DOUGLAS, Ariz. | April 22, 2005 -- For months, Jim Gilchrist promised that his Minuteman Project would peacefully observe the Arizona border as a protest against illegal immigration. Volunteers — he said there would be 1,300 of them — would be carefully screened, with FBI help, to keep out white supremacists and racists. No one would be allowed to bear guns except those who had permits to carry concealed weapons.
Gilchrist said that critics who called his group "vigilantes" — naysayers who included President Bush — were absolutely wrong about his volunteers.
Indeed, Gilchrist told USA Today, these men and women sought only to bring attention to a major social problem. Most were "white Martin Luther Kings."
Maybe so. But Gilchrist's accuracy has been less than sterling.
As the month-long April project started, some 300 volunteers showed up — a thousand fewer than predicted. An FBI official denied that the agency was screening Gilchrist's or any other private group's members. At least four-fifths of volunteers did carry weapons, and almost none were checked for permits. Racist talk abounded. And at least some neo-Nazis and other racists did join in Gilchrist's project.
On April 2, as the month-long effort got under way, the Minuteman Project held a protest across the street from the U.S. Border Patrol headquarters in Naco, Ariz. Prominent among the demonstrators were two men who confided that they were members of the Phoenix chapter of the National Alliance — the largest neo-Nazi group in America. One of the two, who sat in lawn chairs throughout, held a sign with arrows depicting invading armies of people from Mexico — a sign identical to National Alliance billboards and pamphlets, except without the Alliance logo.
The presence of Alliance members was not much of a surprise, and there were likely more than that pair. "We're not going to show up as a group and say, 'Hi, we're the National Alliance," Alliance official Shaun Walker told a reporter in the run-up to the protest. "But we have members ... that will participate."
In fact, National Alliance pamphlets were distributed in Tombstone and this predominantly Hispanic community just two days before the Minuteman Project got going. "Non-Whites are turning America into a Third World slum," they read. "They come for welfare or to take our jobs. Let's send them home now."
Many other white supremacists had promised to attend, including members of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations, but it was difficult to know if they showed up.
One well-known extremist did appear. Armored in a flak jacket and packing a .38-caliber snub-nosed revolver, Joe McCutchen joined other volunteers patrolling the barbed wire fence separating the United States and Mexico near Bisbee, Ariz.
McCutchen is the recently appointed chairman of Protect Arkansas Now, a group seeking to pass legislation that would deny public benefits to undocumented workers in that state. More to the point, he was identified by the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens as a member in 2001 — a charge he denies, though he admits that he did give a speech that year to the group that has described blacks as "a retrograde species of humanity." As recently as summer 2003, McCutchen wrote anti-Semitic letters to his hometown newspaper in Fort Smith, Ark.
"A lot of these people coming in, they're diseased," McCutchen told one group of fellow volunteers, who treated him like a visiting celebrity. "They've got tuberculosis, leprosy. I mean, you don't even want to touch them unless you're wearing gloves. So why the hell should we pay our taxes to cure them?"
"They're turning our country into a Third World dumping ground," he said. "We're losing our language to them, losing our culture. They're taking over, and if we don't stop [immigration], our society will not survive. That's why I'm here."
Back in March, Gilchrist had also warned that he had been told that leaders of an extremely violent gang made up of Salvadorans — the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13 — had ordered its members to teach "a lesson" to the Minuteman volunteers. As it turned out, however, no frightening, brown-skinned gangsters showed up.
But the National Alliance was certainly there.
The day after the Minuteman rally in Naco, the two Alliance members there — one of whom identified himself as "Sam Adams" — were assigned to an observation post about a mile from McCutchen's location. They arrived there after a 10-minute "training session," driving to the post as they blasted white power music.
"We understand why Gilchrist and [project co-organizer Chris] Simcox have to talk all this P.C., crap," said one. "It's all about playing to the media. That's fine. While we're here, it's their game and we'll play by their rules. Once Minuteman's over, though, we might just have to come back and do our own thing."