05/23/2007

House of Cards

Chris Simcox's Minuteman group, the country's largest civilian border patrol, may be collapsing

By Susy Buchanan and David Holthouse

The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps (MCDC), a nativist extremist group whose "civilian border watch" operations generated widespread media coverage and a flood of donations, appears to be imploding.

Chris Simcox, founder and president of what grew into the largest and most powerful Minuteman group in the country, in late May reportedly fired 14 of the MCDC's 27 state chapter leaders, plus one regional leader and three national officers. The firings came after the leaders pressured Simcox to meet with them in person to discuss concerns about Simcox's financial accountability and leadership style.

"By now you have probably heard rumors … about a massive purge of your National and State Leaders. These rumors are true," Deputy Executive Director and New Mexico state leader Bob Wright wrote in a mass E-mail to MCDC members dated May 21. "The numbers are staggering and to anyone who is capable of reason, the devastating effect on your MCDC is inescapable."

The firings were prompted by a May 8 letter the subsequently purged MCDC leaders sent to Simcox that requested he attend a May 19 forum at a hotel in Phoenix near Simcox's home in Scottsdale.

That date was the scheduled start of an MCDC "muster," or border watch operation, which the signers all planned to attend. After receiving the letter, Simcox abruptly cancelled the muster without explanation.

In their letter to Simcox, the MCDC leaders listed nine specific discussion items that Wright later characterized as "longstanding" complaints the signers had all individually addressed to Simcox in recent months, "only to be put off, ignored, or the promised resolution never developed."

Financial accountability topped the list.

Simcox has been under fire from MCDC chapter leaders and rank-and-file members since last summer, when he began refusing to account for the $1.6 million to $1.8 million in private donations he said MCDC had raised by the end of May 2006. That sum included $600,000 for the "Minuteman Border Fence," which Simcox touted in a slick fundraising materials as a high-tech "Israeli-style" barrier, but which turned out to be little more than a barbed-wire cattle fence.

Simcox has yet to fully disclose exactly how much money MCDC has raised, how much is still in the bank, and where the rest of the money went. "To date, there has not been a serious form of financial accountability to Chapter leadership," the May 8 letter to Simcox stated. "We believe strongly that current accountability should be provided to each local and State chapter upon request. Current and past requests go unanswered."

Other concerns detailed in the letter included chapters failing to receive long-promised "seed money" and equipment; chapter leaders not being reimbursed for expenses; "micro-management from Mr. Simcox," and "poor communication structure throughout MCDC leadership."

The letter also demanded a "full explanation" of Simcox's continuing failure to register MCDC as a nonprofit corporation with the IRS, which would require the group to periodically release detailed financial statements.

Simcox first claimed in September 2005 that he'd submitted an application. The following August, nearly one year later, MCDC spokeswoman Connie Hair told The Arizona Republic that the MCDC "plans to meet all the filing requirements later this month," adding that "delays with the complex paperwork [have] slowed the process."

Eight months later, MCDC is still not registered with the IRS, whose website contains step-by-step instructions for establishing a nonprofit organization and provides a toll-free help number.

The May 8 letter to Simcox also demanded that he explain the exact nature of the relationship between MCDC and the Declaration Alliance, a right-wing consortium established by conservative politician Alan Keyes in 1996 to oppose legalized abortion and civil rights for gays and lesbians. The MCDC webpage identifies the MCDC as "a project of the Declaration Alliance," prompting suspicions among many Simcox followers that the Declaration Alliance may be taking a large cut of MCDC donations and spending it on issues that have nothing to do with illegal immigration and border security.

Simcox responded by sending a May 14 missive to all the signers of the May 8 letter that declared: "The meeting … you have proposed is unauthorized and under no circumstances is it sanctioned or approved by the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, Inc." Simcox announced that four of the signers — Wright; Oklahoma chapter leader and national New Chapter Development Director Greg Thompson; former MCDC Phoenix chapter director Stacey O'Connell; and MCDC National Operations Officer Bill Irwin — "have been terminated for cause as volunteers and volunteer leaders within MCDC."

Simcox also threatened to terminate any of the other signers who did not fax him a letter renouncing their participation in the "State Directors and National Leadership Ad Hoc Committee" by "5PM EST on 5/16/2007."

According to Wright, none of the committee members faxed Simcox a letter, and all have since been fired.

On May 21, the purged MCDC leaders sent Simcox a letter by certified mail, which they also posted to the Internet.

"We resolve that we have lost confidence in Chris Simcox's ability to lead Minuteman Civil Defense Corps," it reads. "We move that Mr. Simcox reinstate the unjustly terminated Minutemen immediately, and restore them to the positions they held."

The letter gave Simcox a deadline of May 24 to reinstate the fired leaders and "schedule a meeting of all State Directors to be held no later than 10 June, 2007. … Failure to respond to this motion by May 25, 2007, will result in the entire matter being turned over to the national media for their investigation."