Vigilante racism against immigrants
lnp3 at panix.com
Thu May 22 06:56:53 MDT 2003
Vigilante injustice Arizona militia members, a Colorado Republican and a
national group with white supremacist ties have made a remote stretch of
the Mexico border a flash point for anti-immigrant hostility.
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By Max Blumenthal
May 22, 2003 | TOMBSTONE, Ariz. -- It's high noon in Tombstone, Ariz.,
a dusty little town that's part ranching outpost and part Old West theme
park, and over on Toughnut Street, a block away from the tourists and
the tacky souvenir shops, Chris Simcox is toiling away inside the
cluttered office of the Tombstone Tumbleweed. An Associated Press
feature on Simcox has just been wired to every newsroom in the country,
and the atmosphere is chaotic. Phones in the little newsroom are ringing
off the hook.
Simcox, the Tumbleweed's editor and owner, is in his element. After a
failed marriage in Los Angeles, a stint of unemployment, the shock of
Sept. 11, and three months camped out in the Arizona desert, he arrived
here last year and has fashioned for himself a new life as the poster
boy for the American anti-immigrant movement. He bought the newspaper in
August; by October, he had clearly stamped it with his own personality.
"ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!" declared the Tumbleweed's front page that month. "A
PUBLIC CALL TO ARMS! CITIZENS BORDER PATROL MILITIA NOW FORMING!"
Within a month, Simcox claims, an untold number of Tombstone residents
and others signed up to join his militia, called Civil Homeland Defense.
Militia rules mandate that each member carry a pistol, for which a
background check is required, and he or she must also wear a baseball
cap emblazoned with an American flag. The group patrols along the
Cochise County chaparral between Tombstone and Mexico, searching for
people who look like illegal immigrants. When suspected illegals are
caught, Simcox says, they are "humanely" placed under citizen's arrest
and turned over to the U.S. Border Patrol.
There are those in Tombstone who say that the 41-year-old former teacher
is an eccentric, an egomaniac and a threat to the local tourism
industry. While Simcox says his militia has 600 members, others here say
the number is far smaller. "Chris can only get a three-man patrol
going," says Jeff, a bartender at the Crystal Bar on Main Street.
"Basically, the kind of people who want to join his group can't even
pass a background check."
However quixotic his character, Simcox is a leading figure in a loose
but committed alliance of anti-immigrant forces that have turned Cochise
County into a national flash point for escalating tensions over illegal
immigration. The alliance includes not only local ranchers, landowners
and law enforcement officials, but also former high-ranking Border
Patrol agents and U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican. Quietly
backing their efforts is the Federation for American Immigration Reform,
a controversial anti-immigration group that in the 1980s and 1990s
received more than $1 million from a shadowy group accused of
In Cochise County alone, self-styled vigilante groups in recent years
have harassed and detained hundreds, perhaps thousands, of migrants
suspected of entering the country illegally. They claim they are only
enforcing U.S. laws too often ignored by law enforcement officials. But
human rights advocates are worried about a climate here and through much
of southern Arizona that seems increasingly primed for violence.
In 2000 Miguel Angel Palafox, a 20-year-old migrant, was shot in the
neck by two horsemen dressed in black who attacked him near the border
town of Sasabe, about 50 miles east of Cochise County. Palafox crawled
back to Mexico with a T-shirt wrapped around his wound and lived to tell
the tale, though the riders remain unknown.
Last October, in the small town of Red Rock, between Tucson and Phoenix,
two undocumented immigrants were found shot to death by a roadside.
Manuel Ortega, a spokesman for the Mexican Consulate in Tucson, says the
two victims were part of a group of 12 migrants resting around a pond
south of the town. While most of the group slumbered, one of the
migrants told the consulate staff, two masked men dressed in camouflage
and armed with machine guns appeared from the woods, firing upon the
group and killing the two before the others scattered. The Pinal County
sheriff's office is treating the killings as a dispute between rival
people smugglers, or coyotes, but Ortega says his office has never seen
a killing like that involving coyotes.
As co-director of the Tucson human rights group Derechos Humanos,
attorney Isabel Garcia has campaigned to bring anti-immigrant vigilantes
and brutal coyotes to justice for more than 25 years, and she sees good
reason to question the focus of the sheriff's investigation of the Red
Rock murders. "It seems highly unlikely that coyotes would use
camouflage clothes and highly unlikely that they would kill people who
would bring in more money," she said. "We've never seen that."
No one has suggested that Simcox's group is involved in the deadly
violence. But critics say he is the embodiment of a troubling climate of
intolerance and impatience that poses a vivid threat to Mexicans and
other illegal migrants near the border. Local officials have condemned
the vigilante activity. U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva of Tucson, a Democrat,
has called for an investigation of the growing militia movement there.
But the office of U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has not yet
replied, and in the meantime, Simcox has grown bolder.
"I dare the president of the United States to arrest Americans who are
protecting their own country," Simcox said, in comments carried by the
Washington Times earlier this year. "We will no longer tolerate the
ineptness of the government in dealing with these criminals and drug
dealers. It is a monumental disgrace that our government is letting the
American people down, turning us into the expendable casualties of the
war on terrorism."
When White House press secretary Ari Fleischer was asked whether
President Bush approved of Simcox's militia, his response was carefully
ambiguous: "The president believes that the laws of the land need to be
observed and the laws need to be enforced." Which might mean one of two
things. Perhaps it was a warning that militia groups should stay within
the law. Or perhaps it was an acknowledgment that federal agencies have
failed at the border -- and a careful way of cheering on the vigilantes.
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