The Nativists

Around the country, an anti-immigration movement is spreading like wildfire. An array of activists is fanning the flames

MIKE VANDERBOEGH
AGE: 53
PINSON, ALA.

After spending parts of October patrolling the border in New Mexico, Mike Vanderboegh and the two or three others who made up his Alabama Minuteman Support Team decided they'd had enough. Despite the presence of an alluring array of military toys -- "night vision devices, global positioning systems, portable seismic intrusion detectors and ham radios" -- the men, all once associated with the militia movement of the 1990s, decided to call it quits. Apparently, their citizens' patrol, aimed at keeping illegals out of America, proved less than thrilling.

As of Nov. 1, the tiny group gave itself another name -- the Alabama Minuteman Surveillance Team -- and the mission of making life miserable for any business that hired undocumented workers. "We hereby put exploitative employers and crooked politicians on notice," Vanderboegh declared after ending the patrols and deciding to return to Alabama to concentrate on the situation there. "We intend to make it toxic for anyone doing public or private business to use illegals. If I were a politician in Alabama right now, I'd start getting REAL careful about who I accepted money from. Because we're fixin' to flip on the light switch."

Vanderboegh denied any suggestion of vigilantism, telling The Birmingham (Ala.) News that all his group sought was enforcement of existing laws. He had similarly shrugged off criticism of the paramilitarism of the militias back when he was associated with groups including the Alabama Constitutional Militia, the Tri-States Militia and the 1st Alabama Cavalry Regiment, Constitutional Militia. Along with New Mexico Minuteman Bob Wright, Vanderboegh in 1996 was among militia leaders from 19 states who signed a declaration distancing the militia movement from racists and neo-Nazis.

Vanderboegh has consistently portrayed himself as a moderate, first in the militia world and now in the anti-immigration movement. But he hasn't always sounded that way. Back in the mid-1990s, he wrote a document entitled "Strategy and Tactics for a Militia Civil War" in which he discussed the utility of snipers using "violence carefully targeted and clearly defensive: war criminals, secret policemen, rats (Pitcavage take note)." Mark Pitcavage, a historian, was then running a Web group called The Militia Watchdog and doing some work for police agencies. He is currently the fact-finding director of the antiracist Anti-Defamation League.