Purge at the Minutemen corral

Border Patrol wannabes implode in self-immolating power struggle. Don't they have better things to do right now?

Published May 24, 2007 9:52PM (EDT)

For a virulently anti-illegal immigrant quasi-vigilante organization like the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, getting labeled as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Legal Center is most likely a badge of honor, the kind of endorsement you can use on fundraising drives. (UPDATE: SPLC informs me that the actual category it files the Minutemen CDC under is "nativist extremist," not "hate group.") But when the Moonie-owned Washington Times, itself a relentless crusader against immigration that has covered the movement with much adulation over the years, starts coming after you, it might be time to watch your back.

The Washington Times reported Thursday that Chris Simcox, the president of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, "purged" the top leadership of the organization this week "for requesting a meeting to discuss a lack of financial accountability by the organization's leadership." Simcox has raised scads of dough over the past couple of years -- by one account, $1.6 million -- but nobody seems to know how or where that money has been spent. Perhaps most embarrassingly, after hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised for an "Israeli-style" Minuteman Border Patrol fence that was supposed to protect 70 miles of Arizona ranch-land with rolls of concertina wire and a 15-foot-high steel fence complete with bulletproof security cameras, all that resulted was some cheap lines of barbed wire that would have trouble discouraging a lazy, clubfooted cow from ambling across the border.

Talk about your lousy timing! At this critical moment in the struggle over immigration reform, with national attention at a fever pitch, you'd think the last thing the Minutemen would want is to implode in a nasty power struggle!

Critics of the organization are having a field day. The Phoenix New Times has wasted no time poking at Simcox and his "anti-Mex moonhowlers," and the Southern Poverty Legal Center is salivating over every new detail with barely restrained glee. But you don't need to go much further than the parties involved for the full flavor.

An accounting at the MinutemanHQ Web site reads as if it was copied directly from a press release dictated by Joseph Stalin to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Regrettably, in the last several days, after reports to national headquarters from state and chapter directors around the country it became clear that a very small group of volunteer administrators within the organization had become ambitious of power, ineffective and distracted from our primary mission, and were in fact determined to attempt to defame and oust the MCDC Board of Directors and Al Garza, MCDC Executive Director. Local leader reports, intercepted emails and phone calls revealed plans to attempt to install their own Board and to take over the organization that Chris and Carmen founded and have dedicated themselves to building.

In response to which, one can only quote an e-mail sent out to the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps membership by ousted deputy executive director Bob Wright, who, in addition to calling the entire affair "staggering," "preposterous" and "madness," notes in aggrieved disbelief that when he and the rest of the leadership asked for a meeting with Simcox, they "did not expect Chris to be happy about it but neither I nor the State Leaders anticipated the paranoia driven nightmare we were about to be plunged into."

An uncharitable person might suggest that when you dress up as cowboys and roam the desert borderlands aiming to fend off a "slave-labor" invasion of "alien lawbreakers" who bring "rising crime rates" and the "degradation of property values" in their wake, you are entitled to exactly the paranoia-driven nightmare you deserve.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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