The anti-immigration Minuteman Project set off an avalanche of imitators. Some of them are downright frightening.
"Trigger happy," Goliad County, Texas, Sheriff Robert DeLaGarza thought to himself. It was early July and DeLaGarza was meeting with members of the Texas Minuteman Corps, a new vigilante border patrol outfit that started recruiting in DeLaGarza's county in June.
"They kept talking a lot about shooting illegals, and what they could and couldn't do to make it self-defense of life or property," DeLaGarza said. "One woman kept asking, 'Well, what if they reach for a rock, can we shoot them then? What if they're on private land? Can we shoot them for trespassing?'"
DeLaGarza gave the vigilantes a stern warning: "My community doesn't tolerate racism or racist violence in any form. I told them that if they step one inch out of line, I'm going to hammer their ass."
Later that month in California, two Mexicans were wounded in separate shootings the same night along a 14-mile stretch of the border between Campo and Tecate, Calif., that was being patrolled by the California Minutemen, another new vigilante border patrol group.
Both shootings occurred in the early hours of Saturday, July 23.
The first victim told investigators he was leading a group of illegal immigrants through the desert and was about 200 yards inside the United States when he heard a distant rifle shot and was struck in the buttocks by a single bullet. The second shooting took place one hour later. A group of eight adults and two children said they were huddled about 20 yards south of the border when a man wearing a mask and carrying a rifle suddenly appeared. When they ran, he fired a single shot, striking one of the men in the back of the leg.
Interviewed in the hospital by The San Diego Union-Tribune, the victim in the second shooting, 32-year-old Jose Humberto Rivera Perez of Guadalajara, disputed the claim by American and Mexican police that the gunman was most likely a bandit.
"If he were a bandit, he would have grabbed us and taken everything," Perez said. "He only shot at us and ran."
Humberto Garcia, the Tijuana-based regional coordinator for the Mexican government's National Human Rights Commission, said he feared the attack was either carried out or instigated by members of the California Minutemen, who he called cazamigrantes — "immigrant hunters."
"With this kind of operation, they are feeding feelings of hatred," Garcia said. "These feelings of hatred can inspire acts of violence like this. It's very strange that these acts are occurring in this context. We're not discarding any possibilities until the authorities find out who did this, one way or the other."
The identity of the shooters may never be known. But this much is certain: a chaotic army of cazamigrantes is on the march.
Inspired by the Minuteman Project, the month-long, much-hyped vigilante action held in Arizona last April, more than 40 anti-immigration "citizens border patrol" and "internal vigilance" groups have formed since early May. The original Minuteman Project's leaders, Jim Gilchrist and Chris Simcox, have little or no control over most of these splinters, spin-offs and imitators.
Some are based in states with no Mexican borders to patrol. In Alabama, a group calling itself the Alabama Minutemen Support Team has pledged to recruit and train 125 "undocumented border patrol agents" for an October mission in New Mexico led by former antigovernment militia commander Mike Vanderboegh. Other Minuteman groups in non-border states seem less focused on patrolling the border than generalized immigrant bashing. In Tennessee, members of a group calling itself the Tennessee Volunteer Minutemen has been staking out day labor sites, harassing workers. The Utah Minutemen recently protested outside a bank in Salt Lake City that accepts Mexican consular identification cards for check-cashing purposes. And the Colorado Minutemen in July sponsored a demonstration outside the Denver Public Library to demand the removal of Mexican comic books from the shelves.
Minuteman groups have also formed in Maine, Michigan and Washington, and have announced plans to patrol the Canadian border this fall to protect America from invaders from the north. In Mobile, Ala., one Minuteman has taken it upon himself to ensure the Gulf waters are clear of invaders — by patrolling the seas armed with a Glock and an M-16.
But it is clearly along the southern border where Minutemen have the highest numbers of participants and the most militant supporters. Five of these spin-off groups are among the most important.
Also dubbed California Border Watch and United States Border Patrol Auxiliary, the California Minutemen was founded by James Chase, a Vietnam veteran who says he was wounded six times in combat, then worked for the United States Postal Service until a nervous breakdown forced him to retire in 1997.
Chase was a prominent member of the original Minuteman Project in Arizona until he was injured in mid-April by a fall off a cliff. After recovering from his injuries, Chase launched California Minutemen with a Web site seeking "all those who do not want their family murdered by Al Qaeda, illegal migrants, colonizing illegal aliens, illegal alien felons, alien barbarians, Ninja-dressed drug smugglers" and "cowardly Aztlan punks and Che Guevara pink pantied wimps lower than whale dung who should be fed to the chupacabra!" Chase declared that unlike Gilchrist and Simcox, who at least articulated a handguns-only policy during their Arizona Minuteman Project (though it would be barely enforced), he would allow his recruits in California to openly carry hunting rifles, assault rifles and shotguns, though he also recommended bringing "baseball bats, stun guns, and machetes."
Gilchrist and Simcox quickly disowned Chase's group.
"Mr. Chase has no authority to use the Minuteman Project name," Gilchrist declared in a June statement. "Neither does Mr. Chase have permission to trade upon the Arizona Minuteman Project's April record in any future border watch initiatives."
Says who? Gilchrist and Simcox had no legal grounds to dictate Chase's actions. They had no copyright on the concept of strapping on firearms and heading to the border for a migrant hunt. The movement they'd created had quickly slipped its leash, and Chase refused to obey their commands to heel.
"I keep hearing all these things: I'm a rogue. I'm a Rambo. I want to shoot the heads off people," Chase retorted in a June interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune. "I'm a flower child compared to Gilchrist and Simcox."
Simcox has continued to distance himself from Chase. But when the California Minutemen launched their first operation near the tiny border town of Campo on July 16, Gilchrist was there to show his support. Chase's headquarters was the Campo VFW hall. It was laid siege to twice that day by a mob of unruly anti-Minutemen protesters who surrounded the building. When Chase and Gilchrist came outside, the protesters stood nose-to-nose with them and shouted in their faces, "Go home, racists!"
That night, a heavily armed band of Minutemen threatened to shoot a group of protesters on a hill overlooking their watch post who flickered the vigilantes with a spotlight and then called out mocking greetings over a bullhorn. The protesters, who were armed only with a video camera, captured the confrontation in eerie nighttime footage reminiscent of the "Blair Witch Project." First, a Minuteman shouted from the darkness: "Let me make this very clear to you! We are armed and we will defend ourselves! You come down here and you will be engaged in a firefight if necessary! Get the fuck out and go home!"
One of the protesters shouted out a sarcastic comment, to which a Minuteman yelled back a hot response: "I will shoot your motherfucking ass!"
A protester asked, "So are you threatening us?"
"Listen assholes, you wanna play? Let's play, motherfucker, let's go!"
At the sounds of men jumping in trucks, slamming doors and starting engines, the protesters retreated from the high ground.
Two days later, Gilchrist issued a nationwide "emergency call for reinforcements in Campo" that rapidly circulated on anti-immigration and white supremacist Web sites. "Be warned that roving gangs of belligerent, death-threatening, anti-American adversaries engaging the California Minutemen WILL physically attack you if they outnumber you. I repeat, they WILL physically attack you," Gilchrist wrote. "Stay in groups and stay LEGALLY armed."
On July 23, the same night the two Mexicans were wounded by rifle shots along the U.S. border, one band of five California Minutemen reported being fired upon by two unseen snipers positioned on a hill just south of the border who called out in English, "We'll kill you, assholes!" before unleashing two volleys. A reporter from the Orange County Register who was "embedded" with the vigilante patrol confirmed their account, though whether the shooters were actually aiming for the Minutemen is highly questionable since the AK-47 bullets struck the high border fence nearby.
Even with Gilchrist's call for reinforcements, the California Minutemen at their peak numbered fewer than 100. By the time they wrapped up their first operation in early August, they had managed to snare only three illegal immigrants, two of whom Chase picked up hitchhiking.
But Chase is far from finished. The next California Minutemen event was scheduled to begin Oct. 9, coinciding with Simcox-sanctioned citizen patrols in New Mexico and Texas.
"If you are not a racist and have no desire to harm the harmless migrants, come and sign up," Chase posted to his Web site in August. "Remember: We are harmless as doves."
FRIENDS OF THE BORDER PATROL
Founded by Andy Ramirez, a former minor league hockey goalie who ran unsuccessfully for the California state assembly twice in the 1990s, this San Diego, Calif.-based group is supposed to begin operations along the Southern California border on Sept. 16, which is Mexico's Independence Day.
Ramirez's rhetoric is considerably more humanitarian than the language used by other citizen border patrol organizers, who routinely refer to Mexican and Central America immigrants as "invaders" and "the enemy." On his Web site, Ramirez states: "Mexico's elite must now reform their nation and share their wealth and reform their economy so their citizens can find hope and prosperity at home, without being enslaved and exploited after they illegally enter our country."
But despite his professed sympathy for his neighbors to the south, Ramirez has actively recruited Friends of the Border Patrol (FBP) volunteers from the ranks of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, a hate group whose president, Barbara Coe, has repeatedly described Mexicans as "savages." Ramirez also has announced that FBP is joining forces with anti-immigration extremist and conspiracy theorist Glenn Spencer, another hate group leader, who in May predicted that illegal immigration will soon lead to race war. "Thanks to the gross malfeasance of our government, Americans are going to be fighting for their nation on the streets of their own cities," Spencer said. "Many are not going to survive this conflict. Thousands will die." According to Ramirez, Spencer will support FBP in September with Spencer's unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicle "BorderHawk" and "other of his high-tech devices."
This summer, Ramirez engaged in a public feud with Joe Turner's Save Our State anti-immigration group, accusing Turner of advocating violence and failing to denounce repeated neo-Nazi appearances at his rallies.
Ramirez originally had planned to lead the California Minutemen along with Jim Chase. But in May, Ramirez said he was disassociating himself from Chase because Chase condoned the use of violence and had suggested they secretly deploy snipers along the border. Chase has denied that accusation, saying it was a miscommunication. Ramirez insists he heard Chase correctly.
NEW MEXICO BORDER WATCH
Closely affiliated with Jim Chase's California Border Watch, this group formed in early June as New Mexico Minutemen, then changed its name when Simcox announced the New Mexico Minuteman Corps as the "official" Minuteman patrol in New Mexico.
New Mexico Border Watch director "Chief Dr. Sir" Clifford Alford explains the rift between his group and Simcox, echoing the sentiments of others in the Minuteman movement who have been critical of Simcox and his arrogance.
"Chris gets a bit high handed from time to time, as though groups should be 'sanctioned' by him," said Alford, who claims to be a Cherokee shaman, Wiccan sorcerer, Reiki master and newly ordained Templar knight, among other dubious titles. "Well, [Simcox] is not almighty God, and he is also not the Grand Prior of the Knights Templar, so pardon me if I don't give a flip."
A self-proclaimed (and highly paranoid) expert on the occult, Alford has conducted law enforcement training seminars on Satanism and "Ninja death cults" he said were being secretly trained to spearhead a mass slaughter across the globe. In a training pamphlet he authored, Alford advises police officers that even innocent-looking children and old people under the influence of satanic forces will attack without warning. "When you approach an occult crime suspect," he tells them, "always have your holster strap or flap undone and your hand around the grip with your thumb over the hammer ready to draw and fire."
In late June, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico indefinitely suspended its Las Cruces chapter when it was revealed that Alford had joined the chapter and been appointed to its board of directors. Alford later suggested on national television that he had deliberately infiltrated the ACLU.
The ACLU was embarrassed, to say the least. "We will not tolerate racism and vigilantism in the leadership structure of our organization," said Ruidoso, N.M., attorney Gary Mitchell, president of the ACLU board of directors.
New Mexico Border Watch began conducting weekend operations near Columbus, N.M., in August.
TEXAS MINUTEMAN CORPS
In early June, Chris Simcox appointed Goliad County, Texas, petroleum engineer Bill Parmley to be president of the Texas Minuteman Corps. Two months later, Parmley resigned, citing widespread racism among the group's volunteers, who Parmley said were more anti-Hispanic than anti-illegal immigration. Parmley alleged that many of the volunteers hatched a plot to force all the Hispanic elected officials in Goliad County from office and replace them exclusively with Caucasians.
"I don't know of any other word to describe it than racism," Parmley later told the Fort Worth Weekly. "They had a secret agenda before the organization ever got started. They rolled it into the Minutemen."
One of the Hispanic officials the Minutemen were out to get, Goliad County Sheriff DeLaGarza, said that after he met with the citizen border patrol members and fielded their eager questions about the legal use of deadly force, he did his best to dampen their trigger happiness with his threat to "hammer their ass."
The left-wing Brown Berets also recently sent the Texas Minutemen Corps a warning of their own. "Think twice before you come here," Brown Berets leader Pablo Delgado said at a July 28 news conference. Delgado said members of the militant Chicano organization are forming their own civilian border patrols, and will be active on the Texas border in October when Texas Minutemen Corps is scheduled to begin operations at the same time as Simcox-sanctioned outfits in Arizona and New Mexico.
"We will be armed," Delgado said, "and we will use whatever force is necessary to defend the lives of immigrants."
Running Against Immigrants
The first to use Minutemen tactics were Klansmen.
In 1977, Ku Klux Klan leaders David Duke and Tom Metzger formed Klan Border Watch, a KKK vigilante border patrol in southern California. Like this April's Minuteman Project in Arizona, Klan Border Watch was primarily a media stunt designed to fan the flames of anti-immigration sentiment in America and to generate publicity for its ambitious leaders. Three years later, Metzger ran for Congress in California on the promise that he would militarize the border. Running openly as a Klansman, Metzger, who was then Duke's California state leader, would garner 33,000 votes, although he lost the election.
Taking a page from Metzger's playbook, three Minuteman group founders are running for state office, and Jim Gilchrist has declared himself a Constitution Party candidate for the special congressional election in his Orange County, Calif., district to fill the seat vacated when President Bush appointed former Congressman Chris Cox to head the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Simcox, meanwhile, has hired a public relations specialist and is hinting at a congressional campaign of his own. Lauded as a hero at anti-immigration rallies across the country, Simcox also benefited from glowing coverage provided to millions of Fox News Channel viewers in a three-night special report from the border hosted by conservative pundit Sean Hannity that screened like a recruitment infomercial for the Minuteman movement.
Despite being decried by President Bush, border vigilantism has already been endorsed by sitting Republican congressmen, including Tom Tancredo of Colorado, and by John Culberson of Texas, who on July 28 introduced legislation that would allocate $6.8 million in federal funds to established armed citizen militia in borders states. The militias' members would be empowered to arrest illegal immigrants using "any means and force authorized by state law."
Forty-seven lawmakers have already agreed to co-sponsor the "Border Protection Corps Act."
But the leaders of the Minuteman movement aren't waiting for federal authorization. In late June, addressing a crowd of 300 new Minuteman recruits in Goliad, Texas, Simcox delivered this ultimatum: "If we don't see the National Guard and the U.S. military on the border by October, we're going to patrol the border with 20,000 citizens. That will be a warning. In six months, if we don't see the military on the border, you might be faced with an army of 100,000 citizens."