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Patriots on the Borderline

Toting Guns, Cameras and Mighty Convictions, Small Bands of Americans are Patrolling the Southwest in Search of Illegal Immigrants

March 16, 2003|Dan Baum | Dan Baum lived in Mexico for two years and writes often about border issues. He is the author of "Citizen Coors: An American Dynasty" (Morrow, 2000).

Chris Simcox won't stop fooling with his gun. He paces his tiny office, bouncing on the balls of his feet, and every 15 seconds his hands go to the gun on his belt--hiking it up, adjusting its angle, checking its safety. It's a big gun, a two-toned .45 in a hard plastic holster, and whenever he is photographed by the media--which is often these days--Simcox makes sure the pistol is in every frame.

Simcox speaks of sovereignty, the Pledge of Allegiance and the rule of law, but his body language is all about the gun. Sooner or later he's going to use it, he wants everybody to know, in a showdown with the illegal immigrants and Mexican drug dealers he believes are ruining the United States. "These are enemies who are wrecking our economy," he says, his eyes shiny with emotion. "This is about national security." If Simcox dies in a blaze of border gunfire, so be it, he says. "Damn them. That's how much I care about my country."

Simcox would be naught but an anonymous zealot with a death wish if, in October, he hadn't flamboyantly demonstrated the dictum that freedom of the press is best enjoyed by those who own one. At 42, he is owner, editor and publisher (and reporter, ad director and circulation manager) of the weekly Tombstone Tumbleweed, circulation 1,200. His Oct. 24 issue bore the headline: "Enough is Enough! A Public Call to Arms!" The paper invited readers to join a "Citizens Border Patrol Militia" whose function, Simcox says, will be to "shame the government into doing its job" of controlling the nation's border with Mexico. "We need some good old-fashioned discipline in this country," Simcox explains as he fitfully circles the one-room Tumbleweed office. "I invite someone to come up with a solution."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday March 19, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
Immigrant registration -- The article "Patriots on the Borderline" in Sunday's Los Angeles Times Magazine incorrectly stated that male immigrants from select countries are being forced to register with the government. In fact, the federal program requires registration of men from specified countries who entered the U.S. on temporary visas.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday April 06, 2003 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Part I Page 4 Lat Magazine Desk 1 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
In the article "Patriots on the Borderline" (March 16), it was incorrectly stated that male immigrants from select countries are being forced to register with the government. In fact, the federal program requires registration of men from specified countries who entered the U.S. on temporary visas.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday April 19, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
Immigrants -- In the article "Patriots on the Borderline" in the Los Angeles Times Magazine on March 16, it was incorrectly stated that immigrants constituted 13% of the American population's increase in the 1990s. In fact, immigrants represented 45% of the nation's population growth in that time period.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday May 04, 2003 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Part I Page 4 Lat Magazine Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
In the article "Patriots on the Borderline" (March 16), it was incorrectly stated that immigrants constituted 13% of the American population's increase in the 1990s. In fact, immigrants represented 45% of the nation's population growth in that time period.

The Tumbleweed doesn't circulate beyond Tombstone, a hamlet of 1,400 amid the vastness of the southern Arizona desert about 25 miles from the border. But the Internet took Simcox's article global, and about 100 people, he says, have since signed up to join him. Simcox says the only requirement for his Civil Homeland Defense Corps is an Arizona license to carry a concealed pistol. "That will screen out the criminals and loonies," he says. Hundreds more people are e-mailing messages of support, he says, and "thousands" of dollars in contributions are pouring in. Simcox is vague about what exactly his volunteers will do. For the last few months, he and a handful of friends have been offering, in their spare time, to serve as private security guards for ranchers, and when his militia gets off the ground, it will probably do likewise, he says. If an illegal immigrant is found on private land, "We challenge [them], detain them for 15 minutes and evict them," Simcox says. "We hold them any more than that and we can be charged with kidnapping." He says he hasn't yet had his gun out of its holster.

He has, however, attracted a lot of attention. Reporters are pouring in. Simcox can't meet at 4 p.m. because he has an interview with the Chicago Tribune, and then another at 5 p.m. with the Frankfurter Allgemeine, a German newspaper. Perhaps predictably, two other border militias are edging into his spotlight. Ranch Rescue of Texas has been quietly organizing armed volunteers to visit private spreads around the Southwest since 2000 to repair damage caused by illegal immigrants and, less commonly, run them off.

"I have them through my property all the time, every day," says Gary McBride, who ranches in Arizona about 30 miles north of the border. "They leave stock fences open so the cows get out. They damage water tanks. They leave behind an unbelievable amount of trash, which my cows sometimes eat and get sick. We're damned tired of it."

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.

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