08/2009

Nativists to 'Patriots'

 

By David Holthouse

Camp Vigilance, Calif. — A call to arms from ResistNet blares through this makeshift camp near the small community of Boulevard: "We all know what happens when you back an animal into a corner — it fights back. The way I see it, that's exactly the direction this country is heading. They're backing us into a corner. It's getting to be time to fight back."

Located two-and-a-half miles north of Mexico in the high, rugged desert of unincorporated eastern San Diego County, Camp Vigilance, known colloquially as "Camp V," is a sizable Minuteman border vigilante compound situated amidst 170 privately owned acres.

Adjacent to active human and narcotics smuggling corridors, Camp V consists of roughly 100 tent camping sites, a half dozen or so full RV docking bays, a bunkhouse, a radio communications center, a mess hall and meeting grounds, all within a gated and well-guarded security perimeter.

On this night in late May, a dozen or so Minutemen are checking their weapons, testing batteries in their night-vision goggles and thermal-vision scopes, donning body armor and making other preparations for sundown-to-sunup reconnaissance patrols. A public address system plugged into a massive RV amplifies ResistNet, an Internet radio program broadcast by the Patriot Network, which promotes conspiracy theories and right-wing antigovernment militancy. Since the beginning of this year, ResistNet and other Patriot Network programs have become quite popular at Camp V, as well as other remote Minuteman outposts in southern California and Arizona.

The broadcast continues: "I can see the true American patriots are being backed into a corner. They're getting ready to strike back at their captors, the greedy, evil vipers in the high offices of this land."

Such exhortations have little to do with border security or undocumented immigration, the issues that launched the original Minuteman Project in 2005 and inspired its many spin-offs, imitators and splinter factions. Instead, the antigovernment screed ringing through Camp V represents a significant, ongoing shift in the nativist vigilante subculture, as major elements of various Minuteman organizations appear to be morphing into a new paramilitary wing of the resurgent antigovernment "Patriot" movement.

Increasingly, Minutemen are giving credence to the sort of fringe conspiracy theories that have long typified militia and other so-called Patriot groups. Although the Minuteman movement from its inception has been permeated with the Aztlan or "reconquista" conspiracy theory — which holds that the Mexican government is driving illegal immigration into the U.S. as part of a covert effort to "reconquer" the American Southwest — the conspiracy theories that are now taking root in the movement have little or nothing to do with border security or immigration. They include the belief that a massive cover-up has been conducted regarding Barack Obama's birth certificate, which supposedly shows that he was born in Africa and is therefore ineligible to serve as president of the United States.

At several eastern San Diego County vigilante camps in mid-May, there were serious discussions about the global banking system being controlled by an ancient secret society called the Illuminati. Another theory floated involved a cult devoted to the Egyptian god of the afterlife, Osiris, operating within the NASA space agency and perhaps arranging with extraterrestrials for a hostile takeover of Earth.

Further indicating the nativist-to-Patriot drift of the Minutemen is the fact that in recent months a number of Minuteman factions have begun promoting the ideology of so-called "sovereign citizens," a bizarre pseudo-legal philosophy whose adherents claim they're not U.S. citizens and are not subject to federal or state laws, only to "common law courts" — a sort of people's tribunal with no judges or lawyers. The most notorious advocates of sovereign citizens ideology include Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols and members of the now defunct Montana Freemen, a violent militia outfit. The larger Patriot movement is made up of tax protesters, militia members and sovereign citizens.

Accompanying the rise of conspiracy theories and sovereign citizen ideology within the Minuteman movement has been a spike in online and campfire chatter about the potential need for armed insurrection in the near future. This trend toward contemplated violence was most graphically illustrated by the May 30 home invasion murders of a Latino man and his 9-year-old daughter in Arivaca, Ariz., that were allegedly orchestrated by the leader of Minutemen American Defense to fund her group's vigilante activities.

All of these disturbing nativist-to-Patriot trends have taken shape during a period in which, by all indications, the number of Latino immigrants attempting to cross the U.S. border has dropped to record lows, due in large part to the country's faltering economy. According to a June report by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the number of U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions fell to 724,000 last year. That marked the lowest level since 1973 and a decline of more than 50% from 2000, when apprehensions peaked at 1.67 million.

Despite this marked drop in undocumented border crossings, however, the number of Minuteman border operations, paramilitary training exercises and rallies continues to increase, and new Minuteman groups continue to form. What's changed is that instead of focusing exclusively on undocumented immigration, growing numbers of Minutemen and their fellow travelers now perceive immigration as merely a glaring symptom of a much broader problem. The larger problem, they believe, involves shadowy conspiracies threatening American sovereignty, unwelcome demographic changes polluting American culture, and a potentially totalitarian government, driven by an illegitimate president, bent on seizing all firearms, trampling the Constitution and imposing a fascist-socialist system on a pathetically docile citizenry.

"We're still concerned about the border intruders, but since this all started we've become aware of the fact that border intruders are just pawns in the big game," says "Jawbone," a member of the Campo Minutemen, a particularly hard-core faction based a few miles east of Camp V. "Stopping the border intruders isn't going to keep the shit from hitting the fan. If and when it does, we'll be ready. All this [Minuteman border operations] is just a dress rehearsal for the big dance."

One of the leaders of the Campo Minutemen, Britt "Kingfish" Craig, recently appeared on "Patriot's Pipeline Radio Show" along with co-guest Lloyd Marcus, the singer-songwriter responsible for "Tea Party Anthem," a protest ditty written for the "tea party" tax protests that took place across the country April 15.

"Tea Party Anthem" has become the Campo Minutemen fight song. Most of its members know at least the first verse by heart: "Mr. President! Your stimulus is sure to bust./It's just a socialist scheme./The only thing it will do/Is kill the American Dream."

As part of their campaign to stop President Obama from killing the American Dream, various Minuteman groups, including the Campo Minutemen, are distributing a sovereign citizen "criminal complaint petition" demanding that Obama appear before an "American Grand Jury" to answer charges of treason.

Hundreds of Minutemen signed the petition at a large Minuteman "muster," or rally, in Cochise County, Ariz., in late May. More than a dozen Minuteman organizations were represented at the rally, along with members of the Arizona Citizens Militia, a traditional Patriot militia that regularly conducts armed survivalist training exercises in the mountains and woods of northern Arizona. During one recent exercise, members were "waterboarded" by a "professional interrogator."

Also present at the Cochise County muster were members of Minuteman American Defense (MAD), the Everett, Wash.-based group led by Shawna Forde, who was arrested less than a month later in the May 30 double murder in Arivaca, Ariz. Also arrested were MAD Operations Director Jason Bush and a third MAD member. According to law enforcement authorities, the three believed the man they killed was a narcotics trafficker who kept large sums of money in his trailer.

Forde's half-brother, Merill Metzger, told the Arizona Daily Star that shortly before the murders Forde started talking about forming an "underground militia" that would be funded by robbing drug dealers. "She was talking about starting a revolution against the United States government," he said.

Following her arrest, Forde was denounced by key Minuteman leaders including Jeff Schwilk, head of the San Diego Minutemen, a hard-line group with a well-deserved reputation for confrontational tactics. The fact that a hothead like Schwilk has become a de facto spokesman for the Minuteman movement indicates how radicalized the movement has become since its early days of media-friendly publicity stunts involving retirees sitting in lawn chairs armed only with binoculars.

In a mid-April mass E-mail to followers, Schwilk linked his group's resistance to "the invasion from Mexico" with the greater cause of thwarting the "socialist takeover" of America. In the same E-mail, Schwilk announced the formation of the Patriot Coalition, made up of 23 organizations including Minuteman factions, tax-protest groups, pro-gun rights groups and two anti-immigration outfits listed as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. A subsequent press release described the common cause of the groups under the motto, "Secure Borders, Constitution and Rule of Law." It stated that "Patriotic and Constitutional American grassroots groups" had come together to "fight the growing threats to our region and to the taxpaying American citizens."

It used to be that Minutemen declared their vigilance against foreign invaders. Now they're taking a stand against perceived enemies both foreign and domestic. "Revolution is brewing!" Schwilk declared.