, in the bigger scheme, defends capitalism and the exploitation of everyone -- including white workers, ironically. After all, in the end, even white working class people are exploited by capitalism.

Obviously this is problematic for revolutionary organizing. Towards rectifying this, we at PCWC recommend that white revolutionaries take on the vital task of both undermining this political alliance and addressing to white folks the revolutionary argument against white supremacy. If the alliance of white supremacy cannot be counted on by the ruling class to undermine our collective struggle against Capital, then anything is possible, and that's precisely what we want at PCWC. As long as the glue of white supremacy remains intact, however, the white working class will tend to fight to defend its class position through the familiar paths of white privilege, which in the end will only reinforce the domination of the capitalist class over everyone.

It is precisely into this pool of contradiction that my piece on Rusty dives. While I know that readers from outside Phoenix may not be familiar with Rusty, I think the piece is still quite instructive in terms of excavating the false class consciousness of the anti-immigration movement and the contradictions in the arguments it makes (especially to the extent that they are couched in class terms).

In that spirit, I re-post here the article I wrote three years ago. I should say, before I go, that I take some pride in the fact that when you search Google for Rusty's name, my article is number two in the list on the first page. Let's hope that it has made some impact, then, within the Minuteman and related milieu, exposing the argument of white supremacy for what it is: an argument for continued class domination by the rich over the poor and working class regardless of race or origin. The destruction of capitalism requires the destruction of white supremacy.


I was surfing the Save Our State and other right-wing web forums yesterday and I came across a link to some pictures from the protest last Monday. Mostly, they're not all that interesting. I forwarded the link on to a friend who, it turns out, had just discovered it himself. "That's Rusty Childress' photo folder," he told me.

For those who don't know, Rusty is the owner of Childress Automall in Phoenix - and one of the big financial backers of the anti-immigrant movement in Arizona. He pumped money into Arizona's racist so-called "Protect Arizona Now" Proposition 200, which passed in November 2004, denying vital services to immigrants. Since Prop 200's passage, he continues to be one of the sugar daddies of the anti-immigration movement. Here I quote Rusty from an Arizona Republic article that ran in September of that year:

"We're tired of (picking up) the tab of illegal immigration. We are no longer willing to subsidize this. My business has sustained around $45,000 in damages since I got involved. It has been vandalized. There have been gunshots to windows and gases sprayed on our vehicles. For me in particular it is about speaking up on the issue of illegal immigration and demanding that politicians do something."

Because of his reactionary politics, Childress' business was the subject of a series of boycotts, protests and, as Rusty himself noted, direct action in 2004 by Latino groups and their allies in Phoenix.

Typical of the anti-immigrant movement, while the foot soldiers come from the white working class, the big money comes from rich white folks. And so it comes as no surprise that Rusty was born into the lucky sperm club of wealth and privilege. His online resume proudly proclaims his many awards and elite affiliations at the same time he projects a working class, good ol' boy facade. He is a man of contradictions, like President Bush, eager to appear and appeal to the working class, while also living a life of wealth and privilege.

A rich vacationer.

According to the Inc. Magazine article from 1995, Rusty took over the company, as most rich kids do, thanks not to hard work and sticktoitiveness, but due to the everyday nepotism of capitalism. His father's car dealership, now one of GM's top 50 Buick dealerships, was then in financial crisis.

The senior Childress and then general manager Jerry Hughes had no answers. Hughes called in Childress's son -- at the time, head of marketing -- and asked for his help. The energetic twenty-something who'd once wanted to become a geologist so he could play on top of volcanoes now had something just as hot to handle. The challenge came with a new title -- owner-relations manager. And it came with tacit permission to change the entire organization.

You have to understand something about Rusty Childress. For being such a regular-looking guy and for all the Tom Peters slogans he uses, he's quite the hotdogger. The back of his business card tells all: hometown, Tucson; education, Northern Arizona University (B.S. Geology/B.S. Earth Science) and NADA Dealer Academy; interests, Harley-Davidson, Mardi Gras, the beach, and so on -- kayaking, Swedish massage, speaking on total quality management. One wall of his office is all photos of himself running big white water in his kayak. Overhauling his father's company was "The Next Big Adventure" -- white-water rapids for the workweek.

Regardless of his "git r' done" affectation, Rusty's jet-setting playboy lifestyle betrays him as something other than just another working class guy.

Aside from the Minutemen and other anti-immigrant groups, he counts among his political associations Sheriff Joe's Maricopa County Sheriff’s Executive Posse (famous for it's connections to organized crime), the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce Crime Council and the Phoenix Block Watch Advisory Board. He was also Chairman of the Arizona Automobile Dealers Association Ethics Judiciary Committee. Like all rich people, Rusty loves fighting crime. He's not a friend of the working class, and he links to the downtown anti-poor gentrification organization "N.A.I.L.E.M." from his website, which itself links to Mesa Racist and anti-immigrant legislator Russell Pierce. Both N.A.I.L.E.M. and Pierce supported PAN.

And, like every good fascist, and despite his silver spoon upbringing, Rusty loves to pretend to defend the little guy. In a letter to the editor to Sonoran News, he wrote,

The political elitists in their D.C. ivory towers again go against the will of the people and support an amnesty of even greater proportions than in the past. Why do the interests of Mexico and corporate America continue to override the poll results of American citizens on immigration? This is the United States, where the laws are supposed to be followed and the elected officials are supposed to legislate the will of the people by the people, for the people.

Why are the lawmakers siding with lawbreakers? Why are “willing workers” and “willing employers” so willing to break immigration law? Our law enforcement personnel are already out manned, outgunned, out funded . . . and yet the people in D.C. continue to make their jobs even more dangerous.

Rusty's identity confusion shows in the special "Rusty Trivia and Women's Guide" section of his website. Right next to each other are these contradictory tidbits:

...there’s a jacuzzi on his balcony

...fights for the underdog [my emphasis]

...drives a rag top Corvette

...travels the western U.S. on a Harley each year

Truly a man of the people. An avid world traveler, you'll know he's in town when you see his license plate, "LVITUP," in the parking lot of his multi-million dollar business. Thanks to his wealth, though, Rusty's international vacationing sets him apart from that of the poor migrants he spends so much time and money persecuting. They can't afford the plane trips and luxury resorts that he enjoys so much - and, neither can most Minutemen. Thanks to his unearned wealth, his regular jet-set border hopping to his vacation time share in Cancun violates no law and allow him access to privileges most working class folks will never share. There are no borders when it comes to money and privilege, and Rusty disregards them for his own benefit. But he loves them when it comes to poor people.

Relaxing with his class privilege

In another letter to the Sonoran News in 2004, Rusty again displayed his trademark Joe Sixpack schtick, railing against immigration and playing the race card by singling out "high fertility rates" and "ethnic lobbies" for particular attention.

Bush’s immigration initiatives pander to ethnic lobbies and business interests, foregoing the idea that we are a nation of laws and limited resources. Essentially what the President is doing, or proposing, is to turn immigration over to big business. If companies can’t find an American worker to do the job at the price they are willing to pay, they can go looking all over the world to find somebody, with no regard to population limits.

The problem is that mass immigration and high fertility rates are having a profound impact on our nation [my emphasis].

Europeans have obviously figured out that there are many benefits to couples having only one child – or none – as opposed to the financial, social, and environmental drawbacks of having multiple children. Fewer people on the planet means a better quality of life for everyone.

Without a doubt, Rusty's talk of fertility rates is racist code for white minority, a fear that goes to the heart of the immigration issue for whites, and represents their fear of an erosion of white privilege. This acknowledgement of privilege is sometimes camouflaged in their rhetoric as the rewards of "hard work" or "playing by the rules" and separates them from the poverty and imprisonment faced by so many working class people of color who work equally hard but face a racist system of vast inequality and repression. In reality, these privileges represent not the result of hard work, but the social contract between wealthy whites and working class whites, in which some privileges are extended to all whites in exchange for their complicity in the exploitation of people of color, a source of vast profits and at the same time problems for the rich in this country.

The code words may be hard to decipher at first, but, by just what twisted standard is Childress, owner of one of the nation's biggest Buick dealerships, not considered a "business interest?" He hopes that by playing on white fears, he can obscure his own wealth and privilege. Keen to play on play on white paranoia for this purpose, he has also resurrected an old immigrant stereotype, linking immigrants to disease. In an article from the Phoenix Business Journal last year, he said,

"This is one of the cheap thrills of cheap labor. As you may have noticed, many immigrants, legal or otherwise, are employed -- if they are at all -- as cooks, dishwashers, waiters and food handlers. And it's a fact that Hepatitis A, B, and C show up in fast food environments."

But, setting aside the racist leap of logic, for a guy who spends so much time in Mexico, in restaurants and drinking Mexican beer, it's a bizarre statement indeed. It sure is benevolent of him to worry about us regular folks down here at the bottom, especially since he himself has little to fear from the cooking on the cruises and five star resorts where he vacations in Mexico.

When rich people vacation

When it comes to economics, Childress unsurprisingly shifts the blame for economic conditions off rich white folks like himself and onto undocumented workers. As part of the ruling class, he certainly wouldn't want the working class people to which he addresses his racist, nationalist appeals to transcend their white supremacist politics and develop a class analysis of American society.

Illegal immigrants are an economic burden to society. They are filling up our jails, prisons, universities, welfare lines, hospitals and K-12 schools, all at taxpayers’ expense.

They drive down wages, create urban sprawl and drive away good businesses, and their sales tax revenues. As a result, state revenues have decreased and the budget has exploded, spelling economic disaster.

But, despite Rusty's assertions, it isn't immigrants who "drive down wages, create urban sprawl and drive away good businesses, and their sales tax revenues" - those are all things that rich people do. After all, it's rich people like Childress who set wages, hire and fire, control the city planning office, run the government, hold elected office and own the construction and development companies - some of the same people, ironically, who the Minutemen are working with to build their racist border wall.

For too long, Rusty Childress has manipulated to his own benefit a false class consciousness amongst white workers in Arizona. The Minuteman movement professes to defend the jobs and incomes of working class and middle class workers at the same time that it defends the participation of rich people like Rusty Childress whose economic interests are diametrically opposed to those of working class folks!

When defenders of immigrants - especially when white - appear, the movement is quick to denounce them as middle class outsiders, as one regular participant did recently on the Save Our State forum:

...those "anarchists" were little high school dorks. Hard core socialists? Hardly. They love to spew their comic book fantasy mantra's then go back to their upper middle class homes, all paid for by mommy & daddy. They're out there for something to do. They wouldn't survive 2 minutes on the mean streets of Chicago.

Another movement member, defended Rusty's wealth and privilege this way by using that familiar coded argument, saying, "Rusty is a great person, it sounds to me that maybe you have a problem with people that have made it in life." What bizarre apologetics from a movement that pretends to defend the little gal. To have had so much wealth handed to him and to have failed would have been shocking indeed.

The fact is, the Minuteman movement and its rich benefactors aren't fighting for the average working Joanne, as is betrayed by their political contradictions. A white movement that slanders it's white opponents as middle class, asserts itself as defending the little guy and yet defends the participation of the wealthy in it's organizations can only make sense when we realize that the object of the Minutemen is not to defend the working class, or "jobs", but rather to defend white supremacy, which by nature crosses class lines.

And so, rich politicos like Childress, because they defend and maintain the cross-class alliance of whiteness, get a pass on the class analysis, revealing the bogus class position of the Minutemen and their "Americans First" allies to be mere opportunistic window dressing on a racist defense of white privilege. This goes a long way towards explaining the anger of participants in the movement and the defensiveness they express when their opponents justifiably level accusations of racism at them. After all, how can a white movement bent on the deportation of 12 million Latinos not be racist, especially given the history of the region.

White workers need to wake up and realize that white skin privilege is the cause that the Minutemen truly defend. The entitlement that white workers feel to good jobs and political power, to be first hired and last fired, to health care, better schools and some economic mobility, however, is a racist struggle unless broadened to include all workers, regardless of color and regardless of legal status.

Many white workers are justified in their complaints against capitalism. This system is waging a viscious war against the working and middle classes right now. The rich are remaking the economy in conscious ways that undermine the gains that all workers have fought so hard for since this country was founded. However, turning on ourselves - attacking one part of the class to which we also belong - only empowers the rich to continue their exploitation of all of us.

Attacking immigrant labor only validates the class war strategy of the wealthy and strengthens their hand against us. As long as white workers fight to exclude undocumented laborers, we by default continue to maintain a key weapon the rich use against the working class as a whole. On the face of it, we must ask ourselves - if attacking part of the working class will increase workers bargaining power and thus raise wages and benefits, why would rich people like Childress support it? The rich have no interest in higher wages or increased worker power.

The analysis of the Minutemen is a false class consciousness, and not one that will challenge the overall structure of capitalist exploitation. By fragmenting rather than building workers power, it offers nothing towards solving the long or short term problems faced by workers of all colors in this country. Further, the diversion of class struggle into race struggle shifts the fight onto terrain that does not threaten the very wealthy in this country, given their overwhelming shared white status. The problems workers face derive not from the desires of millions of immigrant workers to build better lives but from the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a small, wealth elite. The strategy advocated by the Minutemen and rich people like Rusty Childress maintains and exacerbates divisions within the working class that benefit the wealthy.

However, a unified working class, in which white workers saw common cause with their immigrant brothers and sisters, could build the kind of power that might put all workers in a position to dictate to the bosses for a change. There can be no successful struggle against the rich elites, whether in Washington or Arizona, without working class unity. And that's something you'll never see Rusty Childress spend his millions on.

Written in 2006 and reposted July 6, 2009 at fires never extinguished