Part II: Rotten from the Top
[Note: Part I began to count and describe the ways we know that the Minutemen are an extremist organizing strategy. No. 1 was their origins.]
2. THEIR LEADERSHIP
Chris Simcox and Jim Gilchrist have taken steps to attempt to reassure the mainstream media that their organization is not extremist. They've described efforts to "weed out" racists by performing background checks that in fact are likely only to uncover criminal backgrounds, and it's not even clear just how assiduously they're being applied (there are many indications that the standards loose at best).
They've also toned down the rhetoric they use. But their own previous pronouncements regarding immigration and the borders -- as well as some of their current remarks -- give a clear indication about their underlying motives.
Simcox makes border security a major focus of his media remarks, describing the original Minuteman Project as involving volunteers from throughout the country who are "concerned that the U.S. government must be made to act and take control of our borders."
- "We want a secure U.S. border and an end to the blatant disregard of the rule of law regarding illegal immigration," Mr. Simcox said. "Nearly four years after the September 11 attacks on America, we should be doing a better job of securing our borders.
"Our government is more concerned with securing the borders of foreign lands than securing the borders of the United States," he said.
Now, you'll want to take the numbers they predict on the border with a large mine of salt. They predicted 10,000 for the Arizona watch and came up with something far short of that (some media observers counted only around 2,500, at best, though of course the Minutemen's "official" numbers are around 8,000).
Simcox's insistence that the Minutemen's mission is focused on securing borders for the "war on terror" doesn't hold a lot of water, either. Most of the Minutemen, when interviewed, tend to talk about how their hometowns and neighborhoods are being overrun with criminal Latinos. It's about Latino-bashing, and the "war on terror" talk is just a fig leaf.
Indeed, Simcox himself will start talking this way if you let him go long enough, as one reporter did:
- "It's a public safety issue because 30 percent of crimes are committed by aliens," said Simcox, who cites no source for the statistic. "There's an explosion of vicious gangs with no respect for human life that target us because of soft laws."
Simcox also has a criminal record arising from his anti-immigrant activism. He was convicted on a federal weapons charge for carrying a handgun while allegedly tracking illegal immigrants in a National Park.
The extremist beliefs embraced by Simcox and Gilchrist are detailed in an SPLC report from last summer on the Minutemen, which notes that both men specialized in racist Latino-bashing prior to taking their organization national:
- While Gilchrist is newly prominent on the anti-immigration front — he recently joined the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, a hate group whose leader routinely describes Mexicans as "savages" — Simcox has been active since 2002, when he founded Civil Homeland Defense, a Tombstone-based vigilante militia that he brags has captured more than 5,000 Mexicans and Central Americans who entered the country without visas.
"These people don't come here to work. They come here to rob and deal drugs," Simcox told the Intelligence Report in a 2003 interview. "We need the National Guard to clean up our cities and round them up."
But that was the old Chris Simcox talking, not the new, spiffed-up, buttoned-down, ready-for-primetime Chris Simcox.
The old Simcox described Citizens Homeland Defense as "a committee of vigilantes," and "a border patrol militia." The new Simcox -- the one interviewed for dozens of national TV news programs and major newspaper articles about the Minuteman Project -- characterized his new and larger outfit of citizen border patrollers as "more of a neighborhood watch program."
The old Simcox said of Mexicans and Central American immigrants, "They have no problem slitting your throat and taking your money or selling drugs to your kids or raping your daughter and they are evil people." The new Simcox said he sympathizes with their plight, and sees them as victims of their own government's failed policies.
Likewise with cofounder Jim Gilchrist, as the Center for New Community reports:
- Under Gilchrist's guidance, the Minuteman Project has tried to rhetorically distance itself from both paramilitarism and racism. Yet Gilchrist himself is prone to hysterical remarks about immigrants and to conspiracy mongering, as evidenced by these remarks:
- From what I have seen in videos, to me there is a clear and present danger of insurrection, sedition and succession by those who buy into the fact that this really is Mexico’s territory and doesn’t belong to the United States and should be taken back.
Gilchrist's words are a succinct statement of the so-called reconquista conspiracy theory which holds that Mexico is quietly infiltrating a fifth-column of revolutionaries into the United States with the purpose of territorial conquest. Moreover the infiltration is being accomplished with the treasonous collusion of various "liberal elite" institutions, e.g. the Catholic Church and the Ford Foundation, and the applause of muddle-headed multiculturalists.
Gilchrist's conspiracist formulation of the problem he sees with undocumented immigration is only an extreme form of the basic xenophobic arguments repeating the time-tested formula of bigoted fear-mongering. In the early years of the twentieth century it was the "yellow peril" -- which led to laws excluding those of Asian descent from immigrating to the United States. In the wake of the Civil War, and with the failure of Reconstruction, it was Jim Crow and anti-miscegenation laws, intended to keep the races forever separate and distinct.
In a May 2005 speech to a meeting of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, a hardcore anti-immigrant group which promotes the reconquista conspiracy theory, Gilchrist said, "I'm damn proud to be a vigilante." He believes that, "Illegal immigrants will destroy this country." At a Memorial Day 2005 "summit" of anti-immigrant leader in Las Vegas, Gilchrist commented, "Every time a Mexican flag is planted on American soil, it is a declaration of war."
Another report of the same event included some worthwhile observations from the people who came there to protest -- and an interesting response from the Minutemen:
- Meanwhile, down a dirt road at the hilly, rugged border fence, protesters barbecued food, chanted and prayed, and stayed out of the sun. When they spotted border watchers, the protesters massed around them, telling them to go home.
"There's no place for you in California," said Bruce Cooley, of Los Angeles. "You are contributing to the deaths of people who are trying to cross to feed their families" back home.
One border watcher, who refused to give his name as he climbed into his Jeep, outfitted with a dirt bike, said he would be back. "It's intimidating to have all those people yell at you," the San Diego resident said. "But we'll come back tonight and just sneak up on them."
The notion of "wait till dark," as it happens, shows up in a lot of interviews with Minutemen. [More about that in Part III.]
The definitive word on the Minutemen's leadership, particularly Simcox, could be found in the investigative report filed by Suzy Buchanan and David Holthouse of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which reveals plenty of troubling information.
The portrait of Simcox that emerges is of a paranoid self-promoter who sees himself as an overlooked genius finally coming into his own. He also is prone to extremely unstable behavior:
- Court records obtained by the Center's Intelligence Project show Simcox's second ex-wife, Kim Dunbar, filed an emergency appeal in September 2001 to obtain full custody of their teenage son because she feared that Simcox had suffered a mental breakdown and was dangerous.
Dunbar declined to be interviewed for this article, but her sworn affidavits speak for themselves. In one, Dunbar testified that throughout their 10-year marriage, Simcox was prone to sudden, violent rages.
"He once took a knife from the kitchen and threatened to kill himself," she testified. "When he was angry, he broke furniture, car windows, he banged his head against the wall repeatedly and punched things."
Dunbar said that when their son was 4 years old, Simcox slapped him so hard that a mark remained on his face for two days. Another time, she testified, she grabbed her young son in her arms and jumped out a window because Simcox was throwing furniture at them.
After such episodes, she said, Simcox would become despondent. "He would stare at walls, mumbling to himself." In the affidavits, Dunbar said she repeatedly pressured Simcox to seek professional help and even tried to have him hospitalized. But he persistently refused treatment.
"Eventually," she said, "the only thing I could do was file for divorce."
Simcox and Dunbar initially shared custody of their son. There was no legal dispute until shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, when Dunbar suddenly filed a flurry of emergency appeals.
"While Chris has always been prone to strong opinions and ranting behavior, this last episode has gone even farther," she told the court. "I am convinced he has had some kind of mental lapse and I am now, more than ever, afraid for my son to be in Chris' care."
Dunbar grew frightened after Simcox left her a series of bizarre voicemail messages beginning that Sept. 13, in which he went on angry diatribes about the Constitution, patriotism, and impending nuclear attacks on Los Angles, and talked about training their 15-year-old son in the use of firearms.
"I will begin teaching him the art of protecting himself with weapons," Simcox said in one recorded message he left for Dunbar. "I purchased another gun. I have more than a few weapons, and I intend on teaching my son how to use them." Simcox added, "I will no longer trust anyone in this country. My life has changed forever, and if you don't get that, you are brainwashed like everybody else."
In phone conversations with his son that his ex-wife recorded and submitted to the court as evidence of Simcox's mental instability, he challenged the boy to become "a man and a real American."
"You better stop playing baseball, buddy, and you better do something real, 'cause life will never be the same," Simcox thundered. "I'm going to go down to the Mexican border and sign up for the government for border patrol to protect the borders of the country that I love. You hear how serious I am."
It's also quite clear that Simcox is motivated less by real concerns about border security than about the influx of Latinos into the United States:
- In January 2003, while on patrol with Civil Homeland Defense, Simcox was arrested by federal park rangers for illegally carrying a .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun in a national park. Also in Simcox's possession at the time of that arrest, according to police records, were a document entitled "Mission Plan," a police scanner, two walkie-talkies, and a toy figure of Wyatt Earp on horseback.
Two months later, in a speech to the California Coalition on Immigration Reform, a hate group whose leader, Barbara Coe, routinely refers to Mexicans as "savages," Simcox offered a dire warning to his audience.
"Take heed of our weapons because we're going to defend our borders by any means necessary," he said. "There's something very fishy going on at the border. The Mexican army is driving American vehicles -- but carrying Chinese weapons. I have personally seen what I can only believe to be Chinese troops."
Of illegal immigrants, Simcox added: "They're trashing their neighborhoods, refusing to assimilate, standing on street corners, jeering at little girls walking on their way to school."
He also has been known to inflate his resume:
- "When I'm asked by reporters if I'm a racist, I tell them, 'Why don't you go ask my black ex-wife and my biracial children and the members of the racial diversity committee I chaired whether I'm a racist?'" he said at the October conference.
Simcox, evidently, was never the chair of his school's diversity committee. Even more disturbing, however, is what comes next:
- "When they ask me, 'Well, what do you have to say to people who call you a racist?' I come back at them with, 'What do you have to say to people who call you a child molester?'"
That's a strange rhetorical device given the accusations leveled at Simcox in the summer of 1998, when his 14-year-old daughter from his first marriage -- prior to his union with Dunbar -- came to live with him in Los Angeles.
In separate interviews with the Intelligence Report, two of Simcox's former colleagues at Wildwood and his first ex-wife gave the same account. They said that Simcox helped his daughter get a job babysitting for a Wildwood School employee and that one night, Simcox's daughter showed up unexpectedly at her employer's house, visibly upset, alleging that her father had just attempted to sexually molest her.
"He tried to molest our daughter when he was intoxicated," said Deborah Crews, Simcox's first ex-wife and the girl's mother. "When she ran out, he tried to say he was just giving her a leg massage and she got the wrong idea."
Contacted by the Report, Simcox refused to answer four direct questions about the molestation allegations. "I would never answer those questions to you. You can't ask those questions," he said. "You're on a witch hunt and you're trying to discredit our movement, which is to secure the borders. ... My personal life has nothing to do with anything that goes on here."
No charges were filed against Simcox, but Crews said she and her daughter immediately broke off all contact with him.
"He's a drastic, chaotic, very dangerous guy," said Crews. "I'm surprised he hasn't shot anybody yet. I see him on TV and I have to turn if off, because it makes me sick to see him getting all this attention."
If this is someone's idea of the leader of a "neighborhood watch," I'd be watching my neighborhood very closely indeed.
Next: The Following They Attract