Longform

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

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For instance, the ADL quoted Simcox's speaking to an extremist anti-immigration group in California.

"There's something very fishy going on at the border," he stated. "The Mexican Army is driving American vehicles — but carrying Chinese weapons. I have personally seen what I can only believe to be Chinese troops."

Simcox's stump speeches often warned of impending violence.

"So far, we have had restraint," he told the California crowd, according to the ADL. "But I'm afraid that restraint is wearing thin. Take heed of our weapons because we're going to defend our borders by any means necessary."

In an interview with Danish filmmaker Nikolaj Vijborg, Simcox's radicalism rang loudly.

"Those guys need to be, you know, lynched," he said, apparently referring to U.S. politicians, in general. "If we're attacked again, then we need some vigilantism. Then we need some going into Washington and pulling them out of their offices . . .We need revolution then."

And about migrants themselves. They're "enemies of the state" who should be "shot on site," he told Vijborg.


Jim Gilchrist, a Vietnam veteran in California, had heard Simcox on a local radio show and became intrigued. He contacted Simcox with a plan: Why not a national recruiting drive, harkening to the early days of the American Revolution against England?

Simcox loved the idea, and the Minuteman Project was born, with e-mail alerts announcing an operation for the month of April 2005.

The new brand name sold it. And timing was perfect. Post-9/11 paranoia still was high in the country. The United States had invaded Iraq and now dealt with a deadly insurgency. President Bush had declared a War on Terror, and securing the homeland was a major preoccupation of the American public.

Simcox and Gilchrist promised thousands of participants but ended up with a couple of hundred, at best. It didn't seem to matter, though. What did matter was the attention from national news outlets such as Fox News and CNN.

Defense attorney Ray Ybarra was in law school at Stanford University at the time. A native of Douglas, he was alarmed at what he saw going on in his own backyard.

Ybarra is credited with organizing a lawsuit against Cochise County rancher Roger Barnett, who'd become infamous for threatening with guns and sometimes attacking migrants or even Latino Americans who happened to stray onto his land. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund took on the case, representing victims whom Ybarra located in Mexico. An $87,000 judgment ultimately was won against the Barnett clan.

More than most, Ybarra realized the danger of ill-informed, heavily armed outsiders descending on Cochise County and looking to stop an "invasion." During a fellowship from the American Civil Liberties Union, he organized a vigilante watch in the desert.

In his soon-to-be released memoir, Born on the Border, Ybarra relives his days chasing minutemen and sometimes going out on "patrol" with them, as he did more than once with Simcox.

Ybarra recalls in his book the Minuteman Project's first weekend, when there were "probably more members of the media than minutemen."

Truly, much of the hoopla around the Minuteman Project was the result of media-created hype. An ACLU report to which Ybarra and other legal observers contributed found that most journalists accepted the MMP's inflated estimates of participants, failed to note white supremacists in the mix, and ignored negative incidents, such as the arrest of one minuteman for putting migrants in his car during a patrol.

Reporters also failed to mention that this was not the first "border watch" of its kind, that the minutemen were preceded in 1977 by the Ku Klux Klan and leader David Duke, who ran a similar operation on the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego.

Ybarra's account describes two different groups that answered the Minuteman call: oldsters content to sit in lawn chairs with binoculars and walkie-talkies, and hardcore wannabe soldiers looking to track Mexicans in the desert.

Some of the better reports on the Minutemen came from Holthouse of the SPLC and Morgan Loew of Channel 5 in Phoenix — each of whom infiltrated the group.

Holthouse described hanging out with neo-Nazis who openly displayed white-power tattoos and T-shirts and mocked Gilchrist and Simcox for playing nice for the media.

During one outing with a splinter vigilante group, Loew video-recorded minuteman Fred Puckett making claims right out of Soldier of Fortune Magazine.

"We go out in two-man teams," Puckett said at one point. "We hit 'em like we did 40 years ago in Vietnam."

Puckett, unaware he was being recorded, opined that America was "being destroyed from the inside" and that "anything south of the I-10 is a Third World country."

He added, "Once you shoot a couple of these sons of bitches, they'll think twice."

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