WASHINGTON – Editor's Note: The following is the second article in a two-part series on the Minuteman organizations, their positions and objectives.
The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps and the Minuteman Project evolved from the same origins, but have veered in different directions since their leaders first joined forces early last year.
Among the similarities, however, is their disgust for elected officials who refuse to enforce existing immigration laws.
"If our federal government is not going to respond, there's a real movement to tell Democrats and Republicans that we're not going to sit back and take it," said Chris Simcox, founder of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps.
"It's not political to want border security," he added. "We must demand our elected officials uphold the law."
"I don't trust either major party," said Minuteman Project leader Jim Gilchrist, adding that President Bush has disappointed millions of Americans. "It's so obvious he has no intention to preserve the sovereignty of the U.S. or protect us from criminals."
Simcox and Gilchrist are working together and separately on the issue of immigration through their respective groups, which they formed after a monthlong, 24-hour-a-day border watch in April 2005 in Palominas, Ariz. Palominas is the town where a privately owned fence is now being built to prevent border crossers from getting into the United States.
MCDC spokeswoman Connie Hair said her group decided to break ground last Saturday because it didn't want to sit around and wait any longer for the U.S. Congress to sort out its differences on immigration reform and get serious on border security.
"It's overwhelmingly a national security issue," Hair said, calling the flow of immigrants "a human tsunami over the border."
The two Minuteman groups are made up of grandparents, children, World War II veterans, pilots, accountants, doctors, teachers, cab drivers, former military, law enforcement, and border patrol, the planners said.
Those are the same people who are not only disappointed in lawmakers for not doing enough to secure the border, but are troubled that Bush supports a guest worker plan and has failed to protect the borders while at the same time complaining about a threat from terrorists, they said.
"The president could secure that border in six weeks" if he were committed, Simcox said. "Nobody connects the dots."
"We were against building a wall on the border until ... the president gave his sorry speech" earlier this year urging the Senate to pass an immigration reform plan that is weak on border security, Gilchrist said.
Nations Exporting Domestic Problems?
Congressional sources frequently cite the number of illegal immigrants at 11 million to 12 million. Simcox puts the number of illegals in the country at 20 million. Gilchrist says it's more like 30 million.
What the two men do agree on is the need to shore up the border by supporting Border Patrol, which they say is woefully underfunded and short-staffed.
Leah Yoon, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Patrol agency, said the Border Patrol has no qualms with the intentions of Americans who want border security, but is concerned that volunteer efforts at the border could do more harm than good.
"Securing the border is a dangerous task meant for highly trained law enforcement agents — Border Patrol — who are equipped to perform official duties of federal law enforcement officials. Well-intentioned individuals in an unforgiving terrain mixed with a volatile border environment can become counter productive to securing our nation's borders," Yoon's agency offered in a written statement.
But the leaders say lax border control results in a bevy of problems, including terrorism, tax evasion and a strain on government services. On top of that, drug cartels are basically operating unimpeded along the southern U.S. border, said Gilchrist.
Gilchrist said he hopes the next private monthlong border patrol operation by Minuteman volunteers this October will be outside of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, across the Rio Grande River from Laredo, Texas. Nuevo Laredo is the town of about 300,000 residents where 11 police officers have been murdered this year, bringing the total since Jan. 1 to 116 people slain there.
"It's just a stone's throw across our border and that corruption is seeping in," he said, adding he wants to go after criminal cartels to "expose cartels down there for the murdering savages that they are."
Hair said that tacit endorsement by the Mexican government has contributed to the influx of illegals hopping the border. She alleged that MCDC volunteers have been fired upon by people dressed as Mexican military and paramilitary who are guarding drug shipments. She said the Mexican government is lax at enforcing its own drug laws because it has "billions, with a 'B,' dollars at stake. It's corruption."
She also charged the U.S. government with telling the Mexican foreign ministry the locations of MCDC volunteers along the border, a claim vehemently denied by officials at the Department of Homeland Security.
"Border Patrol does not report activity by civilian, non-law enforcement groups to the government of Mexico. During a detention of a legal or illegal immigrant that produces an allegation of improper treatment, Border Patrol reports the allegation and allows the appropriate consulate to interview the individual in custody. This is consistent with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963. ... U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Border Patrol continues to appreciate the efforts of civilians who contact law enforcement authorities regarding suspicious activity," said the agency in a written statement.
Separately, Yoon noted that Border Patrol agents wouldn't jeopardize members of the communities they are protecting.
"There is a relationship between the Border Patrol and border communities all along the southern border. They share the same communities ... go to the same churches, their kids go to the same schools so nobody wants to be adversarial with each other," she said.
Tim Bueler, spokesman for the Minuteman Project, said the Mexican government is complicit in illegal immigration by offering Matricula Consular cards, IDs given to illegals that are accepted by financial institutions as proof of identification and allow illegal immigrants access to U.S. financial services.
Hair said stopping the flow of illegal immigrants would end the $50 billion annually in remittances by illegals in the United States to families at home, and that would also require countries to get serious about their own economies.
"It's a way to subsidize their poor at home. They slough them off for our taxpayers to subsidize," she said.
On a more philosophical note, Gilchrist argued the immigration problem exists because everyone wants a piece of the American dream, and other nations aren't doing enough to create their own.
"Create an American dream in Mexico and call it a Mexican dream," he said, for instance, or one in Vietnam and call it a Vietnamese dream.
No Help From Capitol Hill?
Hair said the MCDC has gotten zero response from lawmakers to invitations to come to the southern border and investigate the situation themselves, though some lawmakers, like Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, and Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., have been responsive and sympathetic to their grassroots brigade.
Representatives of both MCDC and the Minuteman Project say the guest worker program passed by the Senate, called "amnesty" by opponents, will only encourage more illegals to come to the United States.
"Since these guys on the East Coast, these senators started talking of amnesty, traffic across the river has increased at least threefold, maybe fivefold," said Michael Vickers, a veterinarian and director of the Texas Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. Vickers owns a property close to the Rio Grande as well as two other ranches farther north. He said he sees dozens of illegals pass through his properties each week.
"Thirty million illegal aliens are occupying [the United States]. Amnesty will invite another 120 [million] to 150 million," Gilchrist said. Using those numbers, "by 2025, more illegal aliens will be occupying U.S. territories than we will have legal voters."
"First we shore up the dyke and the levee and then we figure out what to do with 20 million people," Simcox said, adding, "We understand that a temporary worker program is a reality."
"If we enforce the laws that are already on the books, most people would self-deport. ... If we can stop the bleeding, then we can see who we've got. We've never been against immigrants. Just sign the guest book," Hair added.
Turning to the Electoral Approach
What's certain is that electoral politics is one area both groups are watching. Gilchrist said in its effort to get lawmakers to understand the cries of Americans demanding more border security, the Minuteman Project must also go after "delusional mayors" who are "afflicted with political correctness."
George Taplin, head of the Virginia Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, said he is fortified by the outcomes of recent elections.
The loss by Rep. Tom Osborne in the race to become Nebraska's Republican gubernatorial nominee is just one example of how voters are not going to abide candidates perceived as soft on immigration, Taplin said. Osborne, the supremely popular former University of Nebraska football coach, was painted as the moderate in the Republican primary against Gov. Dave Heineman.
Last month, the mayor and all but one of the six-person Herndon City Council in Herndon, Va., were voted out of office for their support of a taxpayer-funded day laborer site for illegals. Taplin said he formed the Herndon Minutemen to organize voters for the purge. His success was noted in 1,200 e-mails that he received, many from out of state, congratulating him for the turnout.
"We did it in Herndon and we can do it all over the country," he said.
Vickers said he will be a delegate from Brooks County at the Texas Republican Convention this Saturday in San Antonio. He said traveling across the state, he has noticed his position and that of the MCDC is "becoming bigger and stronger every day."
"I am pushing for a strong border control situation as part of the platform. I think it's already in the cards," he said.
Simcox said he supports referenda and initiatives like Arizona's Proposition 200, which requires every person to show proof of citizenship to register to vote and photo ID at the polls. Passed by voters in November 2004 and approved by a federal court in August 2005, it also demands proof of eligibility for non-federally mandated public benefits. Last week, a new coalition of opponents sued to stop the initiative from being implemented before Arizona's Sept. 12 primary.
Simcox also charged Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano with being "in office because of voter fraud," the byproduct of a lax immigration policy.
"Voter fraud with illegals is rampant. The pandering for votes is going to end," Simcox said.
Pati Urias, a spokeswoman for Napolitano, said the Minuteman groups would be more successful with border security if they "left the work to trained law enforcement."
About criticism of the governor, she added: "They're entitled to their opinion. The First Amendment allows them to express their opinions in whichever way they" feel is best for them.
Simcox said he would support Don Goldwater, the son of 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, for governor because Goldwater has pledged, among other things, to deploy every National Guard in Arizona state to the border.
"We need a governor who will stand up to the federal government ... in the name of national security," Simcox said.
Goldwater said he has not had the opportunity to sit down with either Minuteman group to discuss any possible coordination, but he applauds "anyone out there trying to get the message across to Congress. ... Anyone who can bring the message in a well-presented forum is welcome."
As for national politics, high on the target list are senators who the Minutemen say have sold away the country. Simcox said atop that list is Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain.
McCain is "bad news for our country ... We're going to do our best to keep John McCain out of New Hampshire," he said, referring to McCain's possible 2008 presidential ambitions.
McCain's office did not return calls for comment.
Gilchrist called McCain a "traitor" and said he could name only a few in Congress whom he would personally support — Tancredo and Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin in the House; Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Jon Kyl of Arizona and Trent Lott of Mississippi. All are Republicans.
"These three senators are about the only three patriots in the U.S. Senate," Gilchrist said.
Gilchrist said only about 25 percent of Republicans are on the same page as him, and even fewer Democrats. In fact, only one — Suffolk County, N.Y., County Executive Steve Levy — came to mind.
Because the two Minuteman groups are pending 501(c)4 tax-exempt groups, neither can endorse any candidates, though the Minuteman Project is setting up a 527 campaign organization and the Minuteman Conservative Political Action Committee, which can make donations to like-minded candidates.
Gilchrist said he would personally endorse any candidate if he or she can "prove to me an irrefutable record" on trying to stop the flow of illegals entering the country.
"Tom Tancredo is the only incumbent with an ongoing endorsement," Gilchrist said.
All the Minutemen agree that the momentum is growing toward a third party who will address the illegal immigration issue in a way that they say makes sense to a majority of Americans. Gilchrist himself ran as an independent to replace Rep. Chris Cox in California last summer. He won 26 percent of the vote.
"If I had $250,000 to $300,000 more and another month, I would've won," he said.
Gilchrist said he hopes a grassroots political group will emerge as a major political competitor to both Republicans and Democrats.
"At the ballot box, they're going to hear from us. 26.5 percent of the vote for Jim Gilchrist. That's unheard of. We're going to look for candidates to challenge the status quo," Simcox said.
Asked if he would consider a run for president, Gilchrist said that people have brought that idea to him before "but I'm not making any comment."
He did warn, however, that the political parties better start paying attention now.
"By 2008, there's a feeling out there that for the first time in over 100 years that a party other than Republicans or Democrats is going to occupy the White House," Gilchrist said.