Arizona Extremists Start Anti-Immigrant Citizen Militias

As extremists peddle their anti-immigrant rhetoric along the troubled Arizona border, a storm gathers

'Evangelist of Fear'
Heading south from Red Rock, as Highway 80 snakes toward the border, there's a billboard you can't miss. Partly because there aren't many billboards in Cochise County. But mostly because this one features a gaggle of bigger-than-life gunfighters, aiming their weapons right at you. "O.K. Corral," reads the legend beneath the snarling outlaws. "Gunfights Daily!"

It's just a few miles farther on to Tombstone, where the most famous of Wild West shoot-outs gets re-enacted every day — and where, on a Wednesday afternoon in early December, the man who fired off the infamous call to arms in the Tombstone Tumbleweed is sitting in his office. Chris Simcox's faithful .45 lies within arm's reach on his paper-strewn desk. And man, is he psyched.

"I have 600 people from everywhere in this country saying enough is enough," Simcox says in his high-pitched, rapid-fire voice. "It's grown beyond my wildest expectations. We've had 1,384 E-mails in support, let alone letters."

Simcox, a baby-faced 42-year-old who previously taught kindergarten in Los Angeles at a "very high-end, wealthy private school where I taught the kids of the stars and producers," moved to Tombstone in November 2001. He landed work as a hired gunslinger in Tombstone's daily shootouts and as a reporter for the Tumbleweed, which he bought when its previous owner decided to give up. In his spare time, Simcox says he began to patrol nearby Middlemarch Road, encountering "thousands" of migrants and apprehending 500.

Though he has been called an "evangelist of fear" by the Rev. Robin Hoover, who runs the Tucson-based humanitarian group Humane Borders, Simcox says there is nothing racist in his desire to round up immigrants. "I've got all the compassion in the world for them," he says.

So why raise a militia to stop them? Simcox first uses an economic argument, saying that unemployed U.S. citizens would love to have the low-wage jobs that many immigrants take. But his tune quickly changes. "I've lived in Manhattan and I have lived in Chicago and I've lived in Los Angeles. Those people don't come here to work. They come here to rob and deal drugs."

That's what drove him out of Los Angeles?

"Oh Jesus, it is unbelievable. I mean, we need the National Guard to clean out all our cities and round them up. They are hard-core criminals. They have no problem slitting your throat and taking your money or selling drugs to your kids or raping your daughters and they are evil people."

Like Spencer, Simcox swears his intentions are peaceful. Civil Homeland Defense, the name he finally settled on for his group, will call the Border Patrol promptly after rounding up suspected illegal entrants. And their arsenal will be modest: "We will wear side-arms only, and even go to the point of no magnum loads," Simcox says.

None of which satisfies Mayor Dusty Escapule, a former deputy sheriff. "To me, there's only one reason you put a gun on and that is to kill somebody," says Escapule. "If their intentions are peaceful, well, take some blankets, water and sandwiches out to these people and say, 'Here's something to eat, here's some water, here's a warm coat or blanket if you want them, but we're gonna have to turn you over to the Border Patrol.'"

"I think they are adventure-seekers," agrees Douglas Mayor Ray Borane, who has gotten death threats for speaking out against vigilantism. "There's no danger involved for them. They are the ones packing the arms and looking important. There's no bravery there. There's no patriotism there. These people can't fight back and aren't gonna fight back; they're on their way to work. If the people were coming over here armed and they were fighting back, then we'd see how many volunteers he'd get."

The U.S. Border Patrol has no plans to monitor Simcox's group, according to spokesperson Ryan Scudder. But on Jan. 26, Simcox was arrested for possessing a loaded weapon, conducting a special operation without a permit and interfering with a law enforcement function in Coronado National Memorial, a park not far from Tombstone.

Simcox laughed off the incident, saying it would be "good publicity," but he told Glenn Spencer's Americanpatrol.com that the park ranger who cited him "mentioned her Hispanic heritage three times during the investigation." Picking up on this theme, the hate group California Coalition for Immigration Reform headlined a story on its Web site, "Chris Simcox Possibly Targeted by Latino Park Ranger."

Gathering Storm
While the racial rhetoric and citizens' arrests continue to escalate, the number of migrants is set to swell to historic proportions as Mexico's shaky economy grows shakier still. Southern Arizonans got a taste of the coming catastrophe this past October, traditionally the last month before the cold winds slow immigrant traffic to a relative trickle.

The Border Patrol nabbed twice as many illegal aliens as it did the previous October. Roger Barnett says he snared five times as many. Reports of citizens' arrests went up.

 

A makeshift memorial marks a site of anti-migrant violence.
(Lowell Handler)

Unsolved shootings have also been on the rise. In early November, two weeks after the murders at Red Rock, a masked man fired at a group of 14 immigrants southwest of Tucson, sending them scattering into the desert. On Feb. 12, a border-crosser was shot in the stomach in the same area — on the same day that shots were fired from a car at a group of six illegal entrants.

Nobody knows better than Mayor Escapule, whose town includes a bar featuring the "Tombstone Vigilantes Hall of Fame," that history dies hard in this part of the world — and that history indicates there's no end of nastiness on the horizon. But the subject perks up the burly, mustachioed mayor for a second, because there's something in the annals of Tombstone not nearly so well known as the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Do you know, the mayor asks, what happened after the Earp boys turned Southeast Arizona into vigilante country?

"It was this way in Tombstone 120 years ago — you didn't know who the lawmen were," he says, settling back into his chair for a good yarn. "Not till a guy by the name of John Slaughter came in as Cochise County sheriff and showed them who the lawman was.

"Slaughter was 5-foot-2, they say, with steel-blue eyes. It's in the history books. And they say when Sheriff Slaughter went after his outlaw, if he didn't bring him back, he would bring back his boots.

"More often than not, he brought back the boots. But he stopped the vigilantism."

Who's going to stop it now?

Escapule grows uncharacteristically pensive. His mustache droops. Nowadays, he finally reckons, it would have to be the feds. "I think the U.S. government is gonna have to step in, say, 'Sorry, boys, you're out of line.' "

Unless that happens soon, the orneriest white guys in the West are about to get a lot more ornery — with agitators like Spencer, Simcox and Ranch Rescue egging them on.

"This is my land. I'm the victim here," Roger Barnett recently growled in the right-wing Washington Times. Barnett, who says he's personally lobbied more than 300 members of Congress to do something about the border, knows it's U.S. policy that's primarily responsible for victimizing him and his fellow ranchers. But he can't seem to make a dent in that.

He can make a dent in the migrant traffic, though. And with many thousands more headed right through his back yard, another thing Barnett told the Times was downright chilling. "Something has to be done or there's going to be bloodshed."

In this part of the world, a man's word is his bond.