Along the Arizona border, extremists organize, peddle their anti-immigrant rhetoric, and take action.
TOMBSTONE, ARIZ. -- In 1881, it took just 30 seconds and 25 gunshots at the O.K. Corral to stamp this tiny border town onto the national imagination. This past October, it took just one editorial in an error-prone local newspaper to turn this Old West tourist trap — and the mean, green border country in which it sits — into a symbol of how vehement and reckless America's anti-immigration movement has become.
"ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!" hollered the banner headline of the Oct. 24 Tombstone Tumbleweed. "A PUBLIC CALL TO ARMS! CITIZENS BORDER PATROL MILITIA NOW FORMING!" In slightly smaller type, Tumbleweed owner, publisher and managing editor Chris Simcox exhorted his fellow Arizonans, "JOIN TOGETHER TO PROTECT YOUR COUNTRY IN A TIME OF WAR!"
Simcox was not talking about a war in Iraq. He was talking about a war being fought in the Tumbleweed's back yard, on the border between Mexico and the United States. There, Simcox wrote in language echoing Patrick Buchanan and other anti-immigration extremists, "a swarm of uncontrolled refugees" is "fleeing a marxist structured government" in what amounts to an "invasion" of the U.S. To repel this supposed invasion, Simcox called for drastic measures: a "committee of vigilantes" that would prowl the borderlands, catching immigrants and sending them back south.
The beauty of vigilantism, Simcox wrote, is simple: "We actually have more freedom to tackle the problem than the Government and law enforcement agencies that are bogged down in the quagmire of laws and restrictions."
Anyplace else, the notion that gun-toting private citizens don't have to answer to "laws and restrictions" might sound flat-out ridiculous. But amid the copper-colored mountains and lush-but-thorny desert of Southeast Arizona, the vigilante legacy of the Earp boys has never completely died away. It appeals to folks like Simcox, a transplant from Los Angeles. "The guy is a lunatic," says Tombstone mayor Dusty Escapule, "and is going to get somebody killed."
'I'd Shoot Every One'
Simcox is far from alone. Over the last five years, the Wild West mentality has been revived in this desert. With a vengeance.
In the mid-'90s, a major change in U.S. border policy shifted migrants away from urban areas in California and Texas — where access has traditionally been easy — and forced most of them to cross through far harsher terrain. The idea was that crossing through deserts, and over rivers, would deter migrants from making the trip.
Instead, the main result of the policy was to transform southern Arizona into the most popular place to cross from Mexico, with hundreds of thousands making their way through this treacherous desert every year.
Understandably enough, such a state of affairs did not please ranch owners in this combustible corner of Arizona. They found their livestock being stolen or killed for food, their cattle fences being cut, and trash and human waste dotting their land. Several ranchers responded by arming themselves with Colt .45s, M-16s and high-tech surveillance systems to detect "intruders."
At least 20 private citizens have reportedly used their arsenals to apprehend — and, in some cases, abuse and shoot — migrants coming over the border.
"If I had my way," one rancher reportedly bellowed at a meeting with U.S. Border Patrol officials last summer, "I'd shoot every single one of 'em."
It hasn't quite come to that. But this past fall, the ranchers' "self-defense" efforts — and their fury — not only inspired Simcox, who says he got fed up with the "criminal" immigrants he encountered in Los Angeles; it's also attracted one of the nation's leading anti-immigration extremists, who is using the craziness here to stimulate fear and loathing of immigration across the U.S. And in October, a heavily armed paramilitary group established a "semi-permanent" presence in the area after conducting a two-week hunt for drugs and migrants.
So far, local law enforcers have declined to prosecute apparent acts of vigilantism, though the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has joined the aclu, the Mexican government, human-rights groups and local governments in calling for an end to the violence. "If you don't prosecute these people for beating Mexican nationals or killing them," says Mayor Escapule, "then it's kind of like open season."
Which is exactly what human-rights advocates fear, as millions more migrants tread perilous paths through the Johnsongrass and saguaro cactus over the next few years. "You've got people running around down there with guns, thinking the sheriff's in support of what they're doing," says John Fife, who runs a Tucson-based group called Samaritan Patrol. "It's straight out of the Old West. When you get that kind of mindset, with this kind of immigration crisis, you've got all the potential for trouble. Real trouble."
A History of Torture
Trouble — real trouble — is nothing new in these parts. Ask anybody north or south of the border, and chances are they can tell you: Cochise County has a hard-earned reputation for racist violence.
That rep was cemented on a hot August day in 1976. Three Mexican nationals scaled the border fence into Cochise County, headed for nearby job sites. When they stopped to refill their water jug at a windmill, they were taken hostage at pistol-point by young rancher Tom Hanigan, who was soon joined by his brother, Patrick, and his elderly father, George, a right-wing political activist. According to attorney Antonio Bustamante and Tom Miller's book On the Border, the Mexican men were told, "All right, you fucking wetbacks. You're not going anywhere."
While George Hanigan stood guard with his shotgun and guffawed, his boys hog-tied the Mexicans — later immortalized in folk song as los tres mojados — and used a knife to saw off their hair and strip off their clothes. The gringos built a mesquite fire near the naked migrants, burning their clothes and sacks of food while threatening and taunting the men. "Let's see if your Virgin of Guadalupe can help you now," George Hanigan sneered.
One of the Hanigan boys pulled a long iron out of the fire and dangled its hot end over the naked men's bodies. The other young Hanigan allegedly took it from him and touched it to one of the men's feet, again and again, until the stink of burning flesh mingled with the mesquite. The old man grabbed a knife and threatened to cut off one of the men's testicles. One of the men had a rope tied around his neck and was dragged through the scorching desert sand.
"When they'd had their fun," recalls long-time community activist Max Torres, "they cut them free one at a time, pointing them to Mexico and opening fire with birdshot." One of the men ended up with a back full of 47 pellets; another had 125. "Imagine the horror of the two remaining — and then the one remaining — as they heard the shots," Torres says.
Miraculously enough, los tres mojados survived to tell officials about their ordeal. Even more miraculously, the Cochise County attorney indicted the Hanigans on 11 counts each. Then the miracles ran out. George Hanigan died before the trial — but that only meant that he didn't live to be exonerated. An all-white jury of their Cochise County peers found Tom and Pat Hanigan not guilty of every charge.
For the next two decades, vigilantism broke out sporadically in Southeast Arizona. Sometimes the outlaws were local ranchers, like the one in 1980 who chained a 16-year-old Mexican immigrant by the neck to an outhouse toilet, torturing and starving him for four days.
Sometimes they were outside agitators like Civil Materiel Assistance, a paramilitary group that was also mixed up with the contras in Nicaragua. In 1986, CMA reportedly detained immigrants at gunpoint and later turned them over to Border Patrol agents, after having "had their fun" with the captives for hours.
But it was the Hanigan episode that let migrants know, once and for all, what could happen if they crossed into Cochise County. And now that the United States' hugely expensive "Southwest Border Initiative" has ensured that hundreds of thousands cross the border here every year, the memory of los tres mojados hangs over this desert like a bad dream.
Scariest of all, in many ways, was the way law-enforcement officials reacted. The Hanigans' only mistake, a couple of them told Tom Miller, was not finishing off the Mexicans. "I can see shooting them, you know, blowing their heads off," said Drex Atkinson, then a senior Border Patrol agent. "But torturing them makes no sense."
A quarter century after the Hanigan case, officers of the law wouldn't be caught dead saying such things to a reporter. But while their words are more politic — "We don't want the crazies here," Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever declared this fall — the recent rekindling of vigilantism has certainly not inspired a crackdown.
"Citizens' arrest is an American right," says Border Patrol spokesperson Ryan Scudder. "As long as they don't break the law, it's not our role to critique what they do."
But laws appear to be broken routinely during citizens' arrests in southern Southeast Arizona. The Mexican government has documented more than 40 possibly illegal citizens' arrests in Cochise County since 1999. The reports include questionable detentions by 19 different Cochise County residents, most of whom were armed.
In 14 incidents, migrants said they were detained at gunpoint while their captors called the Border Patrol to pick them up. In nine cases, shots were allegedly fired, either at the immigrants or as "warnings" for them not to flee. In five cases, immigrants said they were either shot or roughed up before the Border Patrol arrived. Seven of these detentions were reportedly made on public roads, despite local ranchers' claims that they only act to protect their property.
These reports are clearly just the tip of the iceberg, since migrants almost never report abuses (see Vigilante Violence). In a scathing 2001 report, the U.S. General Accounting Office said that "at least two aliens have been shot" by those who have "begun making citizen's arrests ... with loaded weapons." This fall, two more migrants were murdered, execution-style, just outside of Tucson.
The rancher who has most often been accused of illegal citizen's arrests and human-rights violations, former deputy sheriff Roger Barnett, boasts of personally rounding up more than 2,000 migrants around his 22,000-acre ranch — in 2002 alone. After a 1999 incident in which he was accused of holding seven migrants at rifle-point, Barnett made his Haniganesque attitude abundantly clear.
"If them poor bastards felt threatened, sorry," Barnett told the Arizona Daily Star. "If they don't like it, they better stay home."
Since the contemporary outbreak of vigilantism, local, state and federal authorities appear to have mostly looked the other way. "Prosecutions?" asks newly elected Congressman Raul Grijalva, who represents a big slice of southern Arizona (see interview, Vigilante Watch). "There haven't even been investigations."
Grijalva believes that race is a big factor in the lack of prosecutions. So does Douglas Mayor Ray Borane, whose town council passed a resolution this fall condemning both vigilantism and U.S. border policy. Borane asks a rhetorical question: "If it were American citizens that had gotten detained and held at gunpoint and who knows what else for two or three hours, I wonder what would happen?"
Current Cochise County Attorney Chris Roll says that his office has "had very few reports involving detentions of undocumented migrants" submitted by local law enforcement agencies. Roll says his office would "pursue a criminal prosecution only when there is sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable likelihood of conviction at trial." In a place where the Hanigans could be found not guilty, "a reasonable likelihood of conviction" has to be hard to find, even 27 years later.
Folks like Jennifer Allen, who runs a reform group called Border Action Network, say the real problem is that law enforcement officials "have a deep complicity" with the vigilantes. Sheriff Dever, despite his recent denunciations of militia groups and self-appointed lawmen, gave warm words of welcome and encouragement when anti-immigration groups came to Cochise in 2000 for a conference on "Illegal immigration: What can citizens do?"
David Aguilar, current chief of the Tucson Border Patrol sector, reacted angrily in 2000 when his bosses at the INS delivered a warning about "known racial supremacy hate groups" infiltrating the area. "I know many of the people in these groups," Aguilar, who declined through a spokesperson to answer questions about vigilantism for this story, told the Arizona Daily Star. "Some of my friends are in these groups. These people are not anti-immigrant, and [these] are not hate groups."
Ranchers, Racists and Reconquest
This September, the leader of one of the hate groups that came to Cochise in 2000 — a man so far right he calls the Wall Street Journal "anti-American" — set up headquarters at a secret location in Cochise County. The simmering cauldron of Southeast Arizona was now home to Glenn Spencer, one of the nation's noisiest anti-immigration rabble-rousers.
Spencer unveiled his new effort, called American Border Patrol (ABP), at a hotel ballroom in Sierra Vista. Though the Los Angeles Times had reported a year earlier that Spencer's California-based hate group, American Patrol, was "strapped for cash," the 65-year-old told his new neighbors he'd left his former home for far different reasons.
"California is a lawless, lost state," the white-haired Spencer declared, shaking his head sadly as he paced in front of a big American flag. "It's a mess. There's nothing I can do for California. It is finished."
But Spencer sees hope for Arizona — in the form of folks like Roger Barnett, whom he met at the anti-immigration shindig in 2000. "Talk about your real American hero!" Spencer gushed, introducing Cochise County's busiest self-appointed lawman as a key supporter of American Border Patrol.
Spencer insists that his outfit will not go hunting for migrants. Instead, he says, ABP's volunteers — known as "Hawkeyes" — will use high-tech surveillance and communications equipment to videotape "border intruders" as they enter the U.S.
The point is to expose viewers of Spencer's Web sites, Americanpatrol.com and Americanborderpatrol.com, to images of "la Reconquista" ("the Reconquest") — a Mexican "invasion" purportedly designed to win back territory lost in the 1848 Mexican-American War.
"If the Border Patrol had done its job, using the technology that is available to us, we could stop these people," Spencer said in November, when he was a guest on the Donahue show. "This is an invasion of the United States!"
Since he ambled into Arizona, Spencer has tried gamely to separate himself from his controversial past. While his Web sites look identical, the anti-Mexican rhetoric has been watered down on Americanborderpatrol.com. But at the same time, Spencer's American Patrol site has called migrant-rights advocate Isabel Garcia a "Mexican government agent" and accused Congressman Grijalva of formerly belonging to an "anti-American seditionist organization." Garcia, the Web site claims, is "part of an advance fifth column" of the Reconquista.
Garcia does not mince words in reply: "The man is a racist."
At least one of Spencer's local supporters has come to a similar conclusion. Francis McWilliams, a local retiree who was introduced as an American Border Patrol director in September, quickly resigned after hearing enough to deem Spencer "borderline xenophobic."
Though he said last summer that ABP would be the first of several satellite efforts of American Patrol, Spencer now says the organizations are totally separate. ABP has been set up as its own non-profit group, registered with the state of Arizona. (The agent who filed Spencer's corporation papers was the city attorney of Bisbee, John F. Kelliher Jr.)
When a reporter from the Tucson Weekly pressed Spencer about his racist comments in the past — "Mexican culture is based on deceit," "Chicanos and Mexicanos lie as a means of survival" — ABP's chief said these statements were his biggest mistakes to date. But he did not disavow them.
"The point was that Mexicans have to cheat and lie because their government is so corrupt," Spencer said. "It's a survival mechanism. But you can't say those things. We should be able to talk about those things. If we could, we might be able to work out some difficulties."
Packing Heat in the Desert
In his quest for respectability, Spencer has repeatedly pledged that American Border Patrol will stick to broadcasting the "invasion," and won't light out after immigrants. "We're not going to be out enforcing the law," he said in September. His assurances convinced Ron Sanders, the former Tucson Border Patrol chief, to lend his name to the group as a director.
"I told Glenn right up front: If there's anything illegal I'm not going to be involved," Sanders says. "If there's any of your people carrying guns and making arrests, I'm not going to be involved."
Spencer's Web site features images of immigrants crossing the border, then being apprehended and arrested by U.S. agents. But it includes a disclaimer: "ABP's policy prevents making contact with suspects." Which makes some folks in Cochise wonder: Just how, exactly, do you convince migrants to sit quietly and wait to be arrested without having any contact — or any guns to prevent them from fleeing?
An Oct. 27 incident may provide some clues. That day, ranchers Roger Barnett and his brother, Don, were reportedly riding in a truck down Cochise's main highway when they spotted 26 immigrants traipsing through the desert. The Barnetts allegedly used their dogs to help round up the presumed illegal aliens. The migrants later told Mexican officials that when two of them were not "fast enough in complying with the orders" to keep quiet and sit down, "one of the Barnetts roughed them up and made them sit."
At this point, the Barnetts' usual routine is to summon Border Patrol agents to pick up the migrants and process them back across the border. But this time, they may have called someone else first. The migrants claimed that "two other individuals, both armed in a similar way," with "holstered side guns," soon appeared on the scene. One had a video camera. He began filming the dejected migrants, "and kept on filming ... as they were marched towards waiting Border Patrol agents."
The man with the camera — and the side-arm — may have been Glenn Spencer.
Spencer has admitted rushing, armed, to the scene of the Barnetts' detentions. In November, he told a reporter about "grabbing a rifle" to help the Barnetts detain immigrants. In January, Spencer told the Washington Post, "We're not vigilantes; we're not kooks." But, he added, "We carry guns, because our position is guns are not illegal. They are commonly worn by people in this part of the country, because laws are not enforced."
"What he's doing is piggy-backing on the vigilantes," says Jennifer Allen.
Spencer's act is getting mixed reviews in Cochise County. By the end of the year, Spencer said he'd signed up 60 "Hawkeye" volunteers to document the Mexican invasion — fewer than the 100 he had planned on. Several ranchers, reportedly fearing legal trouble, declined Spencer's request to film "intrusions" on their land.
Still, launching a new non-profit has done more than help Spencer skirt the hate-group label; it's also given him a fresh way to raise money. "This stuff is worth its weight in gold," he reminded his new recruits in September, encouraging them to send video reports to abp. Spencer told the Tucson Weekly he expects to haul in $400,000 in 2003.
The Paramilitaries Move In
In October, about 40 miles west of Spencer's "secret headquarters," a notorious paramilitary outfit set up camp near the border. Headed by an angry Texan and Gulf War veteran named Jack Foote, Ranch Rescue was no stranger to these parts. Members first showed up in 2000, helping ranchers including Roger Barnett "clean up" their property.
Since then, this wild bunch of ex-law officers and military adventurers claims to have increased its international roster to 250 members. They've also upped the ante in their "defense" of ranchers' property.
On its Web site, Ranch Rescue says its mission is to "help ... private landowners with the repair of private property destroyed by those mass numbers of criminal trespassers" — a.k.a. migrants. But three weeks before Operation Hawk, Rob Krott — the chief foreign correspondent for Soldier of Fortune magazine and a man who has fought with, among others, the Croatian Army — sent a confidential E-mail to Ranch Rescue members outlining a very different set of goals. Among them: "observe and surveill [sic] border incursions" and "deter criminal trespass."
Ranch Rescue's means of deterrence? "We are attempting to standardize (for ammunition resupply purposes) with 5.56mm assault rifles and .45 caliber pistols. However, AKs, SKSs, and 9mm/.30 cal Tokarev arms are also expected. As are shotguns and bolt-action 'counter-sniper' rifles." Every Rescuer was ordered to wear camouflage, because "the area is 'green.'"
The E-mail defined Ranch Rescue's "enemy forces" as, among others, "5-10 man groups of lightly armed bandits," "[c]ivilian criminal trespassers who may present a threat," "[p]ossible Islamic terrorist infiltrators," and "armed drug smugglers."
Thirty-five Rescuers answered the call, reporting for duty on Earl Hardy's 10,000-acre ranch, near the border hamlet of Lochiel. It was a serious bunch: Among those participating were Tim Meyer, a former U.S. Customs inspector and current "private investigator"; Rusty Rossey, an ex-Marine who ran with the contras in Nicaragua and counter-insurgents in Guatemala and now runs a sniper range in Alabama; a former U.S. Special Forces soldier; and two Canadian light infantry soldiers.
Operation Hawk was supposed to stick to Hardy's ranch. (According to Ranch Rescue's Web site, "We only participate in repair and security efforts while we are the invited guests of the private property landowners. As guests, we are obliged to adhere to the wishes of our hosts.") But on Oct. 15, a 13-member "special operations" group, headed by Rossey, was dispatched — without being invited — to a nearby ranch owned by the Nature Conservancy.
Rossey's group scored right away, when four men stumbled on the "special ops" around suppertime, carrying bales of marijuana on their backs. Not surprisingly, they dropped the pot and fled when they caught sight of Rossey's men and their military grade weapons. Early the next morning, the scenario repeated itself, and Ranch Rescue had a grand total of 279 pounds.
This was a tiny haul along this busy drug route; U.S. Customs agent Kyle Barnette told a local paper that, in southern Arizona, "I could train a chimpanzee to catch 300 pounds of weed." But Ranch Rescue turned it into a public-relations coup. Rather than calling federal or local authorities, Foote summoned reporters from Tucson.
It wasn't until between 1 and 2 p.m. on Oct. 16 — some 16 to 20 hours after the first seizure — that a Rescue member flagged down a passing sheriff's deputy and reported the contraband. The deputy picked it up while the cameras continued to roll.
The rest of Operation Hawk mostly remains a mystery — just the way Ranch Rescue apparently wants it. As Foote wrote in a 2000 E-mail, "We know that law enforcement is always a long, long way away from us out in the field."
But Foote's opinion of the "criminal trespassers" his troops encountered during their October adventure is not so murky. In another E-mail from 2000, Foote wrote the following to a correspondent named Gonzalo:
"You and the vast majority of your fellow dog turds are ignorant, uneducated, and desperate for a life in a decent nation because the one that you live in is nothing but a pile of dog shit, made up of millions of little dog turds like you. You stand around your entire lives, whining about how bad things are in your dog of a nation, waiting for the dog to stick its ass under our fence and shit each one of you into our back yards.
"Just be careful where the dog shits, pal, because sooner or later we will be there."
Murder and Vigilantism
On Oct. 16, when about half of the Ranch Rescue volunteers were posing with their bales of pot, a pair of masked gunmen opened fire on 12 migrants who were dozing at the edge of a cattle pond near the tiny town of Red Rock, about 90 miles north of Earl Hardy's ranch. Two were killed. Nine were apparently kidnapped. One eyewitness escaped, telling the first person he encountered, "They were soldiers."
At first, investigators suspected either vigilantes or coyotes, who smuggle humans and drugs across the border. The 12 migrants had been waiting to be picked up by a coyote. But, for obvious reasons, coyotes rarely dress like soldiers, preferring to remain as inconspicuous as possible.
The vigilante angle seemed intriguing, especially with Ranch Rescue on the prowl. According to a confidential source, most of Operation Hawk consisted of small teams of two to six members, personally dispatched by Jack Foote to undisclosed locations for up to 24 hours at a time. In their camo, with their military bearing and their sniper rifles, the Ranch Rescue volunteers would certainly look a lot like soldiers.
A month after the crime, the Pinal County Sheriff's Department announced that it had ruled out the vigilante theory — though the neighboring sheriff's department in Santa Cruz County, where Ranch Rescue was camped, was still looking into the possibility.
In an E-mail message to reporters, Pinal sheriff's spokesperson Mike Minter said "there have been no leads indicating a 'vigilante group' was involved." The evidence for the coyote theory seemed thin: "surrounding area property owners," Minter wrote, "believe that this was done by rival alien smuggling groups, not vigilantes."
Questioned further, Sheriff Roger Vanderpool would say only, "We have a witness to the crime. That is how we ruled out vigilante groups." At press time, however, no arrests had been made. Like most crimes in the green desert, this one may never be conclusively solved. At press time, only one of the dead bodies had even been identified, and nobody knew where the nine missing migrants might have ended up.
Meanwhile, after gaining a bit of local fame with their drug bust, Jack Foote's troops decamped on Oct. 28, promising that Ranch Rescue's local chapter would continue unofficial patrols in the area. Foote plans to return in full force next spring for "Operation Thunderbird," once again living up to the motto on the group's Web site, taken from President Bush: "Every American is a soldier in this fight."
'Evangelist of Fear'
Heading south from Red Rock, as Highway 80 snakes toward the border, there's a billboard you can't miss. Partly because there aren't many billboards in Cochise County. But mostly because this one features a gaggle of bigger-than-life gunfighters, aiming their weapons right at you. "O.K. Corral," reads the legend beneath the snarling outlaws. "Gunfights Daily!"
It's just a few miles farther on to Tombstone, where the most famous of Wild West shoot-outs gets re-enacted every day — and where, on a Wednesday afternoon in early December, the man who fired off the infamous call to arms in the Tombstone Tumbleweed is sitting in his office. Chris Simcox's faithful .45 lies within arm's reach on his paper-strewn desk. And man, is he psyched.
"I have 600 people from everywhere in this country saying enough is enough," Simcox says in his high-pitched, rapid-fire voice. "It's grown beyond my wildest expectations. We've had 1,384 E-mails in support, let alone letters."
Simcox, a baby-faced 42-year-old who previously taught kindergarten in Los Angeles at a "very high-end, wealthy private school where I taught the kids of the stars and producers," moved to Tombstone in November 2001. He landed work as a hired gunslinger in Tombstone's daily shootouts and as a reporter for the Tumbleweed, which he bought when its previous owner decided to give up. In his spare time, Simcox says he began to patrol nearby Middlemarch Road, encountering "thousands" of migrants and apprehending 500.
Though he has been called an "evangelist of fear" by the Rev. Robin Hoover, who runs the Tucson-based humanitarian group Humane Borders, Simcox says there is nothing racist in his desire to round up immigrants. "I've got all the compassion in the world for them," he says.
So why raise a militia to stop them? Simcox first uses an economic argument, saying that unemployed U.S. citizens would love to have the low-wage jobs that many immigrants take. But his tune quickly changes. "I've lived in Manhattan and I have lived in Chicago and I've lived in Los Angeles. Those people don't come here to work. They come here to rob and deal drugs."
That's what drove him out of Los Angeles?
"Oh Jesus, it is unbelievable. 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."
Like Spencer, Simcox swears his intentions are peaceful. Civil Homeland Defense, the name he finally settled on for his group, will call the Border Patrol promptly after rounding up suspected illegal entrants. And their arsenal will be modest: "We will wear side-arms only, and even go to the point of no magnum loads," Simcox says.
None of which satisfies Mayor Dusty Escapule, a former deputy sheriff. "To me, there's only one reason you put a gun on and that is to kill somebody," says Escapule. "If their intentions are peaceful, well, take some blankets, water and sandwiches out to these people and say, 'Here's something to eat, here's some water, here's a warm coat or blanket if you want them, but we're gonna have to turn you over to the Border Patrol.'"
"I think they are adventure-seekers," agrees Douglas Mayor Ray Borane, who has gotten death threats for speaking out against vigilantism. "There's no danger involved for them. They are the ones packing the arms and looking important. There's no bravery there. There's no patriotism there. These people can't fight back and aren't gonna fight back; they're on their way to work. If the people were coming over here armed and they were fighting back, then we'd see how many volunteers he'd get."
The U.S. Border Patrol has no plans to monitor Simcox's group, according to spokesperson Ryan Scudder. But on Jan. 26, Simcox was arrested for possessing a loaded weapon, conducting a special operation without a permit and interfering with a law enforcement function in Coronado National Memorial, a park not far from Tombstone.
Simcox laughed off the incident, saying it would be "good publicity," but he told Glenn Spencer's Americanpatrol.com that the park ranger who cited him "mentioned her Hispanic heritage three times during the investigation." Picking up on this theme, the hate group California Coalition for Immigration Reform headlined a story on its Web site, "Chris Simcox Possibly Targeted by Latino Park Ranger."
While the racial rhetoric and citizens' arrests continue to escalate, the number of migrants is set to swell to historic proportions as Mexico's shaky economy grows shakier still. Southern Arizonans got a taste of the coming catastrophe this past October, traditionally the last month before the cold winds slow immigrant traffic to a relative trickle.
The Border Patrol nabbed twice as many illegal aliens as it did the previous October. Roger Barnett says he snared five times as many. Reports of citizens' arrests went up.
Unsolved shootings have also been on the rise. In early November, two weeks after the murders at Red Rock, a masked man fired at a group of 14 immigrants southwest of Tucson, sending them scattering into the desert. On Feb. 12, a border-crosser was shot in the stomach in the same area — on the same day that shots were fired from a car at a group of six illegal entrants.
Nobody knows better than Mayor Escapule, whose town includes a bar featuring the "Tombstone Vigilantes Hall of Fame," that history dies hard in this part of the world — and that history indicates there's no end of nastiness on the horizon. But the subject perks up the burly, mustachioed mayor for a second, because there's something in the annals of Tombstone not nearly so well known as the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Do you know, the mayor asks, what happened after the Earp boys turned Southeast Arizona into vigilante country?
"It was this way in Tombstone 120 years ago — you didn't know who the lawmen were," he says, settling back into his chair for a good yarn. "Not till a guy by the name of John Slaughter came in as Cochise County sheriff and showed them who the lawman was.
"Slaughter was 5-foot-2, they say, with steel-blue eyes. It's in the history books. And they say when Sheriff Slaughter went after his outlaw, if he didn't bring him back, he would bring back his boots.
"More often than not, he brought back the boots. But he stopped the vigilantism."
Who's going to stop it now?
Escapule grows uncharacteristically pensive. His mustache droops. Nowadays, he finally reckons, it would have to be the feds. "I think the U.S. government is gonna have to step in, say, 'Sorry, boys, you're out of line.' "
Unless that happens soon, the orneriest white guys in the West are about to get a lot more ornery — with agitators like Spencer, Simcox and Ranch Rescue egging them on.
"This is my land. I'm the victim here," Roger Barnett recently growled in the right-wing Washington Times. Barnett, who says he's personally lobbied more than 300 members of Congress to do something about the border, knows it's U.S. policy that's primarily responsible for victimizing him and his fellow ranchers. But he can't seem to make a dent in that.
He can make a dent in the migrant traffic, though. And with many thousands more headed right through his back yard, another thing Barnett told the Times was downright chilling. "Something has to be done or there's going to be bloodshed."
In this part of the world, a man's word is his bond.