Chris Simcox was a failed actor. Then he discovered the anti-immigration movement, and soon he was a movie star.
By Joseph Mathew
Rainlake Productions, 2006
By John Sheedy, David Eckenrode, John Eckenrode
Ouzel Motion Pictures, 6512 Productions, Impala Roja, 2005
Walking the Line
By Jeremy Levine and Landon Van Soest
Two Headed Productions, 2005
Wetback: The Undocumented Documentary
By Arturo Perez Torres
Ironweed Films, 2005
In the past year, independent filmmakers have produced four award-winning documentaries tackling the complex issues surrounding immigration. While each film has a different focus, all include interviews with leading anti-immigration extremists -- most notably Minuteman Civil Defense Corps founder Chris Simcox.
Since the filming of these documentaries, a well-groomed Simcox has appeared on major news networks in numerous scripted interviews as the spokesman for the Minuteman Project. But in these films he exudes raw intensity -- not to mention instability -- in his earlier role as leader of the Tombstone Militia he founded in 2002. All four documentaries were filmed during 2004, and so offer a revealing look at an unvarnished Simcox, showing how this failed actor finally found a way to become a movie star.
In "El Inmigrante," the story of a Mexican border-crosser murdered in Texas, Simcox patrols the tumbleweeds with his volunteer militia. "How can you live with yourself every night when you sit at home knowing that thousands have come through in the middle of the night that you don't know about?" he asks the handful of followers he was able to muster at the time.
In "Wetback: The Undocumented Documentary," which chronicles two Nicaraguan immigrants as they make their way north, Simcox paws through belongings left behind in the desert. "Tuna, marmalade, garlic," he says as he empties out a backpack. "It's disgusting."
Simcox gets more screen time in "Walking the Line," which focuses on the border vigilantes of Arizona's Cochise County. "We have to use this land appropriately, which means we have to be hiking or bird watching," he says with a smirk as he climbs out of his pickup and straps on a bulletproof vest. "I've got my bird-watching manual right here and today I'm looking for the common loon."
Simcox's hair is long and unkempt; his beard has several days' growth. This Simcox looks more like Shaggy from "Scooby-Doo" than the clean-cut darling of the anti-immigration movement he turned into less than a year later.
"They're not starving, I'll tell you that. I have never come across a starving person," he tells the camera, the stub of a cigar clutched between his fingers.
Later in the film, as the desert sky has faded from grey to pitch black, we see Simcox lording it over a large group of captured migrants, giddy with excitement. As the group, seated uncomfortably on the desert floor, cowers from the cameras and flashlights, Simcox goads them in a feigned Mexican accent.
"See, I told you! No mas! Vigilantes get you, man!"
He clenches his cigar firmly between his teeth and aims a digital camera at the group. "Aw, don't be shy guys," he tells them, his voice dripping with sarcasm as he snaps their picture. "You'll be in my newspaper this week!"
Of the four documentaries that feature Simcox, "Crossing Arizona" offers the most comprehensive treatment of the immigration debate. Selected for the Sundance Film Festival, "Crossing Arizona" also best captured Simcox in the midst of his transition from a frustrated extremist to a media darling.
Near the beginning of the film, Simcox walks the streets of Tombstone, and describes himself humbly. "I'm a former school teacher who cashed in my retirement plan and bought this broken-down, hometown newspaper." Patrolling unsuccessfully in the desert, he's frank with the filmmakers. "It takes a lot of restraint for Americans not to sit out here with guns, you know. I'm fearful of what might happen when the next attack comes," he says. The sky darkens and so does his mood. "These people are coming and just spitting on our citizenship, just trampling it."
But when the Minuteman Project begins, Simcox visibly changes. Finding television cameras -- not collaring invading Mexicans -- becomes his top priority.
Clad in a white, collarless shirt, hair trimmed and clean-shaven, Simcox checks in at his newspaper office. The news is good. "NBC Nightly news wants my quotes for the news tonight? Hey, yeah!" he says, laughing gleefully. "In your face, Mr. Bush!"
A man's voice off camera asks him how to handle media calls for comment.
"The big boys," Simcox instructs him. Major networks only. "We're going for the masses now."