Hunters and the Hunted on the Arizona Border

Minutemen Vigilantes Target Immigrants

by Luciente Zamora and Nikolai Garcia

Revolutionary Worker #1275, April 24, 2005, posted at

Somewhere along the Mexico/U.S. border, between the small Arizona towns of Naco and Douglas, a retired ex- Marine from Missouri stands in front of his campsite and American flag. On his right side is a 9mm handgun, and on his left is a cell phone. He holds up a pair of binoculars and looks toward the Mexican border, waiting.

The man is part of the Minuteman Project, a group of military vets and militant rightwingers who have been recruited over the Internet to patrol a 20-mile stretch of the Arizona border during the month of April.

They gathered in RV camps, and celebrated their mission with all the camaraderie of a vacation cookout.

They deployed themselves out into the desert wearing camouflage, often packing guns, night vision goggles, walkie-talkies, and cell phones with the number for the Border Patrol on speed dial.

They consider the migrant workers who cross this border looking for work to be an enemy invading force. And they describe themselves as merely "Americans doing the job Congress won't."

They are hunting human beings.

The Minuteman Project

Since April 1, recruits of the Minuteman Project have been gathering from Colorado, California, Texas, New Mexico. Retired border patrol agents, ex-Marines, former corrections officers, neo-nazis from the National Alliance, white separatists, and others answered a call put out by the Minuteman Project to defend the "Homeland" from the "invasion of illegal aliens."

Some came by car or RV, others flew into the area on their private planes—but they all arrived on a mission to hunt "illegal aliens." Officially, they say they will only "call" Migra Agents to "report" crossings—but vigilantes with guns, enthusiastic about the hunt, suggest they are ready and eager to kill immigrants if given a chance. After orientation, they dispersed in bands of vigilantes across a 20-mile stretch of the Arizona/ Mexico border.

Two of the Minuteman Project's founders are Chris Simcox and Jim Gilchrist, both originally from California.

Chris Simcox—a longtime vigilante activist who bought the local Tombstone Press when he moved to Arizona—wrote a letter addressed to President Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft, and Tom Ridge. In that letter Simcox described the lack of border patrol agents as "treasonous behavior" and vowed to contribute to "national defense" by stopping the "invasion." He announced he would take it upon himself and his group to patrol the border.

When he heard Simcox on conservative AM radio, Jim Gilchrist decided he had found an ally for his idea of forming a vigilante group that would patrol the border.

These Minutemen inspired by rightwing Republican Pat Buchanan's claim that urgent action is needed to preserve the U.S. as an ethnically white, Christian-European nation. Their mission statement says that if this is not done, "Future generations will inherit a tangle of rancorous, unassimilated, squabbling cultures with no common bond to hold them together, and a certain guarantee of the death of this nation as a harmonious 'melting pot.' "

The Hunted

Somewhere in Mexico a man fits two days worth of clothes into a small bag. His wife cries as she watches her husband pack.

From the doorway a small boy stares at his mother crying. He understands what his father told him: "I have to leave for a while." But, unlike his mother, he's still not old enough to realize the deadly journey his father is about to embark upon and the possibility that he may never see him again.

All throughout Mexico, men and women, young and old, are saying good-bye to their home towns and their families in order to insure survival for at least one more day.

Many will end up in the Downtown L.A. sweatshop district attached to sewing machines, and sometimes not even earning minimum wage. Others will go beyond southern California to pick garlic in Fresno, or all the way to Florida to pick tomatoes, or somewhere in between, like North Carolina, to work at a meat packing plant.

For most of the time that they spend in this country, until they return to Mexico or until they die trying to pay off debts, they will be treated as second-class citizens.

They will be harassed for not speaking English and will be in constant fear of the passing of another state law that seeks to deny their children education or health services. They will always stay as far away as possible from any authorities.

But for the ones that aren't so "lucky," a different fate awaits them.

Hunting Humans in Modern America

"Humans. That's the greatest prey there is on earth."

Roger Barnett. former deputy sheriffand rancher, Sierra Vista, Arizona

The cold-blooded vigilante attacks on immigrants aren't a new development. Ranchers in Arizona have killed undocumented immigrants for years. They have terrorized them, hunted them down with dogs, and handed them over to the Border Patrol at gunpoint.

Border watch groups and vigilante patrols have been building along the U.S./Mexico border. But what is new is that they have developed deep ties with powerful forces high in the government—and are operating in the era where any paranoid appeal for more security quickly gets official backing and a public hearing. One sign posted in the town of Tombstone read: "Terrorists love open borders—Remember 9/11."

For years, the U.S. government has been militarizing the border, under both Democratic and Republican presidents. Mile by mile, walls and barbed wire have cut off Mexico from the United States, forcing more and more immigrants to cross over in the dangerous desolate stretches of border in Arizona.

It has created an intense conflict zone, as desperate immigrant workers try to cross and survive, and an intensified government crackdown hunts them through the dry hills to trap them, capture them, and deport them back to Mexico.

In the days before the Minuteman Project started, George W. Bush sent between 500 and 700 new Border Patrol agents to the Arizona/Mexico border.

And meanwhile, this reactionary Minuteman movement has emerged to demand even more extreme and violent actions against the immigrants. They have criticized the proposals made by President Bush and Mexico's President Vicente Fox to create a legal program for bringing Mexican immigrants into the U.S.

They have argued that even the last decade of militarization along this border has not been nearly enough—and that all crossings need to be finally and permanently sealed by whatever means necessary.

And they have offered themselves as an armed vigilante force to hunt and capture immigrants, to turn them over to the Border Patrol, and as a public attempt to pressure and shame the government to step up its own efforts.

The Desert

If you ever drive towards Douglas, you will start noticing water bottles all over the desert, as if the desert had started sprouting plastic along with the cacti. Some of the bottles will be barely visible, but clearly empty. Some of these bottles quenched the thirst, maybe even saved the life, of someone who had been walking for days without shade or water in the hot desert sun.

More clearly visible will be the full, untouched gallons leaning on the barbed-wire fence—left by people who want to welcome immigrants, ease their suffering, rescue their lives, and take a public stand against the racist climate.

How many of the waiting water bottles will not reach the dying lips of a Mexican campesino whose last thoughts will be about his family and the annual fair in his home town?

As you drive along these desert roads, you will then start seeing small makeshift memorials consisting of metal crosses, rocks and colorful ribbon: More evidence of death along the border.

Creating A Zone of Danger and Death

"Immigrants will divide our country. We are not going to have a civil war now, but we could."

Jim Gilchrist, reactionary Vietnam vet and Minuteman border vigilante

Year after year, hundreds of migrants die trying to cross the border. The California Rural Assistance League reported that there were 325 deaths at the border during the 2004 fiscal year alone. Their deaths are often horrific—abandoned to be baked alive in sealed railroad cars and trucks. Or stopped by a twisted ankle in the harsh desert, and unable to make it to water or rescue.

Our RW reporting team spoke with a young humanitarian in southern Arizona who is horrified by all this, and who works with a religious group that leaves water bottles for migrants at key crossing points on the border.

This person told the RW, "Some reports say that over 40 percent of migrants who cross the border in these areas are assaulted. Either they are robbed by their coyotes, they are raped, or beat up by people. Those things are typical of a war zone—where civilians pay the cost.. We've heard the Minutemen talk about migrants. They use words like they would if they were hunting animals. They say, 'Hey, we're going to bag and tag some illegals today.'"

The press reported that a man captured by the Minutemen was held against his will, and forced to stand for a photograph holding a shirt with the slogan: "Bryan Barton caught an illegal alien and all I got was this lousy T- shirt."

In the main, the Border Patrol authorities don't publicly support the Minutemen. They warn of the "dangers of vigilanteism." And they urge that civilians trust the official Border Patrol to "do its job." But at the same time, from President Bush on down, there is very little attempt to denounce the Minuteman Project directly, and even less is done to stop them.

Imagine: Armed men gather from across the country to hunt human beings, spreading through the countryside with nightvision glasses to target anyone who "looks like an alien" to them. And nothing is done to stop them, or prevent their raw terrorization of people.

Imagine, for just a second, if some community of oppressed people in the U.S. suddenly announced that they were tired of the threat of police brutality in their community and formed armed neighborhood groups to keep their communities safe. What would happen? Would these armed groups of people be allowed to roam free? Would the local authorities stand aside and let them do their thing?

Of course not, all the armed might of the state would be brought in to break them up.

But in Arizona, the leaders of the Minuteman Project have gotten shameless support from government officials. Colorado Republican Congress member Tom Tancredo sent Gilchrist and Simcox a letter that said, "Congratulations on a job well done!! Mission accomplished!!" He invited these armed racist thugs to Washington, DC to attend the Congressional "Immigration Reform Caucus" with him.

As you read this article.

Somewhere near the Mexico/U.S. border a man waits for night to arrive. With his right hand he clutches a small bag filled with his belongings and with his heart he holds on to the memory of his wife and son, remembering his promise to them that he will make it to el otro lado to find work and help them survive for at least another day