The Minuteman Project -- the controversial civilian patrol that came to prominence a decade ago -- is riding out of retirement in a bid to help tackle the illegal immigration crisis at the Mexico border.
The group, which patrolled parts of the 2,000-mile border from 2005-2010, acting as unarmed and unsanctioned eyes and ears of the Border Patrol, is trying to recruit a force of thousands to help keep illegal immigrants from making their way into the United States from Mexico. Minutemen founder and president Jim Gilchrist said preparation for "Operation Normandy" will take place over the next 10 months as the dormant group seeks to recruit and organize as many as 3,500 volunteers.
“We are coming because we no longer trust that this government knows how to handle this issue,” Gilchrist told FoxNews.com. “This is going to dwarf the original Minuteman Project and I expect a number of militia groups to join.”
"This problem is not going away and if the government cannot take care of it and protect us, then clearly it’s our duty and obligation to do it for them."
- Jim Gilchrist, founder and president, The Minuteman Project
The Minuteman Project gained national traction in 2005, but internal turmoil, accusations of vigilantism and criminal charges against some of its key figures, including a former leader of the movement, Chris Simcox, led to its demise. Gilchrist said the group’s last significant border operation was conducted in July 2010, roughly one year after the high-profile robbery and murder of Border Patrol Agent Robert Rosas, Jr., who was fatally shot during a struggle for his night vision device on the international border near Campo, Calif.
Gilchrist accused the Obama administration of not taking illegal immigration seriously, noting the nearly 60,000 unaccompanied children, mostly from Central America, have been apprehended along the border since Oct. 1. Separately, more than 39,000 immigrants, primarily mothers and children, have also been arrested in that same period.
The massive influx has come despite a doubling to more than 21,000 in the number of Border Patrol agents over the past decade. Gilchrist said the increase is welcomed, but faulted the agency for deploying the new hires in the wrong places.
“I commend Obama for that, but that’s all he’s done,” Gilchrist said, referencing the increase in Border Patrol agents. “This problem is not going away, and if the government cannot take care of it and protect us, then clearly it’s our duty and obligation to do it for them.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials told FoxNews.com they do “not endorse or support” any private group or organization from taking matters into their own hands along the border since it could lead to disastrous personal and public safety consequences.
“CBP appreciates the efforts of concerned citizens as they act as our eyes and ears,” the statement continued. “CBP strongly encourages concerned citizens to call the U.S. Border Patrol and/or local law enforcement authorities if they witness or suspect illegal activity.”
Intercepting narcotics or apprehending those entering the United States illegally requires highly-trained law enforcement personnel who undergo 17 weeks of specialized training, the statement continued.
The planned resurgence of the Minuteman Project comes amid more confrontational calls to action along the Southwest border in the form of several loosely-organized anti-government groups recruiting would-be armed border watchers for patrols. Gilchrist insisted his group will obey all state and federal laws during their patrols.
“The one rule of Operation Normandy: Stay within the rule of law,” he said. “Whatever you do, stay within the rule of law.”
But Gilchrist distanced himself from Chris Davis, a 37-year-old Texas truck driver and leader of a militia group that had promised to deploy along the border to confront and intimidate illegal immigrants. Davis, who posted a 21-minute YouTube video last week, has since removed the clip in which he reportedly said: “You see an illegal. You point your gun dead at him, right between his eyes, and you say, ‘Get back across the border or you will be shot.’”
Davis, who could not be reached for comment, told the Los Angeles Times his group aimed to supplement law enforcement officers with its “Operation Secure Our Border,” focusing on the Laredo sector, which encompasses 116 counties and covers 101,439 square miles of southwest and northeast Texas, including Brooks and Hidalgo counties, the epicenter of the current immigrant influx.
“There’s nothing malicious, there’s no malicious intent — every person is vetted,” Davis told the newspaper. “We’re just here to serve freedom, liberty and national sovereignty.”
Hidalgo County Sheriff J.E. Guerra, who did not return calls seeking comment, told the McAllen Monitor that the self-appointed militiamen were not needed in the region.
“We don’t need their services on our border,” Guerra told the newspaper. “If we ever did, I’m sure we have enough good people in Hidalgo County that I call up.”
Calls seeking comment from Brooks County Sheriff Rey Rodriguez were not returned.
Glenn Spencer, founder of American Border Patrol, a watchdog group that surveys the border by air, said anyone headed to the area shouldn’t expect much action.
“The likelihood of seeing anyone is actually low,” Spencer told FoxNews.com following a recent flight from his ranch in Hereford, Ariz., to McAllen, Texas. “The people who you’re trying to see don’t want to be seen. It’s almost impossible to expect to encounter someone; you have 20 seconds to see somebody.”
Spencer and Gilchrist both acknowledged that self-styled commandos like Davis can do the anti-illegal immigration movement more harm than good, potentially leading to a dangerous, violent atmosphere.
“When you work with volunteers, it’s like herding cats — you never know what they’re going to do,” Spencer said. “But sometimes it draws attention to the situation. But when you get people who are undisciplined down there, it can turn ugly very quickly.”
Gilchrist said his group, which numbered about 1,250 at its peak, did not carry guns in their previous incarnation and won't this time, either.
"These are human beings; they’re not a physical threat to us," Gilchrist said of the illegal immigrants. "I disagree with [Davis’] approach, but as a free American, he can do whatever he wants to do so long as it’s within the rule of the law.”
Gilchrist continued: “I think [Davis’] intentions are good, it just sounds like he’s frustrated. But I hope we get 100 militias down there, as well as 100,000 Americans because the goal is to bring the message to Congress. They just don’t get it. Enforce the damn laws.”