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|Minuteman leaders promise to patrol despite shutdown of national chapter|
|Written by Adam Lehrer|
|Friday, 02 April 2010 17:55|
The president of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps says local Minuteman groups can now operate without a national organization and that she will continue her work with the controversial group.
The national Minuteman chapter, the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, was founded as a neighborhood watch program out of Tombstone in 2002, by Carmen Mercer and Chris Simcox. It disbanded March 25, five years after the group became a national movement. However, local chapters of MCDC will continue to work in their efforts to secure the border.
Mercer, the president of the recently disbanded MCDC, is a German immigrant who went through the process to gain her U.S. citizenship. She has lived in Tombstone for 14 years and owns the O.K. Café. She said she was unaware of the problems of illegal immigration until witnessing them first-hand.
"I would come home from Sierra Vista after doing my shopping at night and I would see hundreds of people walking along the San Pedro River, thinking they were tourists," said Mercer. "I met Chris Simcox and told him what I had seen, and he said, 'You can't really think those are tourists. Those were illegal aliens that just broke into our country.'"
When she's not cooking buffalo burgers at her café, Mercer would meet with Simcox and frequently discuss the burgeoning illegal immigration problem. They started a neighborhood watch program in October 2002, and monitored the border. They alerted Border Patrol whenever they saw anything suspicious.
By 2005 they gained enough national attention to receive a federal grant. The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps was started shortly thereafter.
Numerous issues, including leadership struggles, financial mismanagement and failed political campaigning were all cited as possible reasons for the group's dissolution.
The decision to disband was announced merely days after Mercer addressed Minuteman members to get to the border "locked, loaded and ready."
In the press release, Mercer wrote, "Secretary of Homeland Defense Janet Napolitano thinks border security is a waste of time and a politically sensitive issue. The Minutemen are returning to the border - LOCKED AND LOADED because we think Napolitano is an unqualified buffoon who risks the lives of American citizens every day she is the head of DHS."
The call to arms announcement came off as frightening and sinister to some.
"There was a tone in her announcement that leads some in the National Minuteman organization to become alarmed," said Border Action Network President Jennifer Allen.
The Border Action Network, an Arizona human rights organization working along the U.S.-Mexican border, has long been critical of the tactics used by MCDC. In a press release, Allen said, "There has been a growing disconnect from the local and national Minuteman chapters."
Mercer said MCDC movement is not over, just the national organization. She said there is no longer a need for any national group, and that members of local chapters of MCDC have gone through the same training and background checking, and will continue efforts to secure the border.
"I don't agree with the disconnect," Mercer said. "It was just the right time to (disband the national organization)."
She said these local chapters are to follow the same guidelines as national members of MCDC, which solely consist of reporting suspicious border activity to law enforcement and never physically confronting illegal immigrants.
Mercer said Minuteman members, national and local, regularly report suspicious behavior to both Border Patrol and the Sheriff's Department.
MCDC has long been a target for criticism and controversy. Some have criticized MCDC chapters for taking on difficult and potentially violent situations that they aren't qualified to handle. Tombstone Marshal Larry Talvy is one such critic.
"The Minutemen disbanding at this time is the best thing that could have happened," said Talvy. "I don't think they were properly trained, and especially now with the escalating violence at the border, it should be strictly law enforcement handling these problems. We don't need citizens taking things into their own hands."
Tucson Border Patrol is appreciative of citizens reporting suspicious border activity, but disapproves of them acting as law enforcement.
"Every member of the community can greatly assist us in our border enforcement mission through observing and reporting suspicious behavior or individuals," said Colleen Agle, a Tucson Border Patrol official. "However, we always remind people that they should not take matters into their own hands. Leave border enforcement to agents who are trained to handle the law enforcement circumstances that may arise."
The Minutemen have often been accused of utilizing violent and abusive tactics in their tracking of illegal immigrants.
In the most infamous case, Shawna Forde and Jason Bush, then members of a Washington State Minuteman chapter, are accusing of killing a Latino father and daughter as part of a fundraising scheme. Mercer said they were immediately kicked out of the MCDC.
Nevertheless, a BAN press release reports that the Organization of American States' Inter-American Commission on Human Rights filed a case in 1995 showing that of 1,000 immigrants picked up by MCDC and other vigilante groups, many reported being kicked, shot at, dragged and otherwise physically and verbally abused.
"[MCDC] has been an at times violent vigilante group that goes above the law and created a platform that diverts attention away from progress," said Allen.
"It is a group that continues to push violence and hate against a group of people."
Mercer holds that the Minutemen have never condoned aggressive tactics, though the press release ordering the Minutemen to head to the border "locked and loaded" might indicate otherwise.
"We are not using overly aggressive tactics," Mercer said. "We operate within the law."
The Minuteman group holds its headquarters in Tombstone. Mercer said she would continue her involvement with the group and actively works to elect officials worried about the illegal immigration problem.
"The American public is not mellow, the revolution will be in the next election," Mercer said.
"We need to unelect people who blatantly ignore the needs of the American people."
She feels that local Minuteman chapters are sufficiently trained for border work, and said she will be happy to assist local chapters in future endeavors.