There aren’t very many Minutemen out patrolling the border in search of border crossers these days, aside from a few rogue operations that have even drawn the ire of one of their more notorious fellow nativists, Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona’s Maricopa County.
But their legacy — and their ugly nativist politics — remain alive and well in the halls of Congress, and coursing through the veins of the Tea Party movement. The demand to “secure the border first” that is the favored course of hard-right conservatives, both in politics and among the pundits, is, after all, a direct manifestation of the immigration issues that were popularized by the Minutemen during their brief moment in the media sun.
Most of the would-be vigilante border-watchers vanished after 2009, when a leading Minuteman movement figure named Shawna Forde led a home-invasion robbery in Arizona, pursuing cash in the hopes of financing her border militia, that left a rural Arivaca man and his 9-year-old daughter dead. At least, most stopped using the “Minuteman” brand name, and one of the two major movement leaders — Chris Simcox of Tombstone — announced he was disbanding his organization.
There have remained a smattering of outfits doing vigilante border watches in the area, though one of these — organized by a local neo-Nazi leader named J.T. Ready, who also had a long history of association with another noted Arizona nativist, ex-Senate president Russell Pearce — ceased operating when Ready went on a shooting rampage that left five people dead, including Ready. Another small-cell operation run by a former California Minuteman recently ran afoul of Sheriff Arpaio when one of the militiamen drew a gun on a sheriff’s deputy in the Gila Bend area. Arpaio denounced them the next day at a press conference and warned that he wouldn’t hesitate to arrest them.
The coup de grace, however, was probably Chris Simcox’s recent arrest on three counts of child molestation for sexually assaulting a trio of young girls, including his own daughter. His trial is currently scheduled to begin in February of next year.
Even before these militias had faded from media view and crumbled into disarray and criminality, however, many of the movement’s leading nativists had already begun moving on to other frontiers — most notably, to the Tea Party. Several leading border-militia leaders began avidly participating in Tea Party events, notably Jim Gilchrist, the movement’s other co-founder, who told a reporter that he was moving on to Tea Party activism since he had “accomplished his mission.” Likewise, former Minutemen spokesman Al Garza says he spends his time these days advising Tea Party groups on immigration issues. And the border-watch movement’s godfather, Glenn Spencer of Arizona, has hosted Tea Party barbecues at his border ranch featuring Arpaio and Pearce as speakers.
Unsurprisingly, the Tea Party’s starkly nativist positions on immigration are essentially taken wholesale from the positions that the Minutemen established: placing the blame for the nation’s immigration problems on a failure to secure the borders, making immigration a national-security issue since terrorists supposedly were able to cross those borders, focusing attention on the illegal status of those immigrants, and insisting that anything short of mass deportation of the lawbreakers is tantamount to “amnesty.”