Jim Gilchrist, the California-based cofounder of the nativist border watch group the Minuteman Project, was last in the news back in 2009, when one of his associates was arrested by the FBI for murdering a 9-year-old girl and her father in their Arizona home. But he’s bidding to make headlines again by reawakening the Minutemen around the growing controversy over the child refugee crisis at the border.
In an interview last week with the right-wing cable channel One America News Network (OANN), Gilchrist announced that he was considering restarting his moribund organization:
GILCHRIST: I have been toying with this idea for several years. I personally would like to organize another major massive assembly of Minute-men and –women along the entire border – not just Arizona this time, but the entire 2,000-mile border from San Diego, California, to Brownsville, Texas. I would need 3,500 volunteers to spend thirty days in certain areas of the unprotected border areas along that 2,000-mile-long border. It takes 10 months – it would take me until next May to organize such a huge effort.
And Gilchrist was casting about for support on the Minuteman Project website as well:
1. Should the Minuteman Project again call up volunteers to establish observation outpost positions on the U.S. - Mexico border from San Diego, Ca. to Brownsville, Texas?
2. Would you volunteer to spend up to 30 days of your time staffing an observation outpost on the border?
Gilchrist’s tendency toward delusional grandiosity was on display in the OANN interview, when he veered into a comparison between organizing a month-long Minuteman protest to the Normandy invasion on D-Day:
GILCHRIST: For example, Normandy was not thought about and organized overnight. It took two years to organize and create the logistics and the ability for the Allied Powers in World War II to actually land at Normandy. Of course, this is not Normandy that I’m talking about, but it is an endeavor that’s just as full of tedium, day after day, logistics that have to be covered. I need lawyers, I need captains, I need personnel, I need law-enforcement liaisons, I need airwaves – Ham radio operators, I need about 300 of those. So on and so forth.
It’s not like you just say, well, ‘We’re the Minutemen and we’re coming to the border, and we’re gonna save the day and we’re gonna do it tomorrow.’ It doesn’t happen that way.
It seems to have escaped Gilchrist’s notice somehow that the original Minutemen of the American Revolutionary War from whom his group took its name were noted for their ability to respond to situations at a moment’s notice (thus their name). But that is among the lesser obstacles to a revival of the Minutemen by Gilchrist.
The most chilling aspect of the possible involvement of the Minutemen in the increasingly tense fight over how U.S. immigration officials handle the humanitarian crisis at the border involving large numbers of Central American children – who, under laws passed in 2002, cannot be immediately deported but must undergo complex hearings to determine if they warrant asylum – lies in their established track record. That record includes the cold-blooded murder of a Latina girl in Arizona.
Despite Gilchrist’s longstanding claims of “success” for the vigilante border watch group he cofounded with Arizonan Chris Simcox in April 2005, the entire effort splintered apart and both Gilchrist and Simcox fell under the shadow of claims of mismanagement and misappropriation of funds.
Even more significantly, the border watch movement became a major magnet for some of the most vicious and violent elements of the far right, including neo-Nazis and various white supremacists who participated in the initial April 2005 effort in Arizona.
Gilchrist is clearly cognizant of this problem, because he brought it up, and attempted to address it, in the OANN interview:
GILCHRIST: In all fairness, there is that two percent whacko rate that everybody has in the activist organizations, and they have to be vetted out. About two percent of the people will be bit strange and probably should be staying home.
We had that issue in the Minutemen assembly of 2005, and we handled it very well. No one was arrested, no one drew a weapon on anyone, there were no fights. It was very, very successful.
In reality, as David Holthouse reported for the Southern Poverty Law Center at the time, Gilchrist appeared on-camera at the Arizona gathering with a group of men who were avowed neo-Nazis without apparently realizing it – and proceeded to lecture the reporters about how their efforts were the modern equivalent to Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights campaigns.
While both of the Minutemen organizations that emerged from the Simcox-Gilchrist split claimed in the ensuing years that they performed extensive background checks on all their officers and members in an effort to “weed out” the criminals, the reality was that the organization was plagued by criminality, culminating with the criminal rampage of Jim Gilchrist’s associate, Shawna Forde.
Forde – a onetime hairdresser and Boeing worker from Everett, Wash., who first became involved in the Minutemen during their short-lived effort to organize citizen watches on the Canadian border in an attempt to rebut accusations of racism for concentrating on the Mexico border – became the symbol of everything wrong with the border watch movement when she and a team of men invaded the home of a marijuana smuggler in the remote border town of Arivaca, Ariz., in the early morning hours of May 30, 2009.
Her team included Jason Eugene Bush, a white supremacist serial killer who had fooled his colleagues into believing he was an experienced combat veteran. Bush acted as Forde’s gunman and shot Raul “Junior” Flores, his wife, Gina Gonzalez, and their 9-year-old daughter, Brisenia Flores, as she pleaded for her life. Gonzalez survived her wounds, pretending to be dead, and eventually drove the invaders from her home in a fusillade of exchanged gunfire. Forde and two of her cohorts – including Bush and a local man named Albert Gaxiola, who had organized the “hit” – were arrested, tried, and convicted. Forde and Bush both are on Arizona’s Death Row.
Both Simcox and Gilchrist immediately tried to distance themselves from any association with Forde, and were largely successful in doing so in much of the mainstream press, including Fox News. However, as my investigation of the matter revealed, both men had extensive dealings with her at various times.
While it was Simcox who first promoted and empowered Forde at the state level, it was Gilchrist who most ardently adopted her when she formed her own border watch outfit, calling it Minuteman American Defense (MAD). After Forde sponsored two Gilchrist appearances in Washington state, she moved her operations to Arizona, and Gilchrist’s website began trumpeting Forde’s activities – in fact, he essentially outsourced all of his border watch activities to her, and anyone who approached the Minuteman Project asking where to go to stand guard at the border was referred to Forde. (Forde herself has hinted that it was Gilchrist who connected her with Jason Bush.)
Even after Forde committed the murders, she remained in contact with Gilchrist. On the day she was finally arrested nearly two weeks later, outside the ranch owned by another nativist extremist leader, Glenn Spencer, she had just finished firing off an email to Jim Gilchrist using Spencer’s computer.
Even though the Minutemen remained a leading name among nativist extremist groups for several years afterward, the steam quickly left the movement and most organizations stopped using the “Minuteman” moniker out of fear of being associated with Forde and her antics. In a fitting denouement, Chris Simcox was arrested last year and currently awaits trial on multiple charges of child molestation.
In the meantime, with a fresh border crisis to exploit, Jim Gilchrist is clearly hoping that everyone will have forgotten all this, and he will be able to return to those halcyon days when thousands of angry Americans were sending him checks.
Just as he did a decade ago, Jim Gilchrist is trying to organize a mass movement using conspiracy-minded fears of hordes of invaders at the border and the supposed decline of white America – attitudes that were raw material for violent haters such as Shawna Forde.