Minuteman Sparks Kansas City Brouhaha

Anti-Immigration Movement
Mark Funkhouser.
Mark Funkhouser won election as mayor of Kansas City, Mo., last May. One month later, he was embroiled in a controversy about immigration and racism that alienated many of his liberal supporters.

The appointment of a member of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps (MCDC) to the Board of Parks & Recreation of Kansas City, Mo., has created a political firestorm for Mayor Mark Funkhouser. Elected to office just last May, Funkhouser, considered a liberal on social issues, now appears to have alienated many of those who supported the former city auditor's run for office.

The brouhaha began in June, when Funkhouser appointed Frances Semler, a 73-year-old grandmother who was until then a political unknown, to the parks board. Not long after the appointment, news emerged of Semler's membership in MCDC, listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a "nativist extremist" group.

In the coming weeks, numerous critics assailed Funkhouser over Semler's appointment. Nine of 12 City Council members voted for a resolution asking him to oust Semler. And Semler offered to resign. But Funkhouser hunkered down, refusing to drop Semler even as he told The Associated Press that he was a member of the NAACP and "a longtime supporter of civil rights and diversity."

The MCDC is led by Chris Simcox, a man who in a 2003 speech to the California Coalition for Immigration Reform hate group warned that "the Mexican army is driving American vehicles — but carrying Chinese weapons. I have personally seen what I can only believe to be Chinese troops."

That same year, in an interview with the Intelligence Report, Simcox said undocumented immigrants "don't come here to work. They come here to rob and deal drugs." He said he left Los Angeles because Latino immigrants were wrecking the city. "Oh, Jesus, it is unbelievable," he said. "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."

Semler, who didn't tell the mayor about her MCDC membership before the appointment, says she joined the group "because our government seemed to be consciously neglecting the enforcement of immigration laws." Semler gave two speeches to a Kansas MCDC affiliate formed in 2006. In them, she urged newcomers to read State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America, a book written by white nationalist Pat Buchanan.

As the controversy heated up over the summer, a Latino civil rights group, the National Council of La Raza, threatened to move its 2009 annual conference from Kansas City — spurring Simcox to declare that he would move his February 2008 MCDC conference to the city. In late October, La Raza carried out its threat, voting to move its convention, and the NAACP was considering following suit. The two conventions had been expected to bring some $14 million into the city.