After Call to Arms, Nativist Extremist Leader Calls it Quits

A major nativist group known for its armed border patrols is disbanding.

In a Monday E-mail to supporters, Minuteman Civil Defense Corps President Carmen Mercer said the MCDC will no longer exist as an organization, though she encouraged supporters to continue its work independently. “I predict Americans, on their own, will lock, load and do what the feckless cowards in Washington refuse to do — and frankly I hope Americans do take up arms to defend this great nation,” she wrote in the “urgent alert.”

MCDC is an offshoot of the Minuteman Project, a month-long civilian border patrol that was covered extensively by journalists five years ago. (Then-President George W. Bush called the Minutemen “vigilantes” in March 2005.)  In 2009, MCDC had at least 74 chapters in nearly 30 states, making it the biggest of the Minuteman spin-off groups. But MCDC and the larger Minuteman movement have been plagued by infighting, allegations of financial impropriety and civil litigation. In addition, the leader of Minuteman American Defense (MAD) was charged with the May 2009 murder of a 9-year-old Latina girl and her father during a home invasion in Arivaca, Ariz., setting off furious accusations and counter-accusations over who had supported MAD's Shawna Forde over the years.

The announcement of MCDC’s dissolution also followed an E-mail Mercer sent a week earlier, in which she urged supporters to bring their long arms to the border and to “forcefully engage” the “criminals” who try to cross without documentation. Mercer wrote on Monday that she received hundreds of responses to that E-mail, including some that sounded over-enthusiastic. “It was obvious that many had decided to return to the border who had tired of the sometimes futile watch and observe methods. It showed me that people are not willing to be silenced anymore; it also showed me that people will be less likely to follow the rules of engagement in a desperate attempt to stop the criminals who violate our borders every day. That is not what we want and we cannot take the responsibility for this.”

But Mercer contradicted herself when she told the Arizona Daily Star that “people are ready to come locked and loaded, and that’s not what we are all about.” In fact, the Tombstone, Ariz., restaurateur had repeatedly told supporters in the week-earlier E-mail to return to the border “locked and loaded.”  Mercer, a defendant in the Arizona attorney general’s recent lawsuit alleging a property tax scam, would not speak to Hatewatch. “I do not think anything I say would make it truthfully on[to] your blog,” she wrote in an E-mail. “I have followed the attacks of your organization against our organization. I think you would be wasting my time.”

In fact, attacks often came from former supporters within the anti-immigration movement, who heavily criticized MCDC founder and former leader Chris Simcox for failing to complete a promised “Israeli-style” border fence and for allegedly selling out his organization to a shadowy network of professional right-wing fundraisers. In 2007, Simcox fired 18 state, regional and national MCDC leaders because they had raised questions about his financial accountability. Two years later, Simcox quit himself to run unsuccessfully for Congress, leaving Mercer to run MCDC. Since then, other MCDC officials have resigned, including Vice President Al Garza, who said last summer that he was quitting to launch the Patriots Coalition because “the organization [MCDC] is now on a path that I cannot endorse.” This week, the Patriots Coalition announced that it would waive its application fee for Minutemen who joined the group.

Besides liability concerns, Mercer wrote that most of the organization’s leaders had left and would not support the more aggressive tactics outlined in the earlier E-mail. In addition, she said MCDC was having trouble raising money after separating from the Declaration Alliance, a right-wing advocacy group that handled some aspects of MCDC’s operations. The most recent tax forms show that MCDC received just under $209,000 in revenue during 2008, down from nearly $790,000 in 2007.

“I really think the demise of MCDC has very much more to do with the evaporation of the donations,” wrote Border Guardians founder Laine Lawless to a Minuteman E-mail group. “When all the money is gone, the higher-ups leave.”

Although the first Minuteman patrol garnered national headlines, MCDC’s break-up has received little media attention outside Arizona. Jim Campbell, who filed a lawsuit (later dropped) against MCDC after donating $100,000 for the border fence, also blames financial mismanagement for the fall of the organization whose mission he still supports. “In the past two years, the movement has gone so downhill,” the Air Force veteran told Hatewatch. “It almost doesn’t make a story anymore. For all intents and purposes, MCDC has been defunct.”