Just a Minute, Men

Weekend border warriors create a rift between Cochise County politicos

Some call them heroes. To others, they present a collectively compelling argument for abortion-on-demand.

Either way, attendees of the Minuteman Project, now loudly descending upon Cochise County, have already raised a righteous fuss.

In the weeks prior to their arrival here on the Mexican line, the indignant assemblage of weekend warriors has successfully sparked a public rift on the border county's Board of Supervisors. Admittedly, this isn't equivalent to the Minuteman Project's long-range goal, which is strong-arming Congress into slapping up a Berlin-like wall along the Mexican boundary. But it's a start

The board feud was sparked by Paul Newman, Cochise County's lone Democratic supervisor. During a Feb. 25 press conference, Newman proposed that Minutemen be required to obtain special permits--under county zoning laws--for their parley. "Without control, the crowd could turn into a mob," he said. If the vigilantes were coalescing for a rock concert, the county "could require permits and impose restrictions. We should provide at least as much oversight of this potentially volatile month-long event."

That earned a swift retort from his colleague, Patrick Call. "I believe the Minuteman Project is publicly pushing its own political agenda," the Republican supervisor told the Sierra Vista Herald. "I believe Mr. Newman's comments are all about publicly pushing his own personal political agenda."

Contacted by phone, Call repeats that "publicity is the main" thing behind Newman's press conference. "He also said that his other two colleagues are not interested in enforcing zoning laws in the county," Call says. "That is certainly false."

Richard Searle, the board's third member and also a Republican, says requiring special permits for the Minuteman Project is unfair. "I'm concerned with targeting one group or another. To me, it's more of a freedom of assembly issue."

Either way, this very public board tussle marks a small victory for Chris Simcox, progenitor of the Minuteman Project and publisher of the Tombstone Tumbleweed newspaper. In a statement to the Sierra Vista Herald, he labeled Newman's statements "hate speech," and said the supervisor "should be ashamed of his comments that are based on fear bred from ignorance."

This controversy--including the attention it draws--are a sop to the Minuteman Project and to Simcox, who one local official describes as "pathological" in his drive for public attention. Indeed, the lanky former school teacher from California has garnered plenty of press since rolling into Tombstone in 2001. He also makes his own news: in 2003, he purchased the Tumbleweed, turning it into mouthpiece for his Civil Homeland Defense vigilante group.

After settling in as publisher, he quickly put the world on notice. "I want to get the president of the United States to uphold the oath of his office," he told a reporter, "which is to protect us from the invasion of criminals, drug dealers and illegal immigrants flowing across this border by the thousands every day."

The Minuteman Project is only the latest of Simcox's schemes. According to its Web site, the project is comprised of "Americans doing the job Congress won't do." Through the month of April, that chore includes gathering in the county, demonstrating at various federal law enforcement offices and dispatching patrols to intercept illegal aliens.

Crazy or not, Simcox is adept at stirring up the political stew and gaining headlines. For this, he has garnered plenty of fans. However, Ray Borane isn't among them.

All the attention Simcox receives "is one thing that really pisses me off," says the longtime mayor of Douglas, a border town overrun by immigration problems. "That asshole is nothing but a media-publicity hound. He re-creates himself all of the time; he resurrects himself, and he will affiliate himself with anybody who can get any attention."

Regardless, Simcox did get the attention of Paul Newman, whose public statements irked more folks than just his fellow supervisors. "The day after I spoke out," Newman says, "I received 250 hateful e-mails, and at least five were borderline death threats."

And Newman admits that he's adding to Simcox's publicity profile. "State officials, including the governor's staff and the (attorney general's) office urged us not to make public statements" about the Minuteman Project, he says. But he spoke out anyway, "because we're going to have 1,000 or more people running around with guns, and the other two supervisors are hiding their heads in the sand--they're under political pressure not to come out (against the vigilantes)."

That's bull, say Call and Searle. "I don't know if I do support or don't support" the vigilante groups, Call says. "But my sense is that they are concerned about the government's inability to control our country's border."

Still, that doesn't mean Call is happy about the month-long Minuteman Project. He says the board will have to make $100,000 available to the sheriff's department for overtime pay, and for Planning and Zoning Department enforcement. "This is a poor county, with a lot of infrastructure needs. And now we have to deal with this on top of it all."

So what does the man at the middle of the storm have to say? That remains a mystery; attempts to contact Chris Simcox for comment were unsuccessful. When the Weekly called the Tombstone Tumbleweed, an aide claimed the publisher was all booked. "You can call back in 15 minutes," said the gravelly voiced fellow. "But he may already be in another interview--he has 15 lined up today."