Groups in Texas, Calif., Imitate Nativist Extremist Minuteman Project

The anti-immigration Minuteman Project set off an avalanche of imitators. Some of them are downright frightening.

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"Trigger happy," Goliad County, Texas, Sheriff Robert DeLaGarza thought to himself. It was early July and DeLaGarza was meeting with members of the Texas Minuteman Corps, a new vigilante border patrol outfit that started recruiting in DeLaGarza's county in June.

"They kept talking a lot about shooting illegals, and what they could and couldn't do to make it self-defense of life or property," DeLaGarza said. "One woman kept asking, 'Well, what if they reach for a rock, can we shoot them then? What if they're on private land? Can we shoot them for trespassing?'"

DeLaGarza gave the vigilantes a stern warning: "My community doesn't tolerate racism or racist violence in any form. I told them that if they step one inch out of line, I'm going to hammer their ass."

Later that month in California, two Mexicans were wounded in separate shootings the same night along a 14-mile stretch of the border between Campo and Tecate, Calif., that was being patrolled by the California Minutemen, another new vigilante border patrol group.

Both shootings occurred in the early hours of Saturday, July 23.

The first victim told investigators he was leading a group of illegal immigrants through the desert and was about 200 yards inside the United States when he heard a distant rifle shot and was struck in the buttocks by a single bullet. The second shooting took place one hour later. A group of eight adults and two children said they were huddled about 20 yards south of the border when a man wearing a mask and carrying a rifle suddenly appeared. When they ran, he fired a single shot, striking one of the men in the back of the leg.

Interviewed in the hospital by The San Diego Union-Tribune, the victim in the second shooting, 32-year-old Jose Humberto Rivera Perez of Guadalajara, disputed the claim by American and Mexican police that the gunman was most likely a bandit.

"If he were a bandit, he would have grabbed us and taken everything," Perez said. "He only shot at us and ran."

Humberto Garcia, the Tijuana-based regional coordinator for the Mexican government's National Human Rights Commission, said he feared the attack was either carried out or instigated by members of the California Minutemen, who he called cazamigrantes — "immigrant hunters."

"With this kind of operation, they are feeding feelings of hatred," Garcia said. "These feelings of hatred can inspire acts of violence like this. It's very strange that these acts are occurring in this context. We're not discarding any possibilities until the authorities find out who did this, one way or the other."

The identity of the shooters may never be known. But this much is certain: a chaotic army of cazamigrantes is on the march.

Immigrant Hunters
Inspired by the Minuteman Project, the month-long, much-hyped vigilante action held in Arizona last April, more than 40 anti-immigration "citizens border patrol" and "internal vigilance" groups have formed since early May. The original Minuteman Project's leaders, Jim Gilchrist and Chris Simcox, have little or no control over most of these splinters, spin-offs and imitators.

Some are based in states with no Mexican borders to patrol. In Alabama, a group calling itself the Alabama Minutemen Support Team has pledged to recruit and train 125 "undocumented border patrol agents" for an October mission in New Mexico led by former antigovernment militia commander Mike Vanderboegh. Other Minuteman groups in non-border states seem less focused on patrolling the border than generalized immigrant bashing. In Tennessee, members of a group calling itself the Tennessee Volunteer Minutemen has been staking out day labor sites, harassing workers. The Utah Minutemen recently protested outside a bank in Salt Lake City that accepts Mexican consular identification cards for check-cashing purposes. And the Colorado Minutemen in July sponsored a demonstration outside the Denver Public Library to demand the removal of Mexican comic books from the shelves.

Minuteman groups have also formed in Maine, Michigan and Washington, and have announced plans to patrol the Canadian border this fall to protect America from invaders from the north. In Mobile, Ala., one Minuteman has taken it upon himself to ensure the Gulf waters are clear of invaders — by patrolling the seas armed with a Glock and an M-16.

But it is clearly along the southern border where Minutemen have the highest numbers of participants and the most militant supporters. Five of these spin-off groups are among the most important.