By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Among Tucson’s activist community there are whispers about possible plans by the sizable local Latino population to stage protest boycotts of the Tohonos’ three gambling casinos.
A couple hours east of the Tohono lands, and just north of the Mexican border, sits the small, colorful settlement of Tombstone, Arizona. A sort of mini-Disneyland for the culturally conservative, the town has reconstructed and nourished its Old West look, appearing almost as a movie set of Dodge City or, well, Tombstone. A faux Boot Hill cemetery and kitschy OK Corral (with hourly gunfighter shows) compete with an authentic 19th-century concert hall and other perfectly preserved clapboard structures for the attention of the mostly elderly tourists who rumble through town in their Winnebagos.
In the last handful of years, Tombstone and the nearby hamlet of Sierra Vista have also become a desert oasis for a motley collection of gun worshipers, bounty hunters, militiamen and border vigilantes. Yet one more unintended consequence of U.S. border strategy.
For if there’s one thing that the right-wing militias, the left-wing immigration activists, the Tohono Indians and local elected officials of all stripes in this part of the world can agree upon, it is that the federal government never gave anyone any warning that a human tidal wave of desperate immigrants was going to be funneled their way. No one should be surprised by bizarre or even violent reactions.
No sooner did thousands of border crossers begin tramping through their cattle fields than some of the local ranchers started organizing and arming themselves. From as far away as Texas and California, in came a handful of professional xenophobes to give political direction and shape to the backlash. Armed anti-immigrant groups like Ranch Rescue and American Patrol started going public by 2000.
After local ranchers Roger and Donald Barnett took a platoon or two of reporters out on their maneuvers, where they would “detain” illegal crossers at gunpoint, a wave of national publicity ensued. The Mexican government protested the vigilante outbreak. The U.S. Border Patrol claimed it did not want or need the groups’ offers of assistance.
But the vigilantes are still here. The notorious Southern California expat xenophobe Glenn Spencer directs his American Patrol from a nearby town. His latest venture is to have gotten two or three unmanned surveillance drones into the sky before the feds have been able to do the same.
In Tombstone itself, the local anti-immigrant comandanteis another expat, 43-year-old Chris Simcox. A pale and wan Midwesterner, Simcox worked in the Los Angeles music industry and as a public-school teacher before coming out here a few years ago to buy and publish the weekly Tombstone Tumbleweed.
He’s also the founder and leader of the local border militia, a volunteer group he calls the Civil Homeland Defense, and he is currently facing a series of gun-related criminal charges.
But Simcox is undaunted. “We have no choice to do what we do, because we have hammered on our local officials and they have ignored us,” he says to a gathering in the ornate town meeting hall. After qualifying for a concealed-weapons permit, and after buying such a weapon, one can join in the militia maneuvers.
“We set up perimeters on well-known trails, on federal land, state land,” Simcox says in explaining a typical weekend operation. “We take up the high points, and when we see a group of illegal aliens we contact the Border Patrol. We approach the group humanely and ask them who they are. You know, ‘¿Hola, como estás?’ . . . It’s my duty as an American to challenge these people.”
While Simcox struggles to give a kinder, gentler face to his operations, preferring to call his group a “neighborhood watch,” expressing compassion for the individual crossers and roundly condemning any suggestion of violence, the more noxious aspects are never far from view.
Indeed, they scream right to the fore after he introduces one of his prime partners, 50-something Kathy Harvey. Dressed in a polyester blue suit, adorned with a red-white-and-blue scarf, Harvey shows off a pasteboard collage of Mexican airline and bus tickets, driver’s licenses, personal letters, photos, and ID cards she and others have recovered from what she calls “trash lay-ups” — areas where border crossers camp during their trek.
Harvey readily subscribes to the crackpot theories put forward by Glenn Spencer and other ideologues that the grand influx of immigrants owes nothing to economic imbalances but is rather evidence of a grand plan by Mexico and Mexicans to stage the “Reconquista” — the re-conquest of the Southwest and its conversion into a Mexican-ruled state of Aztlán.
“My theory,” she says, “is there is a well-organized plan that actively recruits these people from all over Mexico, right down to Mexico City.”
Simcox butts in for a moment to reinforce the point. “These are notpoor migrant workers,” he says. “Not if they spent $1,200 just to get to the border.”
Harvey continues spinning out her Reconquista theory, now indicting American religious activists like Humane Borders’ Hoover for their alleged complicity. “Just go see about any flight coming in from Mexico,” she says. “Right there you see a man of the cloth who is standing there ready to hand out tickets to go on to Chicago and whatever cities.”