Minuteman Project leaders say their volunteers are 'white Martin Luther Kings,' but their anti-immigration campaign in marked by weaponry, military maneuvers and racist talk.
COCHISE COUNTY, Ariz. -- The predominantly Hispanic towns of Douglas and Naco are connected by the aptly named Border Road, a 20-mile stretch of rocky dirt that runs parallel to a ragged barbed wire fence separating the United States from Mexico.
The night of April 3, armed vigilantes camped along Border Road in a series of watch posts set-up for the Minuteman Project, a month-long action in which revolving casts of 150 to 200 anti-immigration militants wearing cheap plastic "Undocumented Border Patrol Agent" badges mobilized in southeastern Arizona. Their stated goal was to "do the job our government refuses to do" and "protect America" from the "tens of millions of invading illegal aliens who are devouring and plundering our nation."
At Station Two, Minuteman volunteers grilled bratwursts and fantasized about murder.
"It should be legal to kill illegals," said Carl, a 69-year old retired Special Forces veteran who fought in Vietnam and now lives out West. "Just shoot 'em on sight. That's my immigration policy recommendation. You break into my country, you die."
Carl was armed with a revolver chambered to fire shotgun shells. He wore this hand cannon in a holster below a shirt that howled "American bad asses" in red, white and blue. The other vigilantes assigned to Station Two included a pair of self-professed members of the National Alliance, a violent neo-Nazi organization. These men, who gave their names only as Johnny and Michael, were outfitted in full-body camouflage and strapped with semi-automatic pistols.
Earlier that day, Johnny and Michael had scouted sniper positions in the rolling, cactus-studded foothills north of Border Road, taking compass readings and drawing maps for future reference.
"I agree completely," Michael said. "You get up there with a rifle and start shooting four or five of them a week, the other four or five thousand behind them are going to think twice about crossing that line."
With a grilled sausage in one hand and a cheap night vision scope in the other, Johnny scanned the brush in Mexico, spitting distance away.
"The thing to do would be to drop the bodies just a few hundred feet into the U.S. and just leave them there, with lights on them at night," he said. "That sends the message 'No Trespassing,' in any language."
The conversation stopped just short of decapitating Mexicans and putting their heads on pikes, facing south.
"I don't really like violence, but if we did start doing what you're talking about, it would show we mean business for a change," said the group's only woman, and the only person who didn't carry a gun. "It would say, 'This is the USA, don't fuck with us!"
The woman, who said she was with a Pennsylvania anti-immigration group, had outraged Johnny and Michael that afternoon by reporting for duty with a Star of David pendant dangling below the neckline of her "I Survived the Minuteman Project" t-shirt. She also squabbled with them over the morality of pit bull fighting, and expressed her belief in animal rights and no-kill dog and cat shelters. They started calling her "Jew bitch" behind her back.
She got back on their good side by condoning blood lust.
"Damn, I thought you were one of them," Michael said.
"One of what?" the woman asked.
"You know, animal rights, pacifism, save the kittens, all that crap."
"Well, this may sound a little weird, but I just have more respect for the lives of stray cats and dogs than I do illegal aliens."
"That's not weird at all," Michael said. "Not one damn bit."
Vigilante militias have been capturing, pistol-whipping and very possibly shooting Latin American immigrants in Cochise County since the late '90s, when shifts in U.S. border control policies transformed the high desert region into the primary point of entry for Mexico's two most valuable black market exports, drugs and people.
But the Minuteman Project raised the stakes with a highly publicized national recruiting drive followed by a campaign of deceitful media manipulation. These maneuvers generated massive and mostly positive nationwide coverage of what in actuality was little more than a relatively small and ineffectual gathering of bigots and weekend warriors, led by a pair of dueling egos. While they played Army in the desert for a few weeks, this slapdash band was transformed by the hype into the elite vanguard of America's anti-immigration movement.
The Minuteman Project was the brainchild of two fathers: Jim Gilchrist, a retired accountant and Vietnam veteran from Orange County, California, and Chris Simcox, a former kindergarten teacher at a private school in Brentwood, Calif., who left his job and his family, moved to Tombstone, Ariz., and refashioned himself into a brash anti-immigration militant following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Before the Minuteman Project began, Gilchrist and Simcox repeatedly claimed they had recruited more than 1,300 volunteers. But when their plan lurched into action on April Fool's Day in Tombstone, fewer than 150 volunteers actually showed up, and they were clearly outnumbered on the Wild West movie-set streets by a swarm of reporters, photographers, camera crews, anti-Minuteman protesters, American Civil Liberties Union legal observers, and costumed gunfight show actors.
On the whole, the Minuteman Project's enlistees were nearly all white. This wasn't surprising, except that Gilchrist and Simcox also claimed prior to April 1 that a full 40% of their volunteers would be minorities, including, according to their Web site, "American-Africans," "American-Mexicans," "American-Armenians," four paraplegics and six amputees.
California and Arizona were the most heavily represented states among the Minuteman enlistees, but the volunteers reported from all regions of the country. Many, if not most, were over 50 years old, counting a relatively high percentage of retired military men, police officers, and prison guards. Women made up nearly a third of the volunteers, including a bevy of white-haired ladies from Orange County, Calif., selling homemade Minuteman Project merchandise like "What Part of 'Illegal' Don't They Understand" T-shirts and the quickly ubiquitous "Undocumented Border Patrol Agent" badges (which, oxymoronically, bore color-copy counterfeits of the official Department of Homeland Security seal).
The keynote speaker at the Minuteman Project's opening day rally was Tom Tancredo, the Republican Congressman from Colorado who chairs the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus.
Tancredo addressed a crowd of about 100 inside Schieffelin Hall, an auditorium not far from the ok Corral. Outside the hall, a phalanx of Arizona Rangers (a state police agency) stood between the hall's entrance and about 40 anti-Minutemen protesters who banged on pots and pans and drums while the vibrantly outfitted performers of a traditional Aztec dance group leapt and whirled to the cacophonous rhythm.
In late March, President Bush had condemned the Minuteman Project at a joint press conference with Mexican President Vicente Fox. "I'm against vigilantes in the United States of America," Bush said. "I'm for enforcing the law in a rational way."
Tancredo said that Bush should be forced to write, "I'm sorry for calling you vigilantes," on a blackboard one hundred times and then erase the chalk with his tongue.
"You are not vigilantes," he roared. "You are heroes!"
Tancredo told the Minutemen that each of them stood for 100,000 likeminded Americans who couldn't afford to make the trip. He applauded Gilchrist and Simcox as "two good men who understand we must never surrender our right as citizens to do our patriotic duty and defend our country ... and stop this invasion ourselves."
While Gilchrist is newly prominent on the anti-immigration front — he recently joined the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, a hate group whose leader routinely describes Mexicans as "savages" — Simcox has been active since 2002, when he founded Civil Homeland Defense, a Tombstone-based vigilante militia that he brags has captured more than 5,000 Mexicans and Central Americans who entered the country without visas.
"These people don't come here to work. They come here to rob and deal drugs," Simcox told the Intelligence Report in a 2003 interview. "We need the National Guard to clean up our cities and round them up."
But that was the old Chris Simcox talking, not the new, spiffed-up, buttoned-down, ready-for-primetime Chris Simcox.
The old Simcox described Citizens Homeland Defense as "a committee of vigilantes," and "a border patrol militia." The new Simcox — the one interviewed for dozens of national TV news programs and major newspaper articles about the Minuteman Project — characterized his new and larger outfit of citizen border patrollers as "more of a neighborhood watch program."
The old Simcox said of Mexicans and Central American immigrants, "They have no problem slitting your throat and taking your money or selling drugs to your kids or raping your daughter and they are evil people." The new Simcox said he sympathizes with their plight, and sees them as victims of their own government's failed policies.
Gilchrist gave his sound bites an even more extreme makeover by frequently comparing himself and most of his volunteers to "white Martin Luther Kings," and the Minuteman Project to the civil rights movement. He and Simcox both also preposterously declared in interview after interview that they had designed the Minuteman Project to "protect America from drug dealers and terrorists" as much as to catch undocumented immigrants and turn them over to the U.S. Border Patrol.
The mainstream American media largely failed to challenge these flagrant reinventions, even though Gilchrist's militant rhetoric about immigrants "devouring and plundering our nation" was still up on the Minuteman Project's Web site; even though Simcox's statements are public record (many were published in his own newspaper, the Tombstone Tumbleweed), and even though the Minuteman Project's leaders already had a record of lying to the media.
Early this year, white supremacist and neo-Nazi Web sites began openly recruiting for the Minuteman Project. In response, Gilchrist and Simcox proclaimed that neo-Nazi Skinheads and race warriors from organizations such as the National Alliance and Aryan Nations were specifically banned from participating. Pressured by journalists to explain exactly how they planned to keep these undesirables out, the two organizers said they were working with the FBI to carefully check the backgrounds of all potential Minuteman volunteers, only to have the FBI completely deny this was the case.
Gilchrist and Simcox then claimed they were personally checking out each and every potential volunteer using on-line databases. Even if this were true, one of Gilchrist's computers crashed the morning of April 1, wiping out the records of at least 75 pre-registered volunteers. As a result, the registration protocol in Tombstone rapidly degenerated into a free-for-all, and virtually anyone who showed up and gave a name was issued a Minuteman Project badge and told where to go the next day to be assigned to a watch post.
Gilchrist and Simcox further claimed to the media prior to April 1 that the only volunteers who would be allowed to carry firearms would be those who had a concealed-carry handgun permit from their home states, an indication that they had passed at least a cursory background investigation. In fact, virtually no one was checked for permits.
While most of the Minuteman volunteers were not organized racists, at least one member of Aryan Nations infiltrated the effort, and Johnny and Michael said they were two of six members of the Phoenix chapter of the National Alliance who signed up as Minuteman Volunteers. They said the other four had arrived separately in two-man teams in order to cover more ground and be less conspicuous. They said the Alliance members came out to support the Minuteman Project, but also to recruit new members, and to learn the remote hot zones for border crossers in Cochise County. They said they intended to return and conduct small, roaming, National Alliance-only vigilante patrols in the fall, "when we can have a little more privacy," as Johnny put it.
The day after the registration meltdown, the Minuteman Project sponsored a protest across the street from the Border Patrol's headquarters in Naco. It drew about 75 demonstrators, including Johnny and Michael, who sat quietly in camp chairs, wearing sunglasses and holding placards.
Michael's sign was decorated with a war-room graphic of arrows that represented armies marching north from Mexico and spreading throughout the United States.
"Invasion?" it asked. "What Invasion?"
The graphic on Michael's sign was almost identical to the imagery on a billboard the Alliance paid to put up earlier this year in a predominantly Latino neighborhood of Las Vegas and on Alliance fliers that were tossed onto driveways and lawns in Douglas and Tombstone in late March during a dead-of-night distribution drive.
"Immigration or invasion?" those fliers read. "Non-whites are turning America into a Third World slum. They come for welfare or to take our jobs. They bring crime. Let's send them home now!"
Johnny and Michael offered their last names to no one, and never spoke of their jobs, though Michael said he had fought in the first Gulf War with the 82nd Airborne Division. At the protest, he wore a desert camouflage vest over a black shirt emblazoned with a white fist and combat boots. There were other small clues to the pair's ideology. Driving to the protest, they blasted the white-power rock band Youngblood. Johnny made several references to the "14 Words," a white supremacist adage ("We must secure the existence of our race and a future for White children"). Johnny also had a National Alliance symbol tattooed to the back of his neck and "Born in the C.S.A." (referring to the Confederate States of America) inked below his left jawbone.
"We both grew up in El Paso, and we've been racially aware since we were kids," Michael said. "In the sixth grade, El Paso put in a forced busing program, and I got sent to a middle school that was 95% Mexican. I got my ass kicked about every day. Johnny and I started backing each other up and we've been fighting Mexicans ever since."
Though both have lived in Arizona since the late '90s, the Minuteman Project marked the first time either has dared come near the border.
"The only way I'd be down here is with a bunch of other white guys with guns," Michael said. "Whites are the minority in these border towns, man. They've already been taken over. This is enemy territory."
Lock and Load
The Minuteman Project's "command and communications center" was located on the campus of Miracle Valley Bible College, a former cult compound just outside Naco. Stained mattresses and dusty junk cluttered the halls of the compound's dormitory buildings, where 100 Minuteman volunteers slept two to a room.
Another 30 to 40 vigilantes pitched tents on a weedy ball field with a rusted backstop, where tumbleweeds soared and bounced on shrieking desert winds.
The social atmosphere on the desolate compound was saturated with paranoia, military fetishism and machismo. A neatly printed sign posted to the communal shower room announcing "Women's Shower Hours 7-9 and 3-5" was defaced with a scrawled "NO! MEN ONLY!"
By day two of the Minuteman Project, volunteers had taken to calling the college's cafeteria the "mess hall," the dormitories "barracks," and the boundaries of the campus "the perimeter." Security was tight. Armed guards patrolled the perimeter and stopped cars at the front gate to check occupants for Minuteman badges. Minuteman security teams randomly placed trip flares in the desert outside the compound's structures to alert them at night to the presence of intruders.
Rumors of imminent danger flew through the dorms regularly, along with shouts to "lock and load," because the notorious Central American street gang MS-13 was about to storm the campus.
MS-13 is a favorite bogeyman of the anti-immigration movement, and in late March unsubstantiated Internet rumors began swirling that MS-13 leaders had issued orders for hundreds of MS-13 members in Los Angeles and Phoenix to converge in Cochise County and "teach the Minutemen a lesson." The Washington Times reported these rumors as fact on March 28 in a front-page article headlined "Gang will target Minuteman vigil on Mexico border."
The night of April 4, a cry of alarm went up throughout the Miracle Valley compound that "a credible threat" had been received that armed MS-13 gang members were about to lead a charge of hundreds of Mexicans "over the wire" and against the Minuteman posts along Border Road.
Furiously donning body armor and loading weapons, Minuteman Project security officers and citizen volunteers piled into vehicles and raced to the rescue, only to find that, like all the supposedly impending assaults on the Bible college, the MS-13-led attack never materialized.
The Minuteman Project's culture of fear sprang from the top and then trickled down through the ranks. A towering bodyguard dressed all in black shadowed Gilchrist, and Simcox often donned a bulletproof vest (Simcox is prohibited from carrying a firearm due to his 2004 conviction for illegally packing a pistol in a national park while hunting immigrants).
When Johnny and Michael first arrived at their assigned post on Border Road, they warily eyed a rock formation atop a hill about 250 yards away, in Mexico.
"That's a perfect MS-13 sniper's nest," Michael said. "Keep an eye out for any glints of metal up there."
Johnny pulled out a pair of vinyl rifle cases from a hiding place in the heap of camping and military surplus gear that filled the back of his Toyota 4Runner. Inside the cases were assault rifles, a violation of the Minuteman's weapons policy, which required volunteers to arm themselves with handguns only. "They're loaded, and there are extra clips in there, just in case anything goes down," he said.
Carl found a depression in the earth behind his pick-up truck and called his squad together.
"This is our fallback position," he said. "If we start taking incoming rounds, everyone dive here and get your head down."
But there were no incoming rounds, and no invading, dark-skinned hordes. Day after day, hour after hour, the Minuteman Project volunteers spaced in seven posts along a mile-long stretch of Border Road sat in lawn chairs and milled around, staring at dirt, cacti, and the occasional jackrabbit.
There was so little action on the Mexican side of the fence that a lone cattle rancher riding his horse just south of the border was enough to spark a flurry of radio traffic: "Station Two, this is Station One, we have a mounted possible hostile coming your way, over."
The rancher smiled, waved, and shouted, "Hola!"
"He's probably scouting our troop strength and positions," said Michael. "I don't trust that guy."
Machine Guns and Minefields
Richard Hodges, lifetime Cochise County resident, lives with his wife on a homestead just off the Naco side of Border Road in the same house his great-grandfather built in 1897. Curious about the Minuteman Project, he cruised up and down Border Road, along with several other local residents, snapping photos and chatting up the vigilantes.
"Some of them seem all right, and I do give them credit for putting their money where their mouth is and for bringing a lot of attention to the problem of illegal immigration. But a lot of them are a little too extreme, a little too racist for my taste," Hodges said. "They were talking to me like they're white supremacists or something, and they were assuming I must be too just because I live here and have to deal with all the illegals. But I don't care too much for those kinds of attitudes. That's just not the correct mentality people need to bring down here. That sort of thinking should have died with Hitler."
Back when he was a kid, Hodges said, the average Mexican didn't have any reason to sneak into the U.S.
"They had it pretty okay in Mexico, so when my daddy found a Mexican on our property, he'd put a shotgun on him, you bet, but it wasn't because he didn't like Mexicans, it was because he knew that Mexican was probably on the run, because their criminals would run to America just the same as our criminals would run to Mexico. My father would order them to take off their pants, them give them a choice: either walk back to Mexico with no pants on, or wait for the sheriff."
Things are different now.
"I see illegals on my property all the time, and I don't point a gun at them. You can tell just from looking at them they're no threat. They don't scare me. They're not out to get me. They just want to go on their way. Sometimes I'll call Border Patrol if it's a really big group. Other times I just say, 'Oh, what the hell,' and let them be. I do worry that some of them are coming into the country for a welfare free ride, and I'm sure a few of them are criminals, but I talk to these people a lot, and I'll tell you, most of them are coming here to work. Pure and simple."
The immigration problem can't be solved in America, Hodges said. It can only be solved in Mexico.
"I was in the Air Force, and I saw how the Soviets did it. Sure, we could build a wall, and put machine-gun towers on top, and create a no man's land with a minefield, and we start machine-gunning people and blowing them to bits, and it might curtail them a bit, but it won't stop them from coming so long as we allow the Mexican government to keep treating its people so poorly. You can put the Marines on the border, you can build all the walls and bring in all the Minuteman Projects you want. They're not going to stop. There are millions and millions and millions of poor, desperate people in Mexico, and hunger is a powerful motivating force."
But no matter how desperate, it was hard to imagine any but the most foolhardy of undocumented immigrants would dare attempting to cross into the U.S. along the mile of Border Road staked out by the Minuteman Project, not when it was so easy for them to just hike an extra mile in either direction and circumvent the vigilante enforcement zone, which was a hive of activity easily spotted a distance.
The vigilante blockade was augmented by a constant procession of U.S. Border Patrol agents, Cochise County sheriff's deputies, curious local residents like Hodges, and the omnipresent media. Also, while they posed for the cameras, staring dramatically at absolutely nothing but empty desert through their spotting scopes and binoculars, the Minuteman Project volunteers were themselves under constant watch by roving clusters of American Civil Liberties Union legal observers, who the Minuteman volunteers referred to over their radios as "traitors," "Jane Fondas," and "ACL-Jews."
The Minuteman volunteers were stone-faced toward most of the reporters and camera crews that cruised up and down Border Road, trolling for interviews and footage. But the vigilantes cheered the arrival of Fox News Channel crews ("They're our people," said Michael) and that of anti-immigration CNN anchor Lou Dobbs, whose coverage of the Minuteman Project was particularly supple.
Gilchrist and Simcox had difficulty sharing the spotlight. Cochise County, it turned out, wasn't big enough for both their egos.
Once when Simcox saw Gilchrist surrounded by reporters, he said to himself, but loudly, "There goes Gilchrist, holding down his own fort again."
And to one group of volunteers, Simcox said, "Listen up, I need everybody to understand that while the California people did a good job of getting you here, now that you're here, this is my show, because this is Civil Homeland Defense territory, so just understand that, okay? Thanks."
Of the two, Gilchrist revealed himself to be the more hackneyed media ham.
The afternoon of April 2, a documentary film director posed Gilchrist in front of Johnny, Michael, and Carl standing shoulder-to-shoulder before the border fence, with their backs to the "sniper's nest" they'd been so fearful of scant hours before.
"We are not racists," Gilchrist said on camera. "We don't endorse racism, and we're not a hate group. We've told white supremacists they're not welcome here, and we've kept them out. The only hate group members here are from the ACLU."
Johnny and Michael put on their poker faces.
"The ACLU are no different from white supremacists," Gilchrist said. "They're a clear and present danger. They have the same mentality that murdered Martin Luther King, and they want to kill us. Literally the ACLU wants to kill us by invoking violence. We've been vilified and castigated as ghoulish monsters, as gun-toting, baby-killing war machines.
"We are not in favor of violence, and we don't hate immigrants. We don't have any problem with Mexicans. If they come into the country legally, we want them here. We want America to be a melting pot of all different kinds of people, where every race, color and creed is blending together."
The two neo-Nazis bristled. Melting pot? Was he serious?
"We are a peaceful demonstration. We're doing this peacefully, the way our founding fathers wanted us to. We don't need baseball bats and tire irons and guns and flamethrowers and bulldozers to wipe people out and level villages. We can do this peacefully, same way Martin Luther King sought justice for American blacks. We're followers of Gandhi and Martin Luther King..."
"End of interview," Johnny said.
He and Michael abruptly walked away.
Once they were out of earshot, Johnny called King "an Alabama silverback" and made gorilla noises. Michael said, "I hope he [Gilchrist] doesn't believe that crap. I realize he's gotta be all PC for the media, but come on — Gandhi didn't wear a gun. We're in a race war, not a peace march."
Midway through April, the Minuteman Project declared total victory.
"Citizens in lawn chairs, armed only with cell phones and binoculars, shut down a 25-mile stretch of the border," Simcox boasted at a press conference held at the Miracle Valley Bible College compound. "We showed our government it can be done."
In reality, the citizens were armed with considerably more than cell phones and binoculars, and they were active along two miles of the border at most, and those two miles were not even continuous.
As proof of their success, Gilchrist and Simcox touted a potent statistic: the number of Border Patrol apprehensions of suspected illegal immigrants in the Minuteman Project enforcement zone dropped almost 90% during the month of April, compared to previous years.
But government officials on both sides of the border say that's because the Mexican government made a huge effort to warn immigrants looking to cross about the Minuteman Project, and thousands of immigrants either walked around the vigilantes or simply hunkered down in the Mexican border city of Agua Prieta and waited for the vigilantes to go home at the end of April.
The governor of the Mexican border state of Sonora, Eduardo Bours Castelo, ordered 44 members of the Sonora State Preventative Police Force to patrol a huge cattle ranch opposite the Minuteman sector of Border Road, in order to intercept unwary migrants before they reached the vigilante posts.
The Mexican federal border patrol agency Grupo Beta, which is assigned to protect immigrants from bandits and to search for those who have succumbed to the scorching sun, also bolstered their forces.
"We're trying to scare them. We tell them they may be shot by the Minutemen," said Enrique Palafox, the Grupo Beta commander in Agua Prieta. Both the state and federal patrols informed the immigrants of the Minuteman Project watch post locations and offered to give them rides back to Agua Prieta so they could either wait out the vigilantes or at least re-supply with food and water before setting out again on an alternate route.
The streets of Agua Prieta were posted throughout April with bright red fliers that warned in Spanish: "Danger! Publications in the United States and Mexico are reporting that during the month of April, hundreds of vigilantes from the United States will form patrols along the border from Agua Prieta to Naco. It's possible these individuals will have guns. They are not part of the Border Patrol or the government of the United States. Avoid them! They're dangerous!"
One night during the second week of the Minuteman Project, at Centro de Atención al Migrante Exodus, or C.A.M.E, a temporary shelter for immigrants housed in a Catholic church a couple miles from the border in Agua Prieta, a group of nine men in their late teens and early 20s from Vera Cruz sat around a long table, hungrily downing soup and tortillas. They said they were determined to get into America so they could make 50 dollars a day as laborers, instead of the 50 pesos (about $5) they earned for ten hours of cutting sugar cane at home.
"I'm not coming into America to rob anyone," said the group's apparent leader, a 20-year-old farm kid named Luís. "If I wanted to rob for a living, I could do that in Mexico. Please, tell the Minutemen I don't want to fight."
By the end of the Minuteman Project, its organizers claimed to have assisted in the capture of 336 undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America. In addition to the posts along Border Road, the Minuteman Project set up a chain of camps 40 miles east of Border Road and 35 miles north of the border. There, volunteers staked out a series of dry washes and culverts around a highway that serve as "lay-up spots" where exhausted immigrants stop to sleep and wait for rides after hiking two or three days over mountains and through open desert.
Judging by Minuteman Project radio traffic, the vigilantes patrolling the lay-up spots busted far more immigrants than those on the higher profile Border Road, but their final tally of 336 is impossible to verify because the U.S. Border Patrol does not record the identity or affiliation of citizen informants.
Border Patrol officials did say the Minuteman volunteers were more hindrance than help because they so frequently called in false alarms and set off ground sensors.
"The Border Patrol didn't want them, my community didn't want them here, and I didn't want them here," said Douglas Mayor Ray Borane. "All they succeeded in doing was creating hard feelings and spreading a racist message. The amount of media attention they received has been totally out of proportion to their actual impact. The Mexicans have a saying that I think applies quite well to the Minuteman Project: 'It was all song and no opera.'"
Brown and White
Chris Simcox bounded onto the stage in Washington D.C.'s Lafayette Square. With the White House in the background, he grinned ear-to-ear and gave the cheering crowd a double thumbs up.
It was the morning of Monday, April 25. The Minuteman Project had less than a week to go, and Simcox had left his troops in the field — by then their numbers had dwindled to fewer than 50 — in order to be received as a champion in the nation's capital by the "immigration reform army" gathered there for "Hold Their Feet to the Fire," a week of rallies and lobbying sponsored by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR.
FAIR Executive Director Dan Stein had personally invited Simcox. "For many Americans, the Minuteman Project looks more like Lexington and Concord," Stein stated. "It represents the escalation of action required to face down the arrogance and contempt of selfish greed. In my view, those who see it differently mistake the matter entirely."
Standing above an adoring audience, Simcox said the Minuteman Project in Arizona was just the beginning. "This has been a dream come true for citizens," he said. "We were bold enough to stand up and tell the federal government that it's not securing our borders. But our efforts will continue in the future with a multi-state campaign. There will be no compromise!"
Simcox left the stage to a chant of "Thank you, Chris! Thank you, Chris!'
The Minuteman volunteers and the FAIR enthusiasts draw their inspiration from the same cauldron of seething resentment. They're fed up with being asked their language preference by automated operators, with hearing Spanish on their radio, seeing it on billboards, and with struggling to be understood by busboys and hotel maids who "speak Mexican."
The news that Los Angeles had just elected its first Latino mayor in 100 years was just another foul omen that America really is being conquered, one fake green card and one minimum wage job at a time. They don't care to discuss the complexities of global economics. They don't want to hear about international trade policies or economic migration.
They see the world in brown and white.
"Thanks to the gross malfeasance of our government, Americans are going to be fighting for their nation on the streets of their own cities," wrote Glenn Spencer, a prominent anti-immigration activist, Minuteman Project volunteer and repeat "Lou Dobbs Tonight" guest, in a May 2 essay publicized on his America Border Patrol Web site. "Many are not going to survive this conflict alive. Thousands will die."
Already, imitation groups waving the Minuteman banner have formed in California and Texas. The same week that Simcox appeared in D.C., California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger praised the Minuteman Project in a radio show, saying he'd welcome border vigilantes in his state.
"I think they've done a terrific job," he said. "It just shows that it works when you go and make an effort and when you work hard. It's a doable thing. It's a shame that the private citizen has to go in there and start patrolling our borders."
Gilchrist and Simcox have both announced they're forming separate splinter vigilante groups. In May, Simcox claimed that "over 15,000" people had already joined his new organization, the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps.
"We are now undertaking the task of recruiting, training and deploying thousands of U.S. citizens to the four southern border states with Mexico," he said.
"We have a mandate from the citizens of the United States who are no longer just demanding better border security, they are now willing to participate in securing the borders themselves," Simcox said. "Our intentions are to follow the will of the people."