Sunday, March 16, 2003

Bad blood on the border

The L.A. Times tackles the Arizona militia border patrols:

Patriots on the Borderline: Toting guns, cameras and mighty convictions, small bands of Americans are patrolling the Southwest in search of illegal immigrants [registration required]
So far, no one has been reported hurt in a confrontation. Another new outfit called American Border Patrol is planning to send volunteers equipped with Webcams and satellite uplinks to the border to stream live online video of immigrants crossing illegally into the U.S. The groups differ in tactics, but all three share an apocalyptic vision of an America under siege. "We cannot let [the Mexicans] export their failures," says Glenn Spencer, the 60-something organizer of American Border Patrol, based in Sierra Vista, Ariz. "They are a threat to our entire culture."

None of these organizations can produce more than a handful of supporters, and an informal poll--in restaurants, gas stations and on the streets of southwest Arizona--turns up few ready to strap on a gun and join them. Illegal immigrants "come through our land all the time, but so what? They're not doing any harm," says Cathy, who declines to give her last name when I meet her at a Chevron station in Bisbee, four miles from the border. She then uses a popular obscenity to describe Simcox and others like him.

Joanne Young, who tends bar at the Crazy Horse Saloon in Tombstone, says "Simcox doesn't have 10 people in this town on his side." Tombstone lives on tourism, she says, "and visitors are down this year from last. People are calling and saying, 'I don't want to bring my children there; it isn't safe.' "

Still, few in Arizona dismiss the border militiamen. While reporters are drawn by the photogenic firearms, fiery Rambo quotes and a morbid certainty that sooner or later somebody's going to get killed, locals know Simcox and his allies are on to something. In their half-baked, xenophobic, scary-screwball way, they've identified a real problem: The U.S.-Mexico border is a disaster.

Two things about this passage are strikingly familiar. 1) These guys are relatively few in number, but they're more than capable of wreaking a ton of havoc. 2) This is, of course, a classic Patriot movement type of opportunity to exploit a genuine problem and in the process grossly distort it -- a la Ruby Ridge/Waco, as well as such incidents as the Klamath River water dispute, which was exploited in a similar fashion by the Patriots. The outcome of that interference -- a fish kill of Biblical proportions -- seemed frighteningly apt. Not to mention portentous.

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