On Thursday, April 19, Chris Simcox, a founder and leader of the anti-immigrant Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, will speak at Michigan State University in Lansing. MSU’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) is sponsoring Simcox’s appearance; an organization that last month was added to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of “hate groups.” Young Americans for Freedom was classified as a “hate group” because of their anti-immigrant activities as well as their calls to eliminate funding for organizations of color at MSU and to develop a “white student council” for the university. The lecture is being co-sponsored by the Michigan State University College Republicans. In recent weeks, lectures by Simcox have been disrupted at University of Texas San Antonio and New York University.
Simcox founded the original Minuteman Project with Jim Gilchrist in 2004, but a split in the organization gave Gilchrist control of the Minuteman Project and Simcox control of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps in 2005. Since the split, both organizations have faced internal difficulties, with Gilchrist being ousted from his leadership position in the Minuteman Project and Simcox’s organization facing allegations of shoddy finances. Despite financial troubles and criticism of his much touted private border fence, Simcox’s work has continued and he has delivered numerous speeches around the country supporting candidates in the 2006 elections and rallying activists at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to take stronger anti-immigration positions. Simcox’s Minuteman PAC has also given financial support to candidates around the country, including $150,000 given to Michigan Republican Tim Walberg in his election to the United States House of Representatives. Simcox’s minutemen group has continued to do border patrols as well.
Simcox is described as having a “troubled past,” complete with accusations that he sexually molested his daughter, threatened to kill his wife, and beat his son. Interviews with those who know Simcox have described him as a “lunatic” that is mentally unstable. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Simcox left his family, yelling to his son “I’m going to go down to the Mexican border and sign up for the government for border patrol to protect the borders of the country that I love. You hear how serious I am.” While Simcox was unable to get a job with the Border Patrol, he formed his own militia that later blended into the Minuteman Project.
In addition to his role in founding the Minuteman Project, Simcox has a history of making anti-immigrant and overtly racist statements, statements which support claims that the organization harbors racist views. In 2003, he told the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report “those people [undocumented immigrants] don’t come here to work. They come here to rob and deal drugs” before going on to state that:
“Oh Jesus, it is unbelievable. I mean, we need the National Guard to clean out all our cities and round them [undocumented immigrants] up. They are hard-core criminals. They have no problem slitting your throat and taking your money or selling drugs to your kids or raping your daughters and they are evil people.”
Simcox echoed these statements in late 2006, when he said that, “The innocent children and relatives of American military families are being murdered by illegal aliens everyday.” Simcox has also asserted that immigrants “destroy” the environment charging that, “illegal aliens trash our countryside, destroy the environment. I mean literally acres and acres of trash, clothing and backpacks, identifications, everything.” Simcox has further claimed that “they’re [undocumented immigrants] trashing their neighborhoods, refusing to assimilate, standing on street corners, jeering at little girls walking on their way to school.”
While Simcox has gained influence in the anti-immigrant movement despite his extreme views, his views are not that far from those of members of Young Americans for Freedom, the group that is bringing him to Michigan State University. Young Americans for Freedom has brought Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo to Lansing, a politician who has been closely aligned with the anti-immigrant movement and who has received campaign contributions from racists. The organization has also hosted a “Catch an Illegal Immigrant” day at MSU. In that context, it is not surprising that they would bring a member of the minutemen to Lansing.
The Minuteman Project is a danger not only to those attempting to cross the border and for its limited political influence, but also for its use of rhetoric to advance the perception of immigrants as criminals. The Minuteman and related groups have used language that attempts to connect immigrants to terrorism, crime, drugs, and disease. In an analysis of Minuteman rhetoric for Narcosphere, Nick Cooper noted the Minuteman placing blame for 9/11 on “open borders,” claiming that immigrants carry deadly diseases, and using scapegoating as an organizing tactic. Cooper reports that many Minuteman members are opposed to NAFTA and other trade agreements, but rather than addressing the fact that they are victims of global capital have instead gone after those with a perceived lower status rather than challenging the system. This scapegoating has fit into the Minuteman Project’s support for a “reconquista conspiracy” through which Mexico is believed to be infiltrating the United States with the goal of territorial conquest. Of course, this argument is rooted in xenophobic assumptions that places blame on immigrants at the bottom for taking jobs in the United States, while ignoring those at the top that benefit from global economic policies that harm both immigrants and workers in the United States.
Moreover, the Minuteman Project, far from being the originators of the idea of a citizens border patrol, are the descendents of the racist border vigilantism of the Ku Klux Klan, who undertook a “Klan Border Watch” program in the 1970s. Beyond viewing immigration and immigrants through a racist lens, the Minuteman Project, the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, and the larger vigilante movement have attracted the interest and overt participation of the organized racist movement in the United States. Members of the neo-Nazi National Alliance and the National Socialist Movement have been involved with the Minuteman Project, while co-founder Gilchrist’s congressional campaign used neo-Nazi volunteers. Although vigilantes became more active on the border in the early 2000s, increased dramatically since the founding of the Minuteman Project. At the same time, the often racist debate over immigration is believed to be fueling a resurgence of both the Ku Klux Klan and other racist groups as well as racist violence directed at latinos.