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.
By Susy Buchanan and David Holthouse
Also dubbed California Border Watch and United States Border Patrol Auxiliary, the California Minutemen was founded by James Chase, a Vietnam veteran who says he was wounded six times in combat, then worked for the United States Postal Service until a nervous breakdown forced him to retire in 1997.
Chase was a prominent member of the original Minuteman Project in Arizona until he was injured in mid-April by a fall off a cliff. After recovering from his injuries, Chase launched California Minutemen with a Web site seeking "all those who do not want their family murdered by Al Qaeda, illegal migrants, colonizing illegal aliens, illegal alien felons, alien barbarians, Ninja-dressed drug smugglers" and "cowardly Aztlan punks and Che Guevara pink pantied wimps lower than whale dung who should be fed to the chupacabra!" Chase declared that unlike Gilchrist and Simcox, who at least articulated a handguns-only policy during their Arizona Minuteman Project (though it would be barely enforced), he would allow his recruits in California to openly carry hunting rifles, assault rifles and shotguns, though he also recommended bringing "baseball bats, stun guns, and machetes."
Gilchrist and Simcox quickly disowned Chase's group.
"Mr. Chase has no authority to use the Minuteman Project name," Gilchrist declared in a June statement. "Neither does Mr. Chase have permission to trade upon the Arizona Minuteman Project's April record in any future border watch initiatives."
Says who? Gilchrist and Simcox had no legal grounds to dictate Chase's actions. They had no copyright on the concept of strapping on firearms and heading to the border for a migrant hunt. The movement they'd created had quickly slipped its leash, and Chase refused to obey their commands to heel.
"I keep hearing all these things: I'm a rogue. I'm a Rambo. I want to shoot the heads off people," Chase retorted in a June interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune. "I'm a flower child compared to Gilchrist and Simcox."
Simcox has continued to distance himself from Chase. But when the California Minutemen launched their first operation near the tiny border town of Campo on July 16, Gilchrist was there to show his support. Chase's headquarters was the Campo VFW hall. It was laid siege to twice that day by a mob of unruly anti-Minutemen protesters who surrounded the building. When Chase and Gilchrist came outside, the protesters stood nose-to-nose with them and shouted in their faces, "Go home, racists!"
That night, a heavily armed band of Minutemen threatened to shoot a group of protesters on a hill overlooking their watch post who flickered the vigilantes with a spotlight and then called out mocking greetings over a bullhorn. The protesters, who were armed only with a video camera, captured the confrontation in eerie nighttime footage reminiscent of the "Blair Witch Project." First, a Minuteman shouted from the darkness: "Let me make this very clear to you! We are armed and we will defend ourselves! You come down here and you will be engaged in a firefight if necessary! Get the fuck out and go home!"
One of the protesters shouted out a sarcastic comment, to which a Minuteman yelled back a hot response: "I will shoot your motherfucking ass!"
A protester asked, "So are you threatening us?"
"Listen assholes, you wanna play? Let's play, motherfucker, let's go!"
At the sounds of men jumping in trucks, slamming doors and starting engines, the protesters retreated from the high ground.
Two days later, Gilchrist issued a nationwide "emergency call for reinforcements in Campo" that rapidly circulated on anti-immigration and white supremacist Web sites. "Be warned that roving gangs of belligerent, death-threatening, anti-American adversaries engaging the California Minutemen WILL physically attack you if they outnumber you. I repeat, they WILL physically attack you," Gilchrist wrote. "Stay in groups and stay LEGALLY armed."
On July 23, the same night the two Mexicans were wounded by rifle shots along the U.S. border, one band of five California Minutemen reported being fired upon by two unseen snipers positioned on a hill just south of the border who called out in English, "We'll kill you, assholes!" before unleashing two volleys. A reporter from the Orange County Register who was "embedded" with the vigilante patrol confirmed their account, though whether the shooters were actually aiming for the Minutemen is highly questionable since the AK-47 bullets struck the high border fence nearby.
Even with Gilchrist's call for reinforcements, the California Minutemen at their peak numbered fewer than 100. By the time they wrapped up their first operation in early August, they had managed to snare only three illegal immigrants, two of whom Chase picked up hitchhiking.
But Chase is far from finished. The next California Minutemen event was scheduled to begin Oct. 9, coinciding with Simcox-sanctioned citizen patrols in New Mexico and Texas.
"If you are not a racist and have no desire to harm the harmless migrants, come and sign up," Chase posted to his Web site in August. "Remember: We are harmless as doves."
FRIENDS OF THE BORDER PATROL
Founded by Andy Ramirez, a former minor league hockey goalie who ran unsuccessfully for the California state assembly twice in the 1990s, this San Diego, Calif.-based group is supposed to begin operations along the Southern California border on Sept. 16, which is Mexico's Independence Day.
Ramirez's rhetoric is considerably more humanitarian than the language used by other citizen border patrol organizers, who routinely refer to Mexican and Central America immigrants as "invaders" and "the enemy." On his Web site, Ramirez states: "Mexico's elite must now reform their nation and share their wealth and reform their economy so their citizens can find hope and prosperity at home, without being enslaved and exploited after they illegally enter our country."
But despite his professed sympathy for his neighbors to the south, Ramirez has actively recruited Friends of the Border Patrol (FBP) volunteers from the ranks of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, a hate group whose president, Barbara Coe, has repeatedly described Mexicans as "savages." Ramirez also has announced that FBP is joining forces with anti-immigration extremist and conspiracy theorist Glenn Spencer, another hate group leader, who in May predicted that illegal immigration will soon lead to race war. "Thanks to the gross malfeasance of our government, Americans are going to be fighting for their nation on the streets of their own cities," Spencer said. "Many are not going to survive this conflict. Thousands will die." According to Ramirez, Spencer will support FBP in September with Spencer's unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicle "BorderHawk" and "other of his high-tech devices."
This summer, Ramirez engaged in a public feud with Joe Turner's Save Our State anti-immigration group, accusing Turner of advocating violence and failing to denounce repeated neo-Nazi appearances at his rallies.
Ramirez originally had planned to lead the California Minutemen along with Jim Chase. But in May, Ramirez said he was disassociating himself from Chase because Chase condoned the use of violence and had suggested they secretly deploy snipers along the border. Chase has denied that accusation, saying it was a miscommunication. Ramirez insists he heard Chase correctly.