The Minuteman Project
|April 29, 2005||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Activists or Deluded Sportsmen?
Goods and monetary assets can cross international boundaries, and so can wealthy white people, but when certain other human beings try it, this appears to get some folks stoked into a white-hot fury. Rational or irrational? What’s the real reason behind self-appointed vigilantes and their claims (and their choice of enemies)?
The Progress Report is pleased to present a guest article by Michael Peterson, who had first-hand experiences among the “Minutemen” in Arizona. We invite the reactions, replies and responses of all our readers.
“The Minuteman Project” Rally of April 16th, 2005
by Michael Peterson
April 16, 2005 — Borderlands of Douglas and Naco, Arizona:
Deep in the borderlands of Arizona, where a well-thrown rock might land and slowly roll into Mexico — you cannot help but imagine yourself in the middle of some great, untouched frontier where only an occasional smattering of gas stations and McDonalds break the illusion of an untouched wilderness for the common traveler. A place of seeming contradiction where the local political discussions revolve around the unstoppable flow of drugs from across the border; but yet, at the same time, you can walk into a local bar and see a dozen beer-soaked cowboys singing along to the hallucinogen-drenched lyrics of “Nights in White Satin.”
I had arrived here in Douglas, Arizona, with the intention of observing the two simultaneous rallies taking place at the nearby Border Patrol stations by a group known as the Minutemen, a group of private citizens who, unimpressed by the efforts of our federally sanctioned Border Patrol, have taken it upon themselves to head out to the desert and spot illegal immigrants that dot the mountainous, and unspeakably dry region.
After an initial disappointment of finding no one present at the Douglas Border Patrol Headquarters, I made my way towards Naco, hoping to find the throngs of flag-waving screamers I had expected in Douglas. It wasn’t long before I spotted the roadside caravan dotted with red, white, and blue flags interlaced with the state flags of Arizona, California, and Texas. Along both sides of the dusty and relatively desolate Naco Highway, were scores of pickup trucks, SUVs, and Border Patrol vehicles parked alongside middle-aged men with homemade signs propped up against their knees, sipping water bottles as they chatted to one another from their lawn chairs.
Wandering around in small groups among their like-minded compatriots, I noticed that everyone was dressed like they had shown up for a hunting and fishing expo: camouflage shirts and pants with matching baseball caps, bright orange shooting glasses, and handguns affixed at their hips — laughing sharply and harshly at some whispered aside.
These were Chris Simcox’s boys: men who had fallen under the romantic vision of frontier justice as espoused by Simcox, a failed kindergarten teacher, and the man who has spearheaded “The Minuteman Project” and has made it his life’s work to, “protect this country against an invasion of Mexican aliens.”
This statement made by Simcox just a few months ago had now been tremendously modified, and conveniently manicured into something more media-savvy, and a mantra about national security seemed to emerge practiced, and homogenized from the lips of every Minuteman I interviewed.
“My personal reason [for joining the Minuteman Project] was national security,” said Chris Lambert, a 26 year old, baby-faced, Tucson resident who had come with his younger brother to spend the weekend off-roading and searching for border-crossers through a pair of shiny, newly-purchased night vision binoculars. He spoke openly about his concerns of people illegally crossing the border, stating, “4 out of 5 of them make it across the border, and if you have a trained terrorist out there, they’re going to make it.” His younger brother, Mike, seemed to watch his older brother as I interviewed him with a certain sense of pride hidden behind his bleary eyes, but seemed more anxious than anything to get back out “on the line,” which is how the Minutemen uniformly referred to the dry, dusty frontier of the Huachuca Mountains, where illegal immigrants cross in their most concentrated numbers during the cooler season in April.
Chris Simcox and his “Minutemen,” have dedicated the entire month of April to the cause of patrolling the border and reporting anyone whom they see by way of short-wave radio to the Border Patrol, and “encouraging” the border-crossers to stay put until the proper authorities arrive. Every Minuteman that I spoke with reiterated time and again that the organization has a “no contact” policy, that ensures that the illegal aliens crossing the border are treated in a humane and indirect way, and that they are never “forced to stop” but instead “encouraged.” They did their best to seem entirely harmless and altruistic in their beliefs, but you don’t have to be an enlightened person to understand that “encouragement” is much more easily accomplished when firearms are present.
This was one of the many points of contention against the Minuteman Project that was cited at a press conference held by the Arizona chapter of the ACLU, which took place in a dilapidated red-brick building in the historical center of Douglas, Arizona, after most of the Minutemen had left the rally to get back “on the line.”
The ACLU had sent two of its national staff members to support the “Legal Observer Project” spearheaded by Stanford Law student Ray Ybarra, who had last month submitted a letter to Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever outlining how the Minuteman Project’s activities constituted unlawful imprisonment by way of intimidation. After Ybarra’s request that Chris Simcox and his cohorts be arrested for violating Arizona laws went unnoticed, Ybarra gathered a team of college students from all over the Southwest to monitor and record the activities of the Minuteman Project by following them through the desert in an effort to curtail any human rights abuses that may occur.
At the press conference, Ybarra was only able to briefly outline his experience monitoring the Minuteman Project over the past fifteen days, but promised a more in-depth description at a later date, when all the facts were available.
Professor Michele Landis Dauber, one of Ybarra’s Stanford mentors, attributed the rise of the Minuteman Project to a failure of local law enforcement to enforce the laws and protect Latinos, citizens, and immigrants against the lawless conduct of vigilantes. She went on to explain that in any other location, and in any other context — that the activities of a group like the Minutemen would be easily identified as illegal vigilantism, and summarily stopped, but Dauber stated that because here in the desert, and looking out over the scene, we think it’s cowboys and Indians, the wild west, and that anything goes — but, in fact, this is the United States of America, and the constitution applies in Douglas, just like it applies anywhere else.
All of this legal-speak was far removed from the conversations I had with many Minuteman Project supporters, who had arrived from all over the country not to actually partake in the immigrant hunting of their compatriots, but merely to wave flags, and talk to the other grassroots conservatives who arrived to show moral support for Chris Simcox and his band of perturbed citizens. As the Minutemen steadily left the rally throughout the course of the afternoon, the shoulders of the highway were still littered with dozens of retired old men in Hawaiian shirts and straw hats, who all seemed to characterize themselves as regular guys and ordinary citizens. Unlike the tight-lipped Minutemen, these individuals wavered from topics as diverse as social security (they were all sure it was dead,) to far stranger areas of interest — like how the local environmentalists had all ganged up on one Texas resident, who felt he should be allowed to set his poop on fire instead of using a standard septic tank: a process he described at great length.
I couldn’t help but like these guys a little, they were, after all, regular guys who would dream up fantastic technological innovations that would surely protect our fragile border: they discussed at great lengths a satellite that could shoot laser beams at border-crossers, or wires that would run underneath the entire length of the border and electrocute anyone who stepped over without the proper clearance.
Although I couldn’t bring myself to agree with their politics, these lawn-chair philosophers seemed much more harmless than the gun-toting Minutemen, who wandered around sneering at reporters before excitedly making their way out into the wild Arizona desert to round up illegal immigrants.
Earlier in the day, one of the Minutemen who refused to give his name (paranoia was in no short supply out here,) made the comment that I’d rather be home with my wife and son, and I wish I didn’t have to be out here doing a job that doesn’t get done. You cannot quote a sly smile, but one was evidenced here, and I couldn’t help but detect a certain glee that existed among the Minutemen, and it suddenly became clear that all of this seemed like some contrived outdoor sporting event veiled in the guise of political consciousness. These guys were just bored, and hunting season was still many long months away, and the Minuteman Project seemed a nice way to get out into the beautiful wilderness that surrounded them. To them, this project was some romantic journey that would align them with Wild West heroes like Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, and give them an excuse to get away from the wife and kids for a few weekends.
These men seem to find a camaraderie amongst one another, which is an increasing rarity in American life today — and the Minuteman Project gives them an opportunity to be social, active people who are readily accepted and appreciated. All of this makes me think that these men wouldn’t find themselves out in the middle of the desert if there was some kind of Boy Scouts for older, angry, white men out there — ready to provide them with a satellite that would shoot down their insecurities about themselves, immigrants, and minorities with a precision-guided laser beam.
Michael Peterson is a freelance journalist and recent graduate from Arizona State University.
Can a Human Being Be Illegal?
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