Jim Chase is a hard-liner even in the hard-line vigilante crowd. Where other anti-immigration activists try to put on an appealing face to the world -- renouncing the use of large weapons, avoiding direct contact with illegal border-crossers, taking care not to sound too extreme in press interviews -- Chase doesn't bother.
When he launched the California Minutemen (recently renamed California Border Watch), Chase put out a call on the Internet for "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," along with those who opposed "cowardly Aztlan punks and Che Guevara pink pantied wimps lower than whale dung who should be fed to the chupacabra [a mythical Mexican monster]." Making ready to patrol the border, he asked his volunteers to bring "baseball bats, stun guns and machetes" and said they could carry assault rifles and shotguns.
Chase and his followers have concentrated on an area around Campo, Calif., where he drives a jacked-up SUV with monster tires that he calls "Godzilla" -- a camouflage-painted vehicle complete with a welded-on lookout perch on top where rifle-wielding Minutemen scan the scenery as Chase drives along the border.
Chase is a Vietnam veteran who worked for the U.S. Postal Service until 1997, when he retired after suffering what he described as a "post-traumatic stress breakdown." He got involved in the anti-immigration movement after "an illegal alien gang banger killed an Oceanside police officer right in front of my grandson's day care."
Chase has broken with Minuteman founders Chris Simcox and Jim Gilchrist, who he worked with at one point but now accuses of secretly allowing rifle-bearing patrols but lying about it to the press. He said he led secret "ambushes" at night to catch border-crossers, then handed those caught to the "official volunteers," who took credit for the apprehensions.
"If we run into any Mexican army or Mexican federales, we're going to belly into 'em, and we're going to do 'em," Chase told a reporter recently. "Simcox's people may not be willing to cause an international incident, but my group will do the dirty." Even that statement didn't fully cover what Chase was willing to do. "If it were legal," he said, "I'd let people bring nuclear weapons out there."