I went to the Arizona - Mexico border, with my close friend Brad Beebe,
to witness for myself what was going on with the Minuteman Project (MMP).
Gun rights were under a microscope, I had to look with my own eyes.
Nearly everything I had heard in the news was flat wrong. These were
the most decent, friendly, dedicated, concerned bunch of people I have
met. And Mexico must be far worse than the news media paints it, with
5,000 people A DAY trying to escape from there -- that's worse than
the communist countries experienced.
The fresh volunteers who drifted in as we arrived that morning were
from Minnesota, Illinois, Louisiana, Texas, California and we were the
only two from Arizona, which concerned Brad. Two women volunteers at
the briefings were overheard saying, "What a great group of guys...
every day, another great group."
I half expected to find a bunch of gun-toting bubbas milling around,
hoping to hunt down Mexicans (the news-media perspective). Instead,
I found a highly organized, quasi-military sense of command, control
and communication, because the men best suited to run such a large-scale
"neighborhood watch" were all ex-military, and there they
were using those skills. They were able to haul out their old military
training, set up a chain of command, assign people to positions on the
line, and make the whole thing work. What's the next step below completely
green recruits? Civilian volunteers, and that's all they had to work
with. They made it work. There was no racism evident anywhere. I had
no trouble getting involved.
So far (4/26/05), 847 Minutemen have volunteered, and 330 captures have
been made by the Border Patrol (BP) due to MMP reports, according to
an MMP supervisor.
A BP captain informed us they had caught a total of 268,000 "illegals"
(the word people use down there) from Oct. 2004 thru April 25, 2005
(that's roughly 1,300 per day; their fiscal year starts in Oct.) About
20,000 of these were OTMs, the BP captain's term for "other than
Mexicans," and he wouldn't reveal how many were from terrorist
watchlist nations. (Full details of our meeting with him at the end
of this report).
Wall Street Journal confirms that news
coverage has been
grotesque in its distorted coverage of this month-long event.
The Minuteman Project is taking place because so many thousands of people
are pouring across our border daily, trashing the countryside on their
way, and mocking the idea that our country has a border. People living
near the border, like Tombstone Tumbleweed newspaper publisher Chris
Simcox, who is a main organizer here, are taking the brunt of the swarming
mobs, and simply reached their limit.
The people sneak in without passports -- remember that word, passport?
In most foreign nations, if you're found without one, you're in a world
of hurt, and rightfully so, but not here. The situation is dangerous,
illegal, humiliating, and out of control. One of the core reasons for
having a federal government is to protect our borders. The feds are
failing miserably, giving us lip service, and in near total dereliction
of this fundamental constitutional duty.
The oath politicians take is --
"to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United
Article IV, Section 4 of the Constitution states --
"The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union
a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against
Among this invading horde, according to the BP, are hardened thugs,
repeat-offender felons, people-smugglers known as "coyotes,"
drug runners, and of course, many hard-working decent people trying
to improve their lot. Mexico, with a corruption-riddled government,
lousy economy, and abject contempt for civil liberties is a place people
want to escape from. They're not stupid. They recognize the wealth and
opportunity Americans have created north of their depressed (and depressing)
land, and they are storming up in non-stop droves. We send them back,
and they turn right around and attempt illegal entry again and again.
I also heard there are sex-slave traffickers, but that's a rumor I was
not able to personally corroborate.
WHY THE PROBLEM EXISTS
No one I spoke with agrees on this. There are the economic factors of
course, and the disparity between the marginally socialist and corrupt
ways of Mexico compared to the liberties and opportunity we enjoy. But
deeper, just how complicit is our leadership with theirs in supporting
and encouraging the migrants? What do they know that we're not finding
out about? Is Mexico so dependent on the cash the illegals send back
that the government provides every imaginable support to get them into
What role does big business play in funding our own government and encouraging
the supply of cheap labor? Can the Mexican economy and system ever be
turned around so people won't be so desperate to escape? Is racism among
the Mexicans as bad as people say, with all those of Mayan, Incan and
Indian descent ostracized by the Spaniard-blooded mainstream? Can that
be cured, or at least improved? Is the widely accepted gay-bashing a
sign of a deeper problem?
Would managed worker and visa programs relieve the problems, and are
these desirable? To what extent does Mexico intend to take back lands
they once held, negate old treaties, and repatriate southern California,
Arizona, New Mexico and Texas? Is the real goal a voting majority that
can turn southeastern U.S. into new old Mexico? Why don't the immigrants
assimilate, often preferring instead to turn neighborhoods into squalid,
Spanish-labeled imitations of their homeland? No one has answers to
these questions, at least none that made sense to me or seemed consistent.
WHAT IT IS
The Minuteman Project is essentially an exercise of constitutional rights
under the First Amendment. We were using the guaranteed rights of speech
and assembly, that's all. Have you seen that in any media reports? People
were gathering on land where they had a right to be, and communicating.
In some countries you could be shot or jailed for such impertinence.
We were exercising rights we have a right to exercise.
A few simple principles applied.
1. A 100% no-contact policy.
You were to have no direct contact with any illegals spotted. Don't
offer them food or water, don't converse, avoid them. If they come toward
you move away. Some illegals had attempted contact, and then made claims
of assault to discredit the MMP efforts. Don't even wave. These immigrants
understand that if a BP agent makes a downward waving motion, they are
to sit down right where they are and wait to be picked up. If you waved,
you had to put your hand down afterwards, and the illegals might take
that as a command to sit. If they sat, then you had detained them, with
negative legal impacts on the project and yourself. Avoid all contact.
If they approach or even attack, get in your vehicle and leave. Leave
your goods behind if necessary. It was this approach that has kept the
MMP squeaky clean and above reproach (despite media hysteria otherwise).
2. Observe and report.
Note how many illegals you observed, how many men, women, children.
Are any in apparent need of medical help, we don't want people to suffer.
What are they wearing, are they carrying babies, or anything else, especially
backpacks which would be indicative of drug smuggling. Which way are
they headed. Then call BP by cell phone -- everyone was given the emergency
response phone numbers -- and your job is done. We were to assist the
BP, not to be the BP. We were not freelance police, we were observers.
We were not protecting a spot. After BP arrives, leave promptly so they
needn't include you in their report, which undesirably increases their
3. Be respectful.
Joining up with this team, it became each person's responsibility to
project a good clean image. This was a joy. It was a point of pride.
It made Brad and I walk tall. And it was easy, because everywhere we
went, people gushed with thanks and congratulations on the good work
we were doing. They were delighted that the project had been created,
and that the flood if illegals, at least for the time being, had stopped.
More than one person said they were getting better sleep because the
dogs weren't barking all night long. A few started out in whispers,
then gradually, enthusiastically, revealed stories of their own contact
with the illegals, for as long as they had a Minuteman's ear. (A few
short samples at the end of this report.)
4. Avoid the news media and the ACLU.
The dirty tricks that had been tried were blood curdling. The news media
could, and many did, take anything you might say and twist it for sensationalism,
and to make the MMP look bad. You've read the news reports these people
generated, how closely does that match the eyewitness report I'm giving
you here? The solution the organizers applied was to avoid giving them
unwitting support. Both the media and ACLU "observers" had
tried to instigate trouble by dressing as illegals, emerging from the
woods, and attempting to provoke hostilities. The ACLU have made fools
of themselves, have been disrespectful, set fires, baited us, under
the "leadership" of a young individual named Ray Ybarra, with
support from their leadership locally and nationally.
5. On the line, all guns stay holstered.
Don't show it off, examine it, clean it, fix it, load it, lube it, take
it out for any reason, except to save your life, if that becomes immediately
necessary. In the unlikely event that you are shot at from across the
border, do not return fire, duck, and leave. No exceptions, zero tolerance,
and no long guns on the line. This is Arizona, and wearing a gun (literally,
"bearing arms") is perfectly legal (as it ought to be in all
states). The news media has showed an unethical, totally anti-rights
bias on this point, using ridicule, derision and a hoplophobic sense
of distress that cries out for medical attention. What better place
to exercise this right than in a notoriously bad neighborhood, with
illegal hordes and criminals streaming in. Since you were supposed to
avoid all contact and depart if approached, all guns stayed holstered.
More than half of the people I saw were armed, a comforting sight all
things considered, and more than half of those carried revolvers. Our
trainer made it clear that we were being watched very closely -- the
whole world was watching -- and the last thing we needed was to give
these people, and the media's bigots, any excuse at all to malign the
good work we had set out to do.
6. Do not step over the border into Mexico.
If you do, and are caught, you can be arrested and spend two years in
a Mexican prison. They don't have a revolving door immigration policy
like we do. The rules were clear, with no wiggle room.
WHAT IT ISN'T
It isn't racism, the KKK, skinheads, Nazis, bullies, bubbas, yahoos
or most anything else the news media, and especially hyperventilating
editorial writers, have claimed. Most especially it is not vigilantism.
Vigilantes take the law into their own hands. As observers, that was
not remotely our role. Vigilantes are by definition bad. Being vigilant,
on the other hand, is something the Dept. of Homeland Security has asked
all Americans to be, and it's smart. We were complying. That felt good.
Despite media reports, the MMP isn't hated by the Border Patrol. It's
just the opposite -- the BP union publicly stated that they welcomed
the support, and that the MMP was effective, courteous and doing good
(U.S. Border Patrol Local 2544, their statement is at the end of this
report). The official BP position is that they have no position, and
do not support the effort. Privately, tacitly, it was obvious we were
not hated, even though our presence complicated some of BP's tasks --
just look at all that news media they have had to deal with and navigate
around. And the lack of illegals has left some of the agents, well,
I'm not usually one to take kindly to following orders, I cut my own
path, but I found myself eager to comply with the SOPs (standard operating
procedures), because I wanted to, it was a badge of honor.
Every volunteer goes through hours of orientation. You sign up at 312
Toughnut St., at the Tumbleweed newspaper office, one block off the
main drag, Allen St. They explain many of the things I've just described.
First, on chairs under a tree, an hour is spent explaining the rules,
checking IDs, scoping out the new arrivals, reading and signing an intense
waiver and statement of understanding, verbally answering specific questions
about compliance with the rules set forth. If you have any problem with
any of it, you're welcome to leave. Volunteers were accepted with open
arms, I saw no way of screening out plants or anti-MMP operatives. I
learned from a friend when I got back that CBS had placed a crew undercover
and was preparing a report.
We got more simple rules. No drinking while on duty, stay 100% clear.
No drugs. Anyone noticing a violation was to inform leadership for the
benefit of the whole project, and violators would be dismissed. But
we all wanted this to work, so it was not a problem as far as I could
We were issued badges -- paper convention-style badges in plastic sleeves,
with "Minuteman Project," our names in plain view, and "Tumbleweed
Correspondent" on the reverse.
We were left with about an hour to get from Tombstone to Palominas,
with its commanding view of Mexican border country. It's a no-stop-light
town, just a stretch of Highway 92 with a diner on it, a few homes,
and a Bible College. We grabbed buffalo burgers and bought T-shirts
("Unauthorized Border Patrol Agent," and I got the hat too)
that some enterprising individuals had in a box, then went outside for
more orientation under a tree. We met the line supervisors, men with
experience from WWII, Korea and Vietnam, selflessly dedicated to this
cause. Aw admit it, they thoroughly enjoyed dusting off their hard-won
skills and putting them to good use. They practically salivated when
they heard that two brothers had brought along a 4x night-vision scope.
WORKING THE LINE
All the news reports talk about protecting a 23-mile stretch of the
border. The defensive lines were actually about three miles long in
two places, on the main smuggling corridors. Land in between had homes,
ranches, was covered by the Border Patrol, who had vehicles in constant
motion. The MMP organizers had a severe limitation, because they had
to operate on land where the public had a right to be. They cleared
this with authorities and scrupulously toed the law. This turned out
to be the right-of-way east of a northbound stretch of the highway,
some private land with permission of the landowners, and open desert
directly adjacent to the Mexican border.
We volunteered and worked the swing shift (2 p.m. to 10 p.m.) on 4/25/05,
on the Huachuca (wa-CHOO-ka) mountain line, along state highway 92.
Brad and I chose Huachuca for several reasons -- there had been some
activity there the day before, with 12 illegals spotted sneaking in,
and eight captured by BP. Also, the Huachuca line has scrub mountain
trees that provided some shade.
The Naco (rhymes with taco) line, further east, is bare desert with
only low desert vegetation. We visited that the next morning and it
would have been a good choice, because it had long vistas into Mexico
that made observation easy, and a ton of clear evidence of illegal entries,
which I'll describe below. No illegals were observed by any Minutemen
during our watch, we have effectively shut down the traffickers, for
After coming across from Mexico, the illegals had to get across 92,
and some did it at the foothills of the Huachuca Mountains, for several
reasons. The folds of the range and its foliage provided cover. More
important, the culverts, large and small water tunnels under the highway,
gave them a way across so they couldn't be easily spotted on the road.
We took positions at every culvert and points in between. Brad and I
were at position 9 the whole time.
While this was serious business, I've got to say it was also fun, with
a tailgate-party flavor without all the beer. It was a neighborhood
block watch where the neighbors all got to know each other, chat, share
food. We sat in beach chairs near our vehicles, peered through binoculars,
speculated on where illegals might attempt to cross, worked the walkie
talkies. Minutemen had set up campsites, some fairly elaborate, with
some positions manned for a week or more by the same individuals. People
driving by honked and waved, shouted their support. The expectation
of action, the knowledge that others were stationed all up and down
the road with us, this made hanging out in the open air, by the side
of a highway, with nothing much to do but keep our eyes open for eight
straight hours, tolerable, even enjoyable.
All the land across 92 from our lines is private, so we had instructions
not to cross the road. However, one tactic of the coyote smugglers was
to cell phone Hispanic youngsters in nearby Sierra Vista, and have them
pick up large orders of fast food. They would then put it in large plastic
trash bags and drop it on the roadside, to feed the illegals. A common
feature of abandoned illegal "nests" was piles of McDonalds
or Pizza Hut garbage (along with tampons, water jugs, etc.). Though
we weren't supposed to cross the road, if we witnessed a suspected food
drop, the line supervisors said we could break SOP, "just to pick
up the trash."
Advanced publicity and the work before we arrived for our one-night
tour of duty had all but shut down the illegals, but we did have some
action. A young Hispanic-looking couple, claiming to be from Chicago,
stopped on the highway and asked us what was up, pumped us for information.
We pumped back. They seemed nice enough, the guy said he used to hike
these mountains when he lived here as a kid, described the smuggling
techniques of lookouts, but the temporary Arizona plates on their black
PT Cruiser made us wonder about their Chicago story. We made notes.
An older man in a new maroon Ford Explorer drove the dirt access road
adjacent to the highway, acted clandestine, implied he knew what was
REALLY going on, asked if we also knew, said he lied about what his
name was, asked if we knew who was in charge, contradicted himself a
half-dozen times. He worried me. I wondered how fast I could draw if
he suddenly produced a gun. Brad recognized the weirdness too, and took
a defensive position, hand on his pistol, behind the man's vehicle.
We made notes.
An Hispanic-looking male in his early twenties came blazing down the
access road on a dirt bike, with a woman riding back up. We got advance
word of him on the walkie talkies, from positions down the line. He
cruised the whole line ("this is position ten, he just came thru"),
then he turned around and came back again. He had no license plates.
We took pictures. We made notes.
The evidence I wanted to see for myself was at the Naco line. Naco is
a tiny disheveled town split by the border, with a 12-foot-high metal
fence thru the center of it, which forces the illegals into surrounding
desert. Out there, in sprawling open terrain, we clearly saw foot trails
heading for miles from Mexico toward the U.S. These ended at openings
cut in the rusted out barbed-wire fence separating the two nations.
You could eyeball the graded edges of the dirt road as you drove, and
easily spot the pounded down areas where a fence hole had been cut or
twisted and a dirt trail ended. Blue flags waved at water stations deep
on the Mexican side, placed there by the Mexicans, helping to guide
the illegals. These were the well-worn thoroughfares through the desert
I had heard about and wanted to see with my own eyes. I wanted to step
through the fence, but followed the SOP and didn't. I wonder if it was
legal for me to pee from the U.S. side through the fence onto Mexico,
and photograph the wet spot...
We saw the "Hannity Hole," where talk show host Sean Hannity
had stepped through, creating a huge ruckus over a non-problem. Why
don't those complainers create an equal fuss over the thousands of illegals
who routinely pour through these holes? I know, I know, you have answers
for that one.
WHERE IT'S HEADED
People in every border state have contacted MMP and asked for guidance
in setting up their own observation campaigns. Chris Simcox is writing
a guide (you KNOW my firm is going to carry it) has been to Washington
to meet with legislative leaders, dispel the trash talk and myths, and
encourage support and a series of fixes to the problem. He was well
received. Co-organizer Jim Gilchrist and he plan to identify the large
industrial users of illegal labor and put their feet to the fire. Additional
campaigns here in Arizona are being planned (October would be next),
depending on the results from the Washington meetings. We're going to
win this thing.
Statements from U.S. Border Patrol Local 2544 website
(the largest Border Patrol union local in the country):
"We want to make it clear -- because we've had a lot of questions
about this -- we have not had one single complaint from a rank-and-file
agent in this sector about the Minutemen."
"Every report we've received indicates these people are very supportive
of the rank-and-file agents; they're courteous. Many of them are retired
firefighters, cops and other professionals, and they're not causing
us any problems whatsoever."
"Reports of [Minutemen] causing 'ground sensors' to go off are
exagerated because most of those are being set off by the ACLU sneaking
around trying to find the Minutemen doing something wrong."
Notes from our half-hour meeting with Capt. Jose Garza Community Relations Officer, 10 years with the Border Patrol, loves
his job, at the Naco BP Office. (He's actually from Tucson sector, but
on assignment here due to the extra activity caused by the Minuteman
We almost didn't go in, it's intimidating, but Brad and I continually
brushed such reluctance aside on this trip. There was a "no civilian
guns" sign on the door, so I went in with holster empty. Federal
statute does not actually authorize such a ban: the civilian gun ban
in federal facilities does not apply to "the lawful carrying of
firearms or other dangerous weapons in a Federal facility incident to
hunting or other lawful purposes." [18 USC 930(d)(3)], but in my
experience this is routinely ignored, and we complied here.
He talked non-stop for half hour, hard to get questions in edgewise,
he's obviously been doing lots of interviews, had the info at his fingertips.
Says he has no idea how to eventually fix the border problem. Speaks
for the Border Patrol, cannot officially take a position on the MMP,
BP just does their duty without showing favoritism or bias. Other guys
we asked there smiled, didn't seem hostile, except one female officer
who remained stern faced.
Dozens passed by as we spoke in locked reception area (Stacy receptionist,
student intern), all appeared to be wearing body armor, one with heavy
ballistic armor, all had multiple double stack mags and polymer semi
autos. The Dept. had 19 guys when Garza started ten years ago, now 400
and getting more. More staff requires more buildings (good point); other
offices nationally are in line for more buildings too, so it takes time,
they set up temporary huts in the meanwhile as fast as they are able
under budget constraints.
BP has an open door policy for media and public, hence our meeting.
Hundreds, mainly media, in first few days, now a trickle, occasional
phone calls. He sends 2,000 email news releases at a clip, and has the
same "find a good angle" problem as anyone else doing PR.
When they catch 1,000 pounds of dope the media responds, 'so what, you
do that all the time, it's not news'.
He met with Gilchrist and Wilcox (the main BP organizers), who asked
for cooperation, but BP cannot give it to them or else they're supporting
the MMP effort, which they cannot do. MMP do create some issues because
they do trip sensors, they are forcing immigrants to elsewhere, they
attracted ACLU "observers," it complicates things.
Claims BP is catching about 1,200 a day now with MMP in place, only
one or two of these are drug smugglers, peak is about 2K/day. BP presence
was ubiquitous, vehicles constantly streaming by or stationed, portable
lookout towers, cameras and lights on fixed poles common, mountain top
observation posts. (I heard that from five miles away they could tell
if you needed a shave.)
In dead of summer smugglers use western sector more, he doesn't understand
why since it is the more dangerous route, creates greater humanitarian
issue which BP is charged with handling, saving lives and rescue. The
local area is fortified right around Naco -- a metal fence of varying
height runs through the town and in broken fragments on the outskirts.
Elsewhere it's just open fields with porous barbed wire.
BP has taken a serious hit from the media because BP gives an appearance
of supporting the MMP, since they are cordial in the field. This is
a dilemma and unfair, because agents meeting armed individuals in the
field cannot tell at first if they are enemies, and must be prepared
to go to their guns if they are hostile drug runners, or now just Minutemen
(another undesirable complication for BP. The agents are only human,
respond with a wave or smile when greeted by individuals they now recognize,
in fixed and known positions, who have a legal right to be there. "What
other response would you have us give?"
He downplayed the effect of the MMP, did acknowledge that numbers of
illegals are down now, but quickly pointed out there are multiple factors
-- Mexican federales activity, operational things he cannot talk about
(a lot was left unsaid because "it's operational".) He did
tacitly suggest repeatedly that MMP is having a positive effect. If
he was quoted as saying such (he did not) he would be out of line with
Dept. policy and in trouble with his superiors.
Big problem spot used to be El Paso, but they gained control of that
so migrants moved elsewhere. San Diego became the next big problem area,
but that has now been fortified too, forcing migrants elsewhere. Now
main area is here at Naco and they're working on gaining control of
this. Now that MMP have plugged up this area smugglers and illegals
will have to again look elsewhere, but BP position is, "We're ready
for you, c'mon."
They do expect that when the Minutemen leave they will see increased
activity here (another tacit admission of the beneficial effects of
Minutemen). They expect this will set them back a little as they try
to re-establish and regain control.
Smugglers cannot effectively go to New Mexico because there are no smuggler-friendly
assets near the border there; nearest town is Albuquerque, more than
five miles from border, too easy to catch illegals between border and
there. There are natural impediments to viable smuggling points because
of geography and social infrastructure. Naco area has tactical advantage
for illegals, with homes, ranches, stores, tree cover west of the city.
BP seeks to Contain Maintain and Control.
268,000 illegal immigrants caught from Oct. 2004 thru April 25, 2005
(their fiscal year starts in Oct.) About 20,000 of these were OTMs.
Claimed he does not know precisely how many are from terrorist watch
list countries, because that is handled through Homeland Security, of
which BP is now a part. (Obviously, though, HSD gets all its data from
BP, so he was not being forthcoming on this point.) Simcox told me they
had found 650 watch list entrants through March.
In the old days they used index cards, Polaroids and paste-up books
to help identify repeat captures, OTMs and felons. Now they have computerized
fingerprint and photo files, can much more easily ID those not from
this country who formerly could claim they were innocent or Mexican,
etc. Most of the OTMs are from South and Central America, but also Japan,
Australia, Europe and elsewhere.
He cannot with precision say how many get away, "it is an inexact
science." Their guys get good at it, counting footsteps in soft
sand, comparing that and other indicators to numbers arrested during
a period of time. Repeatedly refused to reveal information since it
was "operational," would not say anything about types of sensors
in use or location. Simcox said it used to be one out of eight caught,
but that now it's down to one out of five.
They have 43 air assets, very valuable, and need much more. Choppers
are great but have fatigue issues -- pilot time, machine repair, fuel
and range, time aloft. They conducted tests only with Predator drones
and didn't get to fully deploy it, loved it, wish they had them; $1.5
million camera gear on board can spot and count band of men from 17,000
feet and determine, for example, that they have long guns. They can
linger for as much as 12 hours. This eliminates the need to dispatch
agents for herds of cattle that trip sensors, or send in agents prepared
for the nature of the threat.
Four interesting anecdotes
Convenience store clerk said he would have illegals in his shop five
or six times a week before MMP. Once, one came in and asked him to call
a taxi. Then he said please get two taxis because there were a lot of
them. He called Border Patrol instead, and they caught five of twenty
(the bulk were hiding outside and ran and escaped).
Gal working at Radio Shack says she has illegals coming through all
the time, terrified her, kept a .22 rifle at her bedside and on more
than one occasion held illegals at gunpoint until her Dad got home.
WalMart truck driver on line at Subway sandwich shop couldn't stop thanking
us for the work we were doing, the place had been overrun with illegals
everywhere you looked.
Acquaintance in Phoenix was dove hunting in the Huachucas years back
and stumbled upon a band of 21 illegals. They saw him and his shotgun
and sat down. As he left, they followed him. He tried to shoo them away
but they stayed with him. So he called Border Patrol on his cell phone.
BP arrived, took them away, and he related how he couldn't get them
to leave. They were probably drug smuggling "mules" who had
dropped off their loads, the agent said, and why walk all the way back
to Mexico when they could get a ride. Happens all the time.
"We publish the gun laws."
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