By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
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By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
|Photo by Michael Hyatt|
Border Vigilantes Mobilize for April
Fromhisself-styledcommandpostin the upscale Orange County settlement of Aliso Viejo, James Gilchrist claims his plan to deploy 1,000 volunteers to block the border next week has now reached waiting-list proportions. His Minuteman Project will send the volunteers to a 20-mile stretch of the Arizona border — including the area just north of Altar — to carry out the job he says the feds won’t do: sealing off the border.
His critics and opponents — some of whom are planning counterdemonstrations — call Gilchrist and his Minutemen nothing but vigilantes. Gilchrist, a 56-year-old retired CPA and former Vietnam vet, fancies his movement in much more gentle terms. “We are using something similar to the Martin Luther King philosophy, where you bring your case to the public peacefully,” Gilchrist said. “You don’t go around wrecking people’s property . . . You do it peacefully and consistently.”
Some of Gilchrist’s volunteers, however, say they will be carrying firearms (albeit legally), and certainly the group styles itself as a civilian militia. For months now, Gilchrist has been using the right side of the blogosphere to solicit applications from those who wish to participate in his monthlong exercise of frontier justice. He originally called for a force of 500, and now says more than 900 are ready to go.
Humanitarian activists originally scoffed at Gilchrist’s projected numbers, noting that in the past handful of years, similar calls to mobilize militia types along the border have failed. But the political atmosphere surrounding the border issue in the Southwest, particularly in Arizona, may be playing in the Minutemen’s favor. As undocumented immigrants place huge financial pressure on public institutions from hospitals to schools, and with the federal government refusing to fully rebate the costs, xenophobic attitudes are once again on the rise. Last November, Arizona voters passed, by an overwhelming margin, Proposition 200, which requires that state agencies demand proof of legal residence before providing services. Some analysts were surprised to find that nearly 45 percent of Latino voters approved the measure, a sign of just how deep the anti-immigrant current runs.
Several states are now considering copycat measures.
The Arizona courts have very narrowly interpreted the new law, and its application has had little real effect. This has only further spurred the vigilante mobilization. “We are American citizens who want to freely assemble under the First Amendment to express our displeasure with federal, state and local appointees who have been charged with enforcing U.S. immigration laws and have left us wide-open for another terrorist attack,” Gilchrist says.
For the last decade, southern Arizona has been an incubator of several Minuteman-like militias. In the late ’90s, local ranchers Douglas and Roger Barnett drew national publicity when they armed themselves and started detaining illegal border crossers. The picturesque town of Tombstone has become the staging area for much of this activity. Its local paper, the TombstoneTumbleweed,is run by Chris Simcox, another one of the principal organizers of the Minuteman Project.
While the Arizona border has become the ground-level flashpoint, much of the anti-immigrant militia’s leadership curiously has come from Southern California. Not only Gilchrist, but also Simcox — a former teacher — is a refugee from Orange County. Glenn Spencer, another leader of the movement (who has been deploying his own unmanned aerial-surveillance drone along the border), was a loud Los Angeles voice in last decade’s fight over Proposition 187.
Mexican government authorities, including President Vicente Fox, have forcefully let the Bush administration know of their displeasure around next week’s coming border demonstration. And the U.S. Border Patrol, which has shown a relatively lax position on the militias, is now voicing its own set of concerns. Michael Nicely, the head of the patrol’s Tucson sector, calls the militia mobilization a “recipe for a tragedy.”
“They were recruiting by saying, ‘Let’s go help the Border Patrol,’ and I think some people could be sucked in, not knowing that that’s not the kind of help the Border Patrol is asking for,” he added.
Gilchrist is not deterred. He says that even those late applicants he’s putting on his registration “waiting list” should still feel free to come down to Tombstone and stand for America.