Even more noteworthy, perhaps, has been the mainstream embrace of the far-right extremists operating the Minuteman Project, and the extent to which they are being portrayed both by media and officialdom as jes' plain folks.
Leading the charge today was none other than Tom DeLay himself, interviewed in the Washington Times, who even went so far as to suggest that President Bush might want to change his tune on these patriotic folk:
- Mr. Hanner: Do you agree with the president that the Minuteman Project on the border right now are vigilantes?
Mr. DeLay: No. I'm not sure the president meant that. I think that they're providing an excellent service. It's no different than neighborhood-watch programs and I appreciate them doing it, as long as they can do it safely and don't get involved and do it the way they seem to be doing it, and that's just identifying people for the Border Patrol to come pick up.
This line of reasoning, of course, emanates from the apologists for extremism who populate the right-wing pundit class, from Michelle Malkin (who first compared them to a "neighborhood watch") to Mark Krikorian at The Corner, who described them as "a handful of ordinary Americans." The same storyline, of course, is a regular feature at Malkin's immigration blog as well.
Perhaps no one has been more prominent in promoting the Minutemen's image as a group of law-abiding, concerned citizens than CNN's Lou Dobbs, who has made the Minutemen into the symbol of his ongoing campaign on behalf of immigration reform -- meaning he has adopted, essentially, far-right anti-immigrant nativism.
On several occasions, Dobbs' program has featured remarks from Minuteman organizer Chris Simcox, including an extended interview with Simcox that featured some genuinely noteworthy exchanges. Dobbs had reported on his program that the Minutemen were unarmed, and Simcox had to correct this:
- DOBBS: And to be clear, you're not permitting any of your volunteers to be armed.
SIMCOX: No, that's not true. I can't do that. We have encouraged them, if you've read our standard operating procedure, that they are to be, again, aware of the laws of the state of Arizona. They're not to carry long arms, because that would make us an offensive -- that would give it an offensive-type attitude.
DOBBS: Well, Chris, let's...
SIMCOX: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE), but...
DOBBS: ... be straight up, 1,500 volunteers, untrained, unorganized, and without drill, that is not a reassuring statement that you just made, if you're going to have people with weapons, whether they are sidearms or not.
SIMCOX: Well, Lou, we have -- most of our volunteers are retired law enforcement officers, military veterans, and professional people who -- and not all of them are going to be armed, but the ones that want to be have that right to be.
But we have interaccountability by grouping people together in teams, so that we have people watching each other and making sure that we hold each other accountable. Because this is a political protest, no matter what. We know that. And it would be hypocritical of us to want the government to enforce the laws if we were out there to break the laws.
What was really appalling, though, was the way Dobbs fawned on Simcox, especially at the end:
- DOBBS: Outstanding. We wish you all of the success in the world. And you know, you said it at the outset, that it's a shame that it takes activism on the part of citizens. You know, I think that we could also make a counterargument. It's kind of nice to know that Americans still have that activism in their hearts, the capacity to volunteer to do the right thing. And we thank you, Chris Simcox, for being with us.
Mind you, Simcox is someone with a history of militia organizing and spouting extremist beliefs, including bizarre conspiracy theories linking Latino immigrants to the Chinese Army. He also has a conviction for carrying a loaded firearm in a National Park. In March 2003, he told a crowd in California that "so far, we've had restraint, 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."
There have been a lot of other warm-and-fuzzy treatments of the Minutemen in other organs, including a largely friendly account in the Ventura County Star, which does nonetheless mention the paranoia that pervades the scene in Arizona:
- As the sun sank, rumors descended across the border like darkness.
Minutemen organizers said they were warned that the Central American drug-smuggling MS-13 gang was planning an attack on the Minutemen.
McCutchen had a flak jacket and a .38-caliber snub-nosed pistol, in case.
But the night would grow darker without immigrants or gangs.
Far more disturbing was the report from a news team that went undercover for KPHO in Phoenix, and produced a pretty remarkable report that largely ripped the lid off the Minutemen's carefully controlled image of being a cooperative neighborhood watch:
- [B]ehind the scenes, our hidden cameras show there are problems and plenty the Minutemen are not telling reporters.
A lady on Hidden cam says, "We don't want the press to find out where the information is being handed out because we'll have CNN and FOX and yeah." They're controlling what you hear, from why some of these volunteers "really" came to southern Arizona:
John says, "If the border's gone, they're going to be pushing drugs on every one of our kids at school." To problems the organizers are having controlling the extremists who showed up.
John says, "The guys up here, on what we were talking about earlier on Mountain View, with the shotguns and the flag and lighting the fire. And lighting a fire on G-----n BLM land."
The piece goes on to explore in some detail the extent to which the Minutemen organizers are controlling what's given out to the media. It also features some deeply disturbing material captured in chats with some of the volunteers, in which it becomes clear that the project is having its most trouble keeping a lid on the collection of extremists who are part of the scene:
- But as the sun goes down, problems keeping control of a group as big as the Minutemen begin to surface. Marc says, "There was a standoff and people got killed." The man from Tucson is asked to leave our group - because he keeps talking to reporters. John says, "People like that, they'll drag down, they'll drag down the whole thing." And as the night goes on, a drama unfolds across the highway. Some of the volunteers are carrying shotguns, which is against the rules and our group leader admits: Minuteman organizers are having trouble deciding what to do about it. Adahm/John says, "(What's up with the shotgun guys? How are you going to deal with those two?) I have no idea.. that's out of my.. I don't even want to go up there." Adahm/John says, "(Well don't they have a guy like you are with us? Don't they have their?) He's not there. I can't find him." The man says, "I hope they're not drinking or anything. I didn't see any beer there."
Jim Gilchrist, the Project spokesman, explains these folks away later by claiming, "They are not Miuteman Project volunteers. They are rogue patrollers posing as Minutemen."
Be sure to check out the video link to the story. It includes some chilling footage, as well as a disturbing footnote from the anchor for the piece, Morgan Lowe, who adds that the crew heard plenty of racial remarks out in the field, including one from a volunteer who told him he looked forward to "hunting a certain group of people."
You can also get a sense for some of the paranoia that pervades the camp from reading the first-person report filed by a Freeper named "Spiff":
- Nine days of blockade has begun to result in desperation.
We believe 500-700 illegals and their coyotes are bottled up in the Huachuca Mountains at present. They are running out of food and water. We have also figured out the system used here for putting out food and water caches and have been routinely using them to add some variety to our dogs’ diets. Our canine companions are most appreciative.
A recap of last night’s action: several Minuteman were almost run down by a fleeing load vehicle last night. Fellow LePer idratherbe painting is now on the injured reserve list after a bad fall into a dry wash at the same location. Another Minuteman is “under investigation” for making physical contact after saving an illegal from a bad fall.
This morning began with round up of the illegals who missed their ride in the fleeing vehicle the night before. Two had become thoroughly lost and confused and walked up to one of the MMP teams asking for directions. When the realized who they had approached, they took off running and practically jumped into a Border Patrol vehicle.
The daylight hours were uneventful other than a prolonged visit by CNN’s Lou Dobbs. He spent most of his time out on the Naco Line along the border fence. Those of us in the canyons got a visit from those fine folks from the ACLU. They chose to set up in a dull spot with a fine view of Ash Canyon.
All hell has broken loose since nightfall. Several groups have come down out of the mountains to attempt a getaway. Scanner traffic gives a tally so far of five load vehicles captured, about 70 illegals in custody, and a similar sized group scattered throught the west end of Hereford and being picked up piecemeal. We have recovered three coyote cell phones and the call histories should prove interesting.
As I said before, we'll be lucky if the month of April passes in Arizona without some grotesque tragedy occurring. Actually, I'm beginning to think the Minutemen are more a danger to each other (as well as any law enforcement in the vicinity) than they are to any immigrants who happen into their clutches, though that danger hasn't exactly subsided.
Simcox and his project have inspired some of his cohorts, including Casey Nethercott of Ranch Rescue. According to report from KVOA in Tucson, Nethercott is planning to ratchet the craziness even higher:
- Eyewitness News 4 has learned an armed militia along the border near Douglas may take matters into its own hands this July.
Casey Nethercott, the leader of the group said Friday that he doesn't yet want to go into detail on his plans.
He supports the Minutemen, but his backup plan is a much more aggressive approach.
Nethercott pointed to two black SUV's, saying, "These are armored vehicles. They got quarter-inch steel in them. They'll stop small arms fire and some rifles."
The headquarters of the militia, called the Arizona Guard, sits along the U.S./Mexico border near Douglas, Arizona, in the Southeastern corner of the state.
Pointing again to the vehicles, Nethercott continued, "You'll get killed without them, here's been so many shootouts out here."
Gosh, Lou, that sure is some nice little neighborhood watch you've got going there.
The lingering question: Will President Bush take DeLay's advice and change his tune on these folks?