You have to admire, in a way, people who can pull off a human-chameleon act, at least convincingly. People like Minuteman leader Chris Simcox.
I drove up to Bellingham on Thursday to watch Simcox testify during the Washington Human Rights Commission hearing.
For most of the night, Simcox and the Minutemen were under steady rhetorical barrage from local human-rights and Latino activists. At times, the rhetoric became overblown hyperbole; but much of it was deadly accurate.
Nonetheless, when it came time, Simcox was well prepared. He stepped up to the mike and delivered the following remarks:
- Three minutes is not a lot of time to respond to such distorted and untrue untruths, and I typically don't spend a lot of time defending myself when it comes to instances of ignorance. But in this situation, I guess we should do that. Many quotes tonight about 'what we don't know, we fear' -- I don't think I've been in a room full of such fear and hate such as I have tonight in my whole life. [Applause] I also want to thank the human rights groups and the ACLU for defending the rights of my biracial Euro-African American children, and my five Mexican American nephews and nieces, who they really appreciate you standing up for them -- facts that of course not too many people talk about. Also, I take great pride in being part of the Civil Rights Movement -- Martin Luther King. And of course I admire the original border Minuteman, Cesar Chavez, who warned us about illegal immigration 25 years ago and actually marched to the border to protest illegal immigration and predicted the problems we have today. Of course, many of you who engage in revisionist history probably don't know those facts.
A couple of other things, I just, uh -- We are nothing more than a neighborhood watch group. If we were not, we would be in jail, what with the scrutiny of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, all law enforcement whom we've interfaced with, we wouldn't be in business if we had ever done anything wrong. That's a fact.
In fact, since October of 2002, we have assisted Border Patrol with apprehending -- not us, we've assisted Border Patrol in locating, and they apprehended 10,007 people since yesterday. That represents people from 24 different countries, including Switzerland, Germany, Poland, and Russia. We don't discriminate on the color of anyone's skin. We watch the border. We answered our civic duty and our call of our nation and our president to be vigilant, to be observant, and to report suspicious illegal activity to the proper authorities, which is what we've done. I don't care what color your skin is, where you come from, or what language you speak or what your purposes are. If you're breaking into our country in a post-September 11 world, you are a potential problem and should be reported to proper authorities.
During that time, we have made 217 life-saving rescues, including women and children, a fact that doesn't ever seem to be reported. We have a DVD video coming out of all the life-saving rescues, including giving medical attention and having men and women and children air-vaced out of the desert, so that they don't die because of human slave-trade smuggling that's going on on our nation's borders. We've also unfortunately recovered 33 bodies of people who've died in the desert at the hands of human smugglers. We have a serious problem on our borders. It can be brought to an end by securing our borders. When we secure our borders, we protect immigrants. It's pro-immigrant. We don't have immigrants dying in the desert. We stop drugs. We stop criminals from entering our country. There's never been a reported case of a legal immigrant dying at a port of entry, being raped, robbed, or murdered at the hands of bandits or human smugglers, or sold into slavery in this country. Of course, that's a whole 'nother point.
Um, some of the mistruths about me personally, real quick ... um ... DVDs: clever editing. The FBI and law enforcement have watched these DVDs and they've ascertained that there were no wrongdoing in these DVDs. Clever editing, of course, which is one of the instances, including the quotes I've heard a couple of times about me saying, 'Immigrants should be shot on sight.' A clever -- taking a quote out of context. I said drug dealers should be shot on sight. They're poisoning our children. I never said that about illegal immigrants. And there were many untruths, and quotes taken out of context.
Too bad racism has entered this debate, because it has nothing to do with race. It has to do with forcing our federal government to do its job. Washington, D.C., has failed us miserably -- I agree with many of the discussions tonight about NAFTA and the injustices that have been perpetrated by our government. We need a good housecleaning in Washington, D.C. We need to stand together as American people. We do need to resolve this mess that has been created by elected officials. We choose to do it by protecting our neighbors on the borders of the south, and certainly, for those of you who think we are looking for illegal aliens on this northern border, it is a symbolic stance, a First Amendment stance, about our federal government failing us miserably. Let's hope can work together, let's hope we can solve this problem.
I want to bring this to an end. We are in business to be put out of business by a federal government doing its job. Resolving this problem, enforcing our laws, welcoming immigrants who are protected and who have respect when they enter a port of entry legally, they enter this country with dignity, and we show them the respect they deserve in coming here by following our rules. Thank you very much.
Afterward, I caught up with Simcox in the foyer and asked a few questions. Another reporter asked him about the recent reports of connections to neo-Nazi organizations. He responded:
- They're totally unfounded. Again, wild allegations to create fear in the community that have no basis in fact. All of our volunteers are thoroughly screened -- they go through criminal background checks, psychological vetting, we have an Internet-based search system where we look for their e-mail addresses, their names or anything on any site that could be racist. We go to great lengths to make sure we screen our people. I have never talked to anyone in our organization who has ever been connected to any group like that, and I wouldn't tolerate it if it were.
What about Laine Lawless? I asked. He looked sharply at me and said:
- She was with us for two months. And we quickly vetted her out. That was because of her rhetoric. And we did more research into her background. She was quickly dismissed.
And off into the night he went, with the pack of Minutemen -- who numbered about 20 in a crowd of around 200 -- in tow.
Simcox, really, was rather impressive: clean-cut, very straightforward seeming, very smooth. He seemed almost preppy with his new clean-shaven look and crew sweatshirt.
Especially when you consider the old Simcox, who liked to alternate between camos and jeans and sport an American-flag ballcap, spout endless conspiracy theories and quasi-racist fearmongering, and demonstrate his utter idiocy to anyone familiar with gun safety by holstering his pistol down the front of his jeans, which is a really good way to shoot off your dick. It's one of those Darwin-in-action things.
That Simcox, it appears, is ancient history, now to be buried under the careful coaching of the D.C.-based public relations firm that Simcox hired. They've done a pretty good job of making Simcox over completely. Paul deArmond, who also testified at the meeting, observed that he reminds you of David Duke; I agree, but think that Simcox might be actually be smoother -- probably not as intelligent, but much more personable and appealing.
But before the old Simcox disappears completely, let's rewind the tape one last time and run through some of the things Chris Simcox has actually said in the past. None of them appear to have been "cleverly edited."
What's especially common in the old Simcox's rhetoric is fearmongering about an "invasion" by Mexicans who bring drugs, crime, and pestilence:
- I feel that the people that are coming across, invading this country, I think that they should be treated as enemies of the state. We need to putting them in work camps. Anyone could walk through these borders of this country bringing bombs, chemicals, weapons of mass destruction. I think they should be shot on sight, personally.
-- Nikolaj Vijborg's documentary film USA Under Attack. [Quote appears to be a single audio take heard as an overdub.]
- "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."
-- Susana Hayward, Knight-Ridder, "Migrants flock to Arizona border," July 15, 2005
- "It's an invasion. ... There's too much crime coming over that border, and Americans are being victimized."
- 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."
-- Southern Poverty Law Center report
- "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."
-- SPLC report
The SPLC, indeed, noted back in that Summer 2005 report the propensity for the Minutemen leaders to be freshly tailoring their rhetoric for mainstream consumption and hiding or denying their longtime Latino-bashing:
- 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.
The SPLC's subsequent investigation into Simcox's past also noted his propensity for bizarre conspiracy theories, including one he tried out on the audience at a California Coalition on Immigration Reform gathering:
- "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."
Along similar lines, you can see Simcox ruminating on the future, in a single, unedited cut, in the Vijborg documentary USA Under Attack:
- Those guys [D.C. politicians] need to be, you know, lynched. If we're attacked again, then we need some vigilanteism. Then we need some going into Washington, pulling them out of their offices, kicking them out of office. We need revolution.
To hear the new Chris Simcox talk, you'd think Gandhi and Martin Luther King were his bosom heroes, and the Minutemen are actually out there on a mission of mercy to rescue those poor illegal immigrants.
But that, of course, has never been what the Minutemen are about.
What they really are is right-wing street theater, a PR stunt intended to spearhead a larger anti-immigration campaign, and their chief effect is to scapegoat Latino immigrants for all the nation's ills. This is why they so clearly attract haters of all stripes, including neo-Nazis, so eagerly to their cause.
For all Simcox's protestations that they are weeding out neo-Nazis, the evidence so far suggests otherwise, as the SPLC reported:
- Early this year, white supremacist and neo-Nazi Web sites began openly recruiting for the Minuteman Project. In response, Gilchrist and Simcox proclaimed that neo-Nazi Skinheads and race warriors from organizations such as the National Alliance and Aryan Nations were specifically banned from participating. Pressured by journalists to explain exactly how they planned to keep these undesirables out, the two organizers said they were working with the FBI to carefully check the backgrounds of all potential Minuteman volunteers, only to have the FBI completely deny this was the case.
Gilchrist and Simcox then claimed they were personally checking out each and every potential volunteer using on-line databases. Even if this were true, one of Gilchrist's computers crashed the morning of April 1, wiping out the records of at least 75 pre-registered volunteers. As a result, the registration protocol in Tombstone rapidly degenerated into a free-for-all, and virtually anyone who showed up and gave a name was issued a Minuteman Project badge and told where to go the next day to be assigned to a watch post.
Gilchrist and Simcox further claimed to the media prior to April 1 that the only volunteers who would be allowed to carry firearms would be those who had a concealed-carry handgun permit from their home states, an indication that they had passed at least a cursory background investigation. In fact, virtually no one was checked for permits.
As the report went on to explore, the Minutemen were indeed infiltrated by some neo-Nazis last year:
- While most of the Minuteman volunteers were not organized racists, at least one member of Aryan Nations infiltrated the effort, and Johnny and Michael said they were two of six members of the Phoenix chapter of the National Alliance who signed up as Minuteman Volunteers. They said the other four had arrived separately in two-man teams in order to cover more ground and be less conspicuous. They said the Alliance members came out to support the Minuteman Project, but also to recruit new members, and to learn the remote hot zones for border crossers in Cochise County. They said they intended to return and conduct small, roaming, National Alliance-only vigilante patrols in the fall, "when we can have a little more privacy," as Johnny put it.
Perhaps more to the point, a lack of membership or participation in far-right hate groups is certainly no guarantee that the Minutemen are not riddled throughout with violent racists:
- "It should be legal to kill illegals," said Carl, a 69-year old retired Special Forces veteran who fought in Vietnam and now lives out West. "Just shoot 'em on sight. That's my immigration policy recommendation. You break into my country, you die."
... "I agree completely," Michael said. "You get up there with a rifle and start shooting four or five of them a week, the other four or five thousand behind them are going to think twice about crossing that line."
That attitude is actually pervasive among the Minutemen, including one named Crag Howard (who shows up also in this report) who is seen working side-by-side with Simcox on the border in USA Under Attack. He's also seen saying:
- No, we ought to be able to shoot the Mexicans on sight, and that would end the problem. After two or three Mexicxans are shot, they'll stop crossing the border and they'll take their cows home, too.
Unsurprisingly, some neo-Nazis have concocted a video game based on exactly that concept.
You can get a clear idea about just how those neo-Nazis go about the business of joining the Minutemen and similar anti-immigrant organizations -- including the Save Our State group in California, where they showed up at a rally featuring Minutemen leader Jim Gilchrist, and soon were waving swastikas and Confederate flags. A neo-Nazi Stormfront forum discussion of the event brought out responses that made clear that joining groups like the Minutemen was a good idea -- but it was important to keep those flags tucked away:
- I agree with the above post; Kudos to all who actively oppose illegal immigration. HOWEVER, I would like to suggest the display of U.S. Flags only. Let's see the media characterize THAT as extremist! After all, you are trying to set an example for millions of white Americans; the use of WW2 German Swastika flags in this kind of public demonstration makes even my guts churn, and I'm on YOUR side.
When you say the locals weren't impressed with you would you say that you were able to awaken some whites or do you think your message was not being heard at all?
I ask because I feel that awakening whites should be the only goal at this time. Getting in a match with Commies and Mexicans may be fun but it is unproductive.
Why did you let people bring Nazi flags? While 80% of whites are opposed to Illegal Immigration, probably 99% are opposed to Nazism. It's no wonder that locals won't support you.
I go to a local American Legion. Most of the people are very racially conscience and I can openly talk about race however I want. If I was to come in with a swastika, I'd be beaten out the door by an angry mob.
Why use something that is going to turn off the majority of those who would otherwise agree with us?
The most vivid example, however, of the way the closed-borders nativists interact with neo-Nazis was provided in the recent SPLC report examining the activities of Laine Lawless. She was a onetime Minuteman who started up her own border-watch group, and was found to have secretly sent an e-mail to an Ohio leader of the National Socialist Movement named Mark Martin (who was deeply involved in the Toledo riots, and whose image you can see here and here) that outlined a plan of attack for white supremacists to deal with illegal immigrants:
- -- "Steal the money from any illegal walking into a bank or check cashing place."
-- "Make every illegal alien feel the heat of being a person without status. ... I hear the rednecks in the South are beating up illegals as the textile mills have closed. Use your imagination."
-- "Discourage Spanish-speaking children from going to school. Be creative."
-- "Create an anonymous propaganda campaign warning that any further illegal immigrants will be shot, maimed or seriously messed-up upon crossing the border. This should be fairly easy to do, considering the hysteria of the Spanish language press, and how they view the Minutemen as 'racists & vigilantes.' "
The Minutemen, you see, are useful not just in providing "mainstream" cover for their operations: they also raise the fear levels to the point that neo-Nazis can more effectively make threats.
The SPLC report makes clear, more to the point, that Lawless' involvement with the Minutemen was more than just a two-month thing:
- Lawless, the former high priestess of Sisterhood of the Moon, a lesbian pagan organization, has been heavily involved in anti-immigration extremism since 2004, when she joined Simcox's Civil Homeland Defense outfit, as it was then called. That same year, she invited militia members to her private ranch in Cochise County, Ariz. "I coordinate with Chris [Simcox], so anyone who wants to come is welcome," she wrote in a post to an online user group, "Border War" which was reposted on sites such as "A Well Regulated Militia."
Lawless was featured in numerous media reports on the first Minuteman Project campaign in April 2005, and has patrolled side-by-side with Minuteman vice-president Carmen Mercer. Lawless also traveled to Texas to join the Texas Minutemen in October, when she was quoted in The Austin Chronicle saying she gets an "intellectual and political orgasm" from spying on pro-immigration groups. In that interview, she accused one pro-immigration activist of inserting chants of "White Power!" into an audiotape of Minuteman rallies to discredit the movement.
Simcox seems to be claiming that Lawless was only involved in the Minuteman Project for two months (and it would be interesting to find out further what "background" led them to dismiss her, since none of this activity occurred until recently) -- which may actually be the case, though this overlooks her activities in Texas, which may or may not have been as a Minuteman representative. However, I asked him specifically about the (pre-Minuteman) Tombstone Militia involvement, and he was again adamant that she was only on board for "two months" -- a claim the record clearly demonstrates is false.
Which tells you a lot about Chris Simcox's makeover. The new, squeaky-clean Chris Simcox created by PR coaches may look and sound like a middle-of-the-road civic activist. But he is also a practiced liar. And anyone who believes a word he says should have their heads examined.