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Armed Civilians Converge Upon Mexican Border

They call themselves patriots, but critics call them everything from gun-toting rednecks to racists.

Hundreds of people were converging on Arizona's Mexican border Friday to ready for a month-long campaign to urge federal lawmakers to do more to stem illegal immigration (search).

The events have been organized by the Minuteman Project (search), a group that organizes volunteer civilian patrols on the Arizona/Mexico border to report illegal immigrant crossings to the U.S. Border Patrol (search).

Participants on Friday were rallying in Tombstone, Ariz., and taking part in an orientation.

Rallies and protests were planned throughout the weekend to call for stricter border enforcement.

About 1,200 people, mainly from the Southwest, were expected to attend events including stationing people along the border 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the next 30 days in a type of massive neighborhood-watch program.

The protesters say they're fed up with Washington's inability and/or reluctance to clamp down on illegal immigration, and they're upset with Mexico for encouraging its citizens to break U.S. laws and exporting its unemployment problems.

Polls show that upward of 90 percent of Americans favor a clampdown, but the project is controversial nonetheless. Minuteman volunteers consider themselves patriots, much like the minutemen during the American Revolution.

President Bush, during a recent meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox (search), denounced such "vigilantes."

"I'm against vigilantes in the United States of America and for enforcing law in a rational way," Bush said.

Armando Navarro, a University of California-Riverside political science professor and coordinator of the National Alliance for Human Rights (search), made up mostly of Hispanic activists, had some harsher words for the Minutemen.

"They have advertised nationally for volunteers to come in and enjoy the climate in the hunt against Mexicans. Literally, that's the language that they have used to promote their nativist, racist politics," Navarro charged.

But James Gilchrist, founder of the Minuteman Project, said he's no racist.

"My son is Mexican. My grandson is Mexican. I've never been affiliated with any racist type of group," he said. "We're not going down there to hunt Mexicans, we're going down there to bring national awareness to the fact we have porous borders that are grossly unprotected."

Click on the video box above for a complete report by FOX News' William LaJeunesse.