Extremist groups along the Arizona-Mexico border use radical tactics, including armed vigilante action, to promote an extreme anti-immigrant agenda. In addition to openly inviting people to “patrol” the borders using weapons and surveillance technology, new groups are forming and activity overall is expanding. Several members belonging to active vigilante groups, including their leadership, have been arrested on weapons charges and white supremacist and anti-governments groups continue to express interest and take part in organized “patrols” of the border.
The following is an overview of the recent activities by extremist anti-immigration groups in Arizona.
Civil Homeland Defense, a border vigilante group founded by Chris Simcox in 2003, brings together local ranchers from Cochise County to carry out armed “patrol” operations. More recently, Civil Homeland Defense has joined forces with Jim Gilchrist of Orange County, California, to organize the Minuteman Project.
This month-long series of events, including armed vigilante border patrols, is designed to draw attention to the issue of illegal immigration. The Minuteman Project began April 1 along the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona and its organizers claim that over 1,000 volunteers will gather in Arizona to watch for illegal border crossers. During its first weekend, several hundred volunteers showed up, many armed, to engage in the volunteer “border patrols.”
Highly publicized among right-wing extremists ranging from militia groups to white supremacist organizations, the Minuteman Project has attracted a variety of extremists and anti-immigration activists of all types. A number of neo-Nazi National Alliance members showed up for the first weekend of events; Shawn Walker, spokesman for the National Alliance, earlier indicated that members of his group would take part in the project.
A year before organizing the Minuteman Project, Chris Simcox, who is also the founder and publisher of a local newspaper, the Tombstone Tumbleweed, was convicted on two misdemeanor counts for carrying a loaded firearm onto the Coronado National Memorial, a National Park Service property. Simcox was sentenced to two years probation and was fined $1,000 in May 2004.
Ranch Rescue, a border vigilante group founded by Jack Foote, has since 2000, organized armed “patrols” of the border on private property, over which they claim the government has no jurisdiction.
Under Foote’s leadership, Ranch Rescue organized several border operations, which attracted various extremist groups. For example, in January 2004, Dick Wolf, a member of the Kentucky State Militia, indicated that he made an advance “recon” trip to Douglas to assess border problems and to meet with Foote. Foote also sought to recruit volunteers by appearing as a guest on white supremacist Hal Turner’s radio show in March 2004.
Foote was arrested in September 2004 by the FBI in Sierra Vista on a warrant charging him with possession of a firearm by a person convicted of domestic violence. The warrant stemmed from an alleged incident in February 2004. According to a U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman, Foote was also convicted of domestic violence in Montana in 1996.
Following Foote’s 2004 arrest, he no longer claimed to lead the group and the main spokesman is now Nevadan Jack Wright. In 2005, Ranch Rescue refused to participate in Project Minuteman, but is planning its own vigilante event, Operation Eagle, sometime in the spring.
Arizona Guard is “an Organized Militia dedicated to the defense of American Patriotism and to help local ranchers and citizens defend property from illegal alien activity and drug running operations,” according to its Web site. It asks volunteers to carry firearms on “missions.”
A prominent former member of Ranch Rescue, Casey James Nethercott, a former bounty hunter, helped form the Arizona Guard after he broke with Foote in the summer of 2004. That same summer, Nethercott was convicted in Texas of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The conviction stemmed from a 2003 incident (he is free on bond pending appeal). Shortly thereafter, on August 31, 2004, he was arrested and charged with threatening U.S. Border Patrol agents with “intent to impede, intimidate, and interfere” with their duties, but was later acquitted.
According to Nethercott, the Arizona Guard has “more military and police experience” than the “sheriff’s department has on any weekend.”
In 2005, Nethercott claimed that his group had 200 members. This number is unlikely. Nethercott has shown a reporter a couple of home-made armored SUVs. He refused to participate in the Minuteman Project, saying it would fail. “The Minutemen are the civilian-bound, politically correct civilians trying to close the border,” he told a reporter. “We’re soldiers.” Instead, Nethercott announced a three day vigilante patrol starting July 4, dubbed “Operation Border Shield.”
American Border Patrol, a virulently anti-Hispanic group that uses high-tech equipment to monitor the flow of illegal immigrants across theArizona border, is headed by Glenn Spencer. For more than a decade, the group has warned of a plan by Mexicans to “invade” and “conquer” the Southwestern U.S. Spencer claims that the Mexican government is “sponsoring the invasion of the United States with hostile intent.”
In 2004, Spencer acquired a new headquarters for his group, based on 18 acres of land near Palominas, which was leased to him by a supporter. From this base, Spencer runs his Web site, occasionally flies tiny unmanned airplanes along the border, and plans to install sensors along it as well. His group has four employees and varying numbers of volunteers.
Spencer was arrested in August 2003, by police in Cochise County, on weapons charges stemming from a shooting incident near his home. Spencer admitted firing his rifle in his back yard after hearing suspicious noises; one bullet went through a neighbor’s garage. Spencer was fined $2,500 and sentenced to one year of probation on an endangerment conviction.