Sunday, April 26, 2009

Minuteman Chris Simcox's past will haunt his GOP primary bid against McCain

-- by Dave

The latest step in Minutemen cofounder Chris Simcox's extreme makeover is now up for electoral review: Simcox is challenging John McCain in the Arizona 2010 GOP primary.

For starters, there's going to be all that footage available of Simcox when he was in his full-on Minuteman phase, including footage like that above -- excerpts from filmmaker Nikolaj Vijborg's excellent short documentary, USA Under Attack, containing the following quotes from Simcox:

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.

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.

And then there was his Minuteman compatriot in this video, Craig Howard:

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.

Stephen Lemon at Phoenix New Times is positively licking his chops, since Simcox's candidacy will make for an entertaining primary, if nothing else: "This must be what reporters in Louisiana felt like when ex-Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke ran against Edwin Edwards for Governor of the Pelican State."

Moreover, Simcox has so much baggage that you can probably count on a good deal of ink being spilled over the job of dredging it all up:

But this sort of calculated posturing will not rid him of all the baggage he's accumulated in his weird journey from L.A. kindergarten teacher to self-avowed border patriot in Cochise County, and now Scottsdale resident and seeker of public office. He is widely loathed in his own movement for his high-handedness, hence the nickname, "The Little Prince." Defectors from his ranks have regularly accused him of financial shenanigans, shenanigans he's denied. According to the few financial records MCDC has online, Simcox draws no salary from the organization he leads, which raises the question as to the source of his personal income.

Simcox cannot write off these complaints and questions as coming from sore losers, traitors and plotters of internal coups. In 2006, the conservative Washington Times published a stinging expose about Simcox's lack of financial accountability as president of MCDC. The article pointed out that former MCDC-ers were "questioning the whereabouts of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of dollars in donations."

Then there's the problem of his criminal record. In 2004 Simcox was convicted in U.S. District Court of carrying a semi-automatic handgun onto a national park, and giving a "false or fictitious report" to a federal park ranger about the incident. He received 24 months of supervised probation and a fine of $1,000. The gun carrying stuff might play well with his followers, but his conviction for giving a "false or fictitious report" could raise concerns about Simcox's credibility.

A piece I wrote for The American Prospect last October exposed these dealings in even greater detail:

Meanwhile, Simcox's MCDC organized a follow-up border watch in Arizona in April 2006, and the group began recruiting new Minutemen around the country--everywhere from Illinois to Washington to New Hampshire. The donations began pouring in. Now thoroughly enmeshed in the [Alan] Keyes organization, all the MCDC donations flowed into a web of nearly a dozen organizations revolving around Declaration Alliance, including Diener Consultants; a Texas outfit called American Caging that acted as the escrow agent and comptroller for the operation; Renew America, a Keyes-run "grass-roots organization"; and a direct-mail company called Response Unlimited.

The association with Keyes' organizations raised hackles within MCDC ranks. Some of the Minutemen began exchanging e-mails denouncing the relationships, since Keyes and his groups were perceived within the ultra-right ranks as being "neoconservative" organizations whose interests were inimical to theirs. Gilchrist, who had washed his hands of the Keyes groups, sent out a bulletin making clear that his Minuteman Project no longer had any associations with Simcox and his outfit. The Washington Times reported on the dissent and quoted Keyes dismissing the MCDC's internal critics as anti-immigrant racists "and other unsavory fringe elements attempting to hijack the border security debate to further their individual agendas."

Simcox was undeterred. In April 2006, he hit on the idea of building a "state of the art" security fence along a section of the Arizona-Mexico border and told The Washington Times that he had more than $200,000 in donations. He described the project as one that would "feature separate, 14-foot-high fences on both sides of the border, separated by a roadway to allow the passage of U.S. Border Patrol vehicles, with surveillance cameras and motion sensors." It was this description that enticed Jim Campbell to pony up his $100,000. But there were problems, notably that there were few private landholders along the border willing to participate. The ranch owner who had agreed to a fence had no interest in an "Israeli style" security barrier; he only wanted a standard barbed-wire fence to keep out Mexican cattle. So that was what was built. The steel Campbell bought was to be used for a short section of "demonstration" fence at another ranch. Of the promised 70 miles of security fence, so far a length of only .7 miles has been erected. Much of Campbell's steel still lies in a pile, collecting Arizona dust.

... Certainly there was a significant gap between Simcox’s public claims of having raised $1.6 million for the fence, and what his financial disclosure forms show his organization actually spent on it. No one can say for sure because the MCDC won’t let anyone touch its books. But a look at the organization’s 2006 public filings indicates that, of all the money raised for the border fence, only a small amount (if any at all) went toward its construction. The forms for the Declaration Alliance—through whom all the border-fence donations were directed—show that it brought in nearly $5 million that year for all its programs. What percentage of that $5 million consisted of border-fence donations is unclear, but considering that the fence appeals began in May 2006 and have remained the MCDC’s (and Declaration Alliance’s) chief fundraising focus in the months since, it is likely that they provided at least a majority of that money. It also shows that $3.19 million went to the MCDC. But for what?

The Declaration Alliance largely spent the money on printing, consulting, and similar activities. The only indication on the form that any actual money went back to the MCDC in the field is $143,000 listed as “operational expenses,” though this money reportedly was for MCDC border watches, not the fence project. If any of those millions of dollars actually went toward building a border fence, it’s difficult to ascertain where they are and how much was disbursed—though a look at the disclosure form for the Minuteman Foundation, the MCDC entity set up specifically to handle the fence project, shows a mere $87,500 in total revenues from donations for 2006. If that’s the actual revenue coming from that $3.19 million the Declaration Alliance says it spent on the MCDC—and you estimate that at least half of that is fence-related—then we’re talking about less than 6 percent coming back to build the fence.

In other words, the best rough estimate is that about 94 cents of every dollar Jim Campbell spent on the fence went toward printing, mailing, consulting, and the like. It’s no wonder members at the field level were seeing so little of the money that Simcox claimed to be rolling in.

No doubt all this will start coming to greater public attention, now that Simcox is attempting to run for public office.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

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