Longform

Chris Simcox's Life Arc Mirrors the Nativist Movement's Demise

Chris Simcox cleans up well. Long ago, he ditched his scraggly redneck look — worn jeans, American-flag baseball cap, unshaven face (sometimes with half a cigar in his mouth), a pistol tucked down the front of his pants — for business attire (or at least a clean, collared shirt).

On a sunny day in April 2009, dressed sharply in a gray suit with a starched, white collar and a gold silk tie, lapel sporting an American-flag pin, there was something boyish about him, despite the mustache, the new glasses, and the fact that he'd turned 48 the previous November.

If you knew nothing about Simcox's past or the reactionary, anti-immigrant minuteman movement he became identified with, you might have found him appealing. Particularly, as he faced a scrum of reporters on the lawn of the Arizona House to announce his bid to run in the Republican primary against U.S. Senator John McCain.

"I'm not a politician; that's pretty darn clear, I think," Simcox explained, family and supporters standing behind him. "We're activists, grassroots activists, and we're not at all satisfied with the representation that we have in Washington, D.C., especially our senior senator."

McCain recently had lost the 2008 presidential election to Barack Obama, and the far-right faction of the Arizona GOP was ready to be rid of him as the 2010 election approached. Viewed by GOP extremists as soft on immigration, McCain seemed vulnerable in a state where the immigration issue dominated political discourse.

And who better to take on McCain than the photogenic co-founder of the Minuteman Project — the citizen militia that became a media sensation in 2005 and catapulted Simcox, a former kindergarten teacher and wannabe actor from Los Angeles, to cable news stardom.

Fox News' Sean Hannity and CNN's Lou Dobbs were Simcox fans, and Simcox had garnered powerful allies, such as Arizona state Senator Russell Pearce, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, County Attorney Andrew Thomas, and Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo.

Sure, there had been dissension within the ranks of Simcox's Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, claims of financial hanky-panky, misused funds, and an "Israeli-style" border fence that morphed into a boondoggle. But Simcox, whose enemies call him "the Little Prince," was handing off the MCDC to longtime gal pal Carmen Mercer so he could run for the Senate. And it was clear that "this border-security issue," as he called it, would be front and center in his campaign. It was "the most critical issue that we face here in our state," he declared.

He vowed to "challenge McCain on this issue" and "represent working-class people . . . working Joes . . . who have put our sweat and toil in this country."

Following the speech, with his young, pretty wife, Alena, keeping watch on their two daughters nearby — one a year old, the other 2 — a reporter asked Simcox if he was anti-gay marriage.

"I'm not anti-anything," he replied, looking uncomfortable fielding a non-immigration question. "I am pro-family values and pro-husband-and-wife marriage."

A year later, Simcox's marriage was in shambles, with Alena telling the county Superior Court that Simcox, in a drunken rage, had menaced her with a gun and threatened to kill her, the children, any police who responded, and himself. She later told the Phoenix Police Department that her husband had choked and punched her and had abused her son by another marriage.

Alena was granted an order of protection against him, and she was awarded sole custody of the girls. Simcox already had dropped out of the Republican primary for the Senate in early 2010, throwing his support behind talk-show host, former congressman, and anti-immigrant extremist J.D. Hayworth, who in turn gave Simcox a job as an "adviser."

Once Simcox's alleged threats toward Alena became court record, he was booted from the Hayworth campaign, and his downward spiral continued. At one point, Simcox, crying poverty, sued Alena unsuccessfully for spousal support.

In July 2011, it got so bad that Simcox filed to have his name changed from "Christopher Allen Simcox" to "Christopher Simcox Allen," because, he told the court, "untrue Internet postings . . . impede my ability to be employed."

Simcox later withdrew the petition and seemingly kept his head down for a couple of years until he was arrested in June and accused of molesting two girls under age 10, one of them his own daughter.

Now, Simcox sits non-bondable in a jail run by his erstwhile political colleague, Arpaio. He faces prosecution by a County Attorney's Office headed by Bill Montgomery, a Minuteman supporter who once reportedly went on patrol in the desert with Simcox's group.

If found guilty of the most serious counts, Simcox faces a possible sentence of life in prison and will share the ignominy of other desert vigilantes who have victimized children, including convicted child killer Shawna Forde and late mass-murdering neo-Nazi J.T. Ready.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons