Angry former supporters of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps are questioning group founder Chris Simcox's accounting
The Little Prince is under siege.
Chris Simcox, founder and president of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps (MCDC), is accustomed to defending himself against the constant barrage of criticism from human rights activists on his political left flank. But now he's under attack from the right as well, as prominent anti-immigration leaders across the country have blasted Simcox in recent weeks with accusations that he's a charlatan, a sellout, and a traitor to their cause.
"Simcox doesn't seem to know that his days on the Minuteman gravy train are ended," says California Coalition for Immigration Reform hate group leader Barbara Coe.
Other former allies lining up against Simcox include Jim Gilchrist, who co-founded the original Minuteman Project with Simcox last year; American Border Patrol hate group head Glenn Spencer; anti-Semite and former Minuteman Civil Defense Corps (MCDC) field team chief Joe McCutchen; Americans for Mass Deportation founder Liz DeMarco; and Save Our State hate group leader Joe Turner.
The pivot point on which Simcox's own kind turned against him is his refusal to account for the $1.6 to $1.8 million in private donations he estimates MCDC raised, including $600,000 for the "Minuteman Border Fence," -- a slick fundraising campaign with a stated goal of $55 million. Simcox pledged the money raised by the campaign would go to build a high-tech security barrier along 70 miles of private ranchland on the Arizona border. Mass-mailed MCDC solicitations and full-page color advertisements in The Washington Times since mid-April promoted the Minuteman Border Fence as an "Israeli-style" barrier "based on the fences used in Gaza and the West Bank." Fundraising illustrations depict a 6-foot trench and coils of concertina wire backed by a 15-foot steel-mesh fence crowned with bulletproof security cameras. Estimated cost: $150 per foot.
Construction began Memorial Day weekend with much fanfare. Since then, MCDC volunteers erected just over two miles of five-strand barbed wire attached to short metal posts. What they built is a standard cattle fence, costing about $1.50 per foot, or about one one-hundredth the cost of the advertised "Israeli-style" barrier.
So far, in other words, the Minuteman Border Fence hasn't come to much. "It wouldn't stop a tricycle," American Border Patrol's Glenn Spencer posted in a recent online tirade. "It's shameful that [Simcox] would deceive the American people in this way."
Simcox did not respond to three E-mails and two voicemail messages seeking comment for this story. But in an open statement to the media he released in late July, he denied deceiving MCDC donors.
"The next section [of the fence] built will be the full Israeli-style fence, with construction commencing soon," he promised. "Our precise timetable will depend upon resolving a few lingering engineering issues. It will NOT depend upon the ill-informed hostility of those seeking our failure, or wishing to stir up controversy and increase donations to their foundering organizations."
At press time, the MCDC had yet to begin constructing the "Israeli-style" fence. Also, Simcox has denied all requests by current and former MCDC members and donors as well as journalists to release any MCDC financial records. He will not say where the money is, how much has been spent, or for what, and he lashes out at anyone inside or outside his organization who dares question his honesty or authority. Gary Cole, the MCDC's former national director of operations, said he was fired last summer for "asking too many questions about the money."
Two Simple Questions
Simcox's stonewalling may be his undoing. According to a July 20 article in The Washington Times, a right-wing newspaper with a long track record of strident anti-immigration editorializing and pro-Minuteman reporting, "A growing number of Minuteman Civil Defense Corps leaders and volunteers are questioning the whereabouts of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of dollars in donations collected in the past 15 months, challenging the organization's leadership over accountability."
The article also reported, "[MCDC] members said money promised for food, fuel, radios, computers, tents, night-vision scopes, binoculars, porta-potties, and other necessary equipment and supplies never reached volunteers who have manned observation posts."
The Washington Times piece was based in part on interviews with Cole and with former Minuteman field coordinator Mike Gaddy, who said Simcox rejected Gaddy's offer last year to pay for an auditor with his own money to "answer growing concern among the ranks about the group's finances."
"[Simcox] told me what he did was his business," Gaddy said.
When Simcox wanted to reach potential MCDC donors, he advertised in The Washington Times, because anti-immigration activists -- his core supporters -- hold the newspaper in high regard. For this reason, there was no way Simcox could wave off the revelations in the July 20 article as unfounded accusations from the liberal media, as he has past reports on his organization's fundraising practices.
Still, he attempted to control the damage with this response to The Washington Times article, posted to the MCDC website: "Critics are obtaining false information from disgruntled people who have been terminated from staff or from leadership involvement because they could not meet MCDC standards. Consequently, these dismissed Minutemen have no actual knowledge of MCDC finances."
Washington Times Managing Editor Fran Coombs fired back. "Chris Simcox and company can attack this newspaper all day long, which is ironic given the coverage we have given their issue and their organization over the years," Coombs wrote on the newspaper's website. "But the story isn't about The Washington Times. It's about the money that countless American citizens contributed in good faith to the Minutemen because they believed in the cause of securing our nation's borders. So it's time for [Simcox] to stop the runaround and to start answering two very simple questions: Where's the money, and how's it being spent?"
Simcox still declined to answer. And he isn't required by law to divulge any financial information because the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps is not registered as a nonprofit corporation with the Internal Revenue Service. Last September, Simcox told reporters the application had been submitted. But MCDC spokeswoman Connie Hair told The Arizona Republic in early August -- almost one year later -- the group "plans to meet all the filing requirements later this month," adding "delays with the complex paperwork [have] slowed the process." (The IRS website contains step-by-step instructions on establishing a nonprofit organization and provides a toll-free number for those with questions.)
In his late July statement, released the same week as The Washington Times story, Simcox claimed "all donations which have been received have been recorded, processed, and banked by a highly reputable and responsible caging company which specializes in nonprofit accountability. Funds are safely and appropriately held in a secured bank account, overseen by a certified public accountant and a lawyer, disbursed by an authorized escrow agent only against approved, invoiced expenses."
The "highly reputable and responsible" accounting company hired by MCDC to oversee donations is Houston-based American Caging, Inc. Maureen Otis, president of American Caging, released a statement confirming "since the day MCDC was incorporated, my company has acted as the comptroller and escrow agent for MCDC." But that may do little to alleviate the concerns of MCDC donors, since American Caging apparently has some trouble keeping its own books in order. The Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts office lists the status of American Caging Inc. as "not in good standing" because it "has not satisfied all state tax requirements." (American Caging Inc.'s biggest client is Declaration Alliance, a right-wing consortium established by Alan Keyes in 1996 to oppose legalized abortion and civil rights for gays and lesbians. MCDC is identified on its website as "a project of Declaration Alliance," leading Simcox critics to speculate Declaration Alliance may be taking a large cut of MCDC donations.)
Simcox's assurances of financial regularity did not dissuade the editorial board of The Washington Times from scolding him in a July 25 editorial: "As supporters of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, we were disheartened to read ... about questions and criticisms of Chris Simcox's management of the organization," it began. "The truth is that no one except Mr. Simcox knows how much money has been donated and what it has been used for. So far, Mr. Simcox has been unable to come up with a good explanation -- at least one that can be independently verified."
The editorial called for immediate "transparency" in MCDC's finances. But Simcox still did not open his books. Instead, he pledged MCDC would release a detailed financial report no later than Nov. 15, as required by the IRS.
In the meantime, the financial records of Minuteman PAC, Inc., a political action committee formed this year and chaired by Simcox, offer some insight into Simcox's spending priorities. A separate entity from MCDC, Minuteman PAC, Inc. is registered with the Federal Elections Commission and is therefore required by federal law to file periodic financial reports, which are open to public inspection. The first of these reports was made public July 13. It shows that Minuteman PAC received $214,015 in donations at that point -- money above and beyond what MCDC raised -- and disbursed $97,076, leaving cash on hand of $116,939.
Although the publicized mission of Minuteman PAC is to raise money to support the campaigns of political candidates who support the Minuteman mission, it made only $5,000 in campaign donations at the time of the FEC filing. The vast majority of Minuteman PAC expenditures -- $87,432 -- went to pay direct-mail fundraising and advertising bills.
Gilchrist and Simcox publicly battled for control and camera time during the original Minuteman Project, when Simcox's high-handed leadership style earned him the sarcastic sobriquet, "The Little Prince." But following the conclusion of the month-long "citizens border patrol" operation in Arizona last April, the co-founders appeared to arrange an amicable parting and division of the public relations spoils. Gilchrist kept the Minuteman Project name and announced he was handing over "border watch" operations to Simcox, who would manage them as president of a new group, Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. As head of the Minuteman Project, Gilchrist said he would focus on pressuring employers not to hire illegal immigrants, what he called "internal vigilance."
It's unclear how the Minuteman Project co-founders divvied up the donations received while the month-long operation was under way -- or if the donations were divvied at all. Mike Gaddy, the former MCDC field coordinator and former president of its New Mexico chapter, told the Intelligence Report that Simcox kept most, if not all, the money for himself.
Gaddy, who worked side-by-side with Simcox during the original Minuteman Project, said the intense national media coverage the operation received drove tens of thousands of dollars in small donations to the offices of the Tombstone Tumbleweed, a newspaper then owned by Simcox. (Former MCDC national coordinator Gary Cole used the same "tens of thousands" estimate in The Washington Times article.) Gaddy said some of the checks were made out to Simcox, some to Gilchrist.
"I asked Chris how the donations were being handled. He stated all of the checks and donations directed to Gilchrist were being separated and given to him. At the time, I believed him," Gaddy said. "Later, I asked some of the people who were working in the Tumbleweed office how the donations were being accounted for. I was told that regardless of who the donations were designated for, they all went into the same account -- the one belonging to Simcox."
Gilchrist vs. Simcox
Gilchrist and Simcox are now headed for a showdown near the streets of Laredo.
Two days after The Washington Times article came out, Gilchrist distributed this statement: "The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps does not represent all the Minutemen throughout the United States nor do they represent the Minuteman Project whose only founder is Jim Gilchrist. The Minuteman Project does not have any business dealings with the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, whose President is Chris Simcox."
After distancing himself from Simcox, Gilchrist announced he was getting back in the border-watch game with "Operation Sovereignty," promoted on his Web site as "an observation and reporting vigil along the U.S.-Mexico border in the Laredo, Texas, area that will launch September 11 and continue through federal election day, November 7."
Gilchrist's partners in Operation Sovereignty, according to his Web site, are Glenn Spencer's American Border Patrol and the Texas Minutemen, a rogue Minuteman outfit not affiliated with Simcox. Both groups are fueled by far more radical ideology than Gilchrist has endorsed in the past. The Southern Poverty Law Center has long listed American Border Patrol as an anti-Mexican hate group. And the leaders of the Texas Minutemen in June told a Young Republicans club that ranchers should be allowed to shoot "diseased Mexicans" trying to cross the border under the same international agreement allowing them to shoot diseased cattle. Gilchrist appears to be radicalizing as part of his overall strategy to siphon away support from the MCDC, and establish himself as the one true leader of the Minutemen.
Enraged by Gilchrist's encroachment on this turf, Simcox fired off this Aug. 8 rant in a mass E-mail to MCDC members and donors: "Minuteman Project 'founder' Jim Gilchrist is about to lead his band of volunteers to the slaughter in the Laredo area beginning September 11th. MCDC does not sanction this suicidal plan of Gilchrist's. It is imperative that all MCDC volunteers stay away from this dog and pony show disaster in the making." At the same time, Simcox announced that a new MCDC border watch operation "along the entire southern border" would begin Oct. 1, also with operations near Laredo. "We have new equipment and many new volunteers, but we must stick with MCDC and steer clear of the Gilchrist, Texas Minutemen, Glen Spencer American Border Patrol radicals," he wrote. "We can only pray for them and hope they do not self destruct, get someone killed and ultimately tarnish the Minuteman movement. Even if they do, we shall rise above by sticking with our rational game plan."
Save Our State founder Joe Turner then jumped into the fight on Gilchrist's side. "This [attack on Gilchrist] is by the same individual that has raised potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars (nobody knows and Simcox ain't telling) to build an Israeli-style border fence, when, to date, weeks after his announcement, not one foot of Israeli-style border fencing has been constructed. Barbed wire cattle fencing isn't that expensive, and it doesn't stop illegal aliens," Turner wrote in a statement Save Our State members. "Simcox was a nobody until Gilchrist made him a 'somebody.' And this is how he repays Gilchrist?"
Turner concluded, "God Bless Jim Gilchrist, the Minuteman Project and their joint efforts with the Texas Minutemen and American Border Patrol this fall."
A Modest Salary
In the midst of all this online bloodletting, MCDC's relentless fundraising has continued. In a letter dated July 28 and mailed to tens of thousands of past MCDC donors nationwide, Simcox began: "Dear friends, I'm writing you today from the hot, dusty Arizona border. As you know, we launched construction of the 'Minuteman Border Fence' over Memorial Day weekend. And let me tell you, the 'Pro-Illegal Immigration' crowd was not happy about it."
The letter continued, "We are going to stay here and continue building this fence until the job is done -- and done right!" Then it struck a somber tone: "With the blazing summer upon us, the stamina of our valiant Minutemen is taxed to the uttermost limit. So if you're proud as I am of the civilian patriots building our 'Minuteman Border Fence,' won't you please consider sending a $20 gift today? And if you can send a larger contribution, we'll be able to cover even more border miles."
Unlike previous Minuteman Border Fence solicitations, it made no mention of any "Israeli-style" design, leaving its recipients to imagine for themselves the actual nature of the fence "our valiant Minutemen" are toiling to build, mile by excruciating mile. This omission of design specifics may have been the product of advice Simcox received from Diener Consultants, one of the country's largest right-wing political consulting and fundraising machines. At around the same time Simcox broke off from Gilchrist to form MCDC, he contracted with Diener, which is based in Chicago and led by Phillip Sheldon, son of Traditional Values Coalition founder and vitriolic gay-basher Rev. Louis Sheldon.
The younger Sheldon is known for brokering the ghoulish deal in which Response Unlimited, a direct-mail marketing firm, obtained a list of donors to Terry Schiavo's legal fund from the brain-dead woman's parents several days before her death in March 2005. Earlier this year, Response Unlimited -- "the nation's best and most comprehensive source of mailing lists for conservative and Christian mailers and telemarketers" -- began offering for sale a list of 61,000 Minuteman Civil Defense Corps donors at a price of $120 per thousand names.
"These donors realize that a porous border potentially means unfettered access for illegal drugs and terrorists to infiltrate our country," Response Unlimited says in its pitch. "Count is expected to increase rapidly over the coming months."
Simcox has refused to reveal how much Response Unlimited is paying MCDC for its donor rolls or how much MCDC is paying Diener Consultants to keep trying to enlarge that donor list. But Simcox answered one pressing question -- that of how much he's taken for himself from MCDC coffers.
So far, he said in July, not one dime.
"I am not salaried by MCDC," he said. "In light of these malicious attacks, I will, this one last time, reveal personal information to answer the critics. ... My present source of income has been the honorariums and fees received from organizations who request me for speaking engagements. I have also received money from selling my life story for a movie that will soon go into production. Even with those combined sources of income, I have made just enough to keep my head above water. The remainder of my living expenses is covered by my devoted and dedicated wife, who shares my passion for the MCDC mission."
Simcox then stated, "I do foresee a need come the new year for me to request a modest salary to maintain my role as president of MCDC. If the board and national directors do not agree then it will be necessary for me to leave the organization and return to teaching [Simcox used to be a private school teacher]. Or I may need to go get a job at Wal-Mart or Home Depot!"
Where Simcox will stand next year in the movement that made him famous -- if not rich, as he claims -- seems most uncertain. For now, he continues to act as if he is looking down from on high, occasionally deigning to respond to critics amidst the rabble. But if construction doesn't begin on that "Israeli-style" barrier pronto, or if MCDC's numbers don't add up in a public accounting before the Nov. 15 deadline, the Little Prince's castle may crumble.
Susy Buchanan and Janet Smith contributed to this report.