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

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Chris Simcox is a convicted liar.

In 2004, he was found guilty of knowingly carrying a weapon a year earlier onto the Coronado National Memorial, a national park in southeast Arizona on the United States-Mexico border.

At the time, carrying a weapon on National Park Service property was illegal, and concealed on Simcox's person was his .45-caliber Firestorm pistol.

Two other men were with Simcox when he was stopped by park ranger Deborah Girard. Simcox identified himself as a member of Civil Homeland Defense, a group he founded and which preceded both the 2005 Minuteman Project and his own Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, which he created that same year.

According to a pre-sentencing report for Simcox, Girard asked the men whether they were patrolling for illegal immigrants and whether they had a permit to operate on federal land.

Simcox replied that they merely were "taking a walk" though Girard noted Simcox had a two-way radio and a GPS on him. She noticed something protruding from Simcox's waistband and asked if he was armed.

Three times she asked, and three times Simcox denied he had a gun.

"No, I'm not carrying a weapon," Simcox replied, snidely. "We're in the Coronado National Forest, aren't we?"

Girard drew her weapon and ordered the men onto their stomachs. When she lifted Simcox's shirt, she saw his .45.

Simcox was convicted of lying to a federal agent.

The U.S. Attorney's Office observed that Simcox often was armed on the border while hunting for illegal aliens and that such behavior could spawn a volatile situation.

Slamming Simcox for his "dishonesty" and lack of respect for the law and those enforcing it, the government asked for five years' probation and requested that special conditions be imposed, including prohibitions from owning a weapon, from entering a national park, and from membership in groups such as Civil Homeland Defense.

However, the judge was more lenient, sentencing Simcox to 24 months' probation, fining him $1,000, and prohibiting him from owning or using a weapon while on probation.

Simcox's contempt for authority has been a recurrent theme, in his personal life and in the Minuteman movement itself.

Indeed, the movement Simcox helped found descended from the patriot and militia movements of the 1990s, which culminated in Timothy McVeigh's 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City. Much of McVeigh's distrust of the government was shared by so-called minutemen.

What inspired Simcox and others to become obsessed with illegal immigration and to track undocumented immigrants in the Arizona desert — so as to turn them over to the U.S. Border Patrol — was the 9/11 attacks.

Though the Middle Eastern men involved in 9/11 had entered the country through U.S. ports of entry and not through the Sonoran Desert, Simcox and others saw the porous U.S.-Mexico border as a major security threat. They held former President George W. Bush responsible for the "invasion" of mostly Mexican migrants, some of whom, Simcox and others argued, may have ill intent toward the United States.

Even before moving to Arizona from Los Angeles, Simcox had left a series of rambling phone messages concerning 9/11 for then-wife Kim Dunbar and their son: "I will no longer trust anyone in this country," Simcox said in one. "My life has changed forever. And if you don't get that, you are brainwashed like everyone else."

Simcox had begun collecting guns after 9/11, and on a hike through the Arizona's Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, he claimed he witnessed drug runners and realized that terrorists could enter the country through the United States' southern border.

In 2002, he moved to Tombstone and acted in the daily re-creations of the O.K. Corral shootout. After applying for a job at the small town's newspaper, the Tombstone Tumbleweed, he found that it was up for sale and purchased it with $60,000 from a cashed-in retirement fund.

The paper's focus soon turned to ranting incessantly about illegal immigration. One issue featured a call to arms in large, bold-faced type on the paper's front page.

"Enough is enough!" it cried. "Citizens Border Patrol Militia Now Forming!"

The new group's "organizational meetings" were to be held in the publication's offices, where participants would discuss "creating a citizens patrol of the Arizona/Mexico border."

Significantly, the new militia, eventually to be named Civil Homeland Defense, would help "protect your country in a time of war."

Response was tepid. During some operations, only a handful of people showed up. But other right-wingers began to show interest, and Simcox began making appearances at conservative events around the country.

According to the Anti-Defamation League's seminal 2003 study of the growing vigilante movement, Border Disputes: Armed Vigilantes in Arizona, Simcox sometimes aped "New World Order conspiracy rhetoric common in the militia movement."

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons