Thursday, February 28, 2008
The Titanic Minuteman base groups meltdown. Groups Anti Immigrants fighting for Money and power. Gilchrist said groups like ALIPAC see him as competition for fundraising dollars.
Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist says group’s goals have been hindered by in-fighting and some members’ ‘defecting.
Traditionally tight-knit anti-illegal immigration organizations are roiled in internal conflict.
Struggles for power and finances have led leaders in the movement to split ties with Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the Minuteman Project.
Bickering continues over who has control of the original Minuteman organization and once-faithful members are now deserting the group. Barbed e-mails and accusations fly among the former Minuteman loyalists.
“I’m fighting on three fronts,” Gilchrist said. “I’m fighting the federal government, I’m fighting the reconquistas, and I’m fighting the people defecting from my own organization.”
Gilchrist’s Minuteman Project, which has become nearly synonymous with the anti-illegal immigration movement, is under fire from many other like-minded groups.
William Gheen, of the North Carolina-based Americans for Legal Immigration political action committee (ALIPAC), said Gilchrist is a threat to the anti-illegal immigration movement. Gheen said people in his organization receive bizarre e-mails from the Minuteman founder.
“We see Gilchrist as ... prone to act against the good of the movement,” Gheen said. “He has a pattern of broken alliances and relationships.”
Gilchrist said groups like ALIPAC see him as competition for fundraising dollars.
“As long as the Minuteman Project exists, we take away from their donor base,” Gilchrist said.
Huntington Beach resident and California Coalition for Immigration Reform founder Barbara Coe was one of the former Minutemen who wrestled the organization away from Gilchrist in 2007.
Coe was one of the first to rush to the border with the Minutemen in 2005, but she said the unity that once brought the activists together has devolved into internal strife.
“I am very distressed about the shadow that has been cast on the movement,” Coe said.
The struggles make it difficult for anti-illegal immigration groups to present a united front, limiting the effectiveness of the movement, Coe said.
Gilchrist sees the same phenomenon.
“You’ve got every group attacking every other group,” he said. “Ninety percent of our time is spent on infighting, and 10% is devoted to the issue.”
The bickering is surprising considering how close anti-illegal immigration activists have traditionally been. Groups such as Immigration Watchdog and Save Our State have large online forums that keep the groups in close contact.
Laguna Beach activist Eileen Garcia has been fighting to shut down Laguna’s Day Workers Center. She has organized multiple protests against the center.
Garcia said the groups’ close contact helps in organizing large demonstrations.
Garcia founded Gilchrist’s Angels, a women’s auxiliary of the Minutemen.
She too split with Gilchrist’s organization in 2007, founding the Betsy Ross Patriots — another anti-illegal women’s group.
Illegal immigration is one of the hot-button issues of the presidential primary elections, thanks in part to anti-illegal immigration groups and activists who have been touting the issue for the past several years.
The efforts of various border enforcement advocacy groups have brought the issue to the forefront of political debate — especially in Republican circles. The fractures within the once tight-knit coalition of anti illegal-immigration groups have become even more apparent during the presidential primaries.
Garcia supported Mitt Romney, as did Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a vocal opponent of illegal immigration in Congress. Many anti-illegal activists like Coe supported Ron Paul’s candidacy.
Gilchrist has thrown his support behind former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. The endorsement has earned Gilchrist more criticism from within the anti-illegal immigration movement.
Gheen and leaders from more than 80 immigration activist organizations signed a letter decrying Gilchrist’s endorsement.
“We denounce Jim Gilchrist’s solo endorsement of a pro-amnesty and open-borders candidate for president. Mr. Gilchrist does not speak for us,” the letter read.
Gilchrist said he was contacted by the Huckabee campaign and asked to come aboard. Gilchrist said he asked campaign members to outline Huckabee’s immigration policies before he signed on.
The Huckabee campaign responded by posting a detailed immigration plan on its website.
Huckabee campaign manager Ed Rollins said the Huckabee immigration plan is to build a fence within 18 months, deport illegal immigrants and make legal immigration faster and easier.
Rollins said they believe they have the best plan for illegal immigration, but sometimes passionate groups split with leaders.
“In any group that has strong emotions, which certainly the Minutemen and others have, there’s always leadership battles. There’s always people that don’t like people that get too much attention,” Rollins said.
Gilchrist said he supports Huckabee as a more moderate candidate than Ron Paul, who is popular with his critics.
He said Paul supporters are generally of the ultra-right mentality.
The extremism of this faction of the anti-illegal immigration movement is a factor in its demise, Gilchrist said.
“While Ron Paul himself is a pretty good guy, his supporters are lunatics,” Gilchrist said.
“They’re as dangerous and vile as the reconquistas on the left.”
The presidential primaries are just one example of an issue causing rifts within the border enforcement movement, but some activists say the differences may not be such a bad thing.
“Internal turmoil and dissension is always the sign of a growing and expanding movement,” Rohrabacher said
According to Garcia, the movement is fracturing because illegal immigration has become a major issue that no longer needs a united front to survive.
“A lot of established groups are starting to split up because it’s much more mainstream,” Garcia said.
“There’s no longer a need to place yourself into a niche and say, ‘I’m a Minuteman’ or ‘I’m a member of Save Our State.’ All concerned citizens of America can call themselves Minutemen.”
Rohrabacher agrees with that assessment. He said upstart movements have to stick together.
“When a movement is small and inconsequential, people tend to get along better because it’s almost family-like,” Rohrabacher said.
Jim Gilchrist of Aliso Viejo and Chris Simcox founded the Minuteman Project in 2005. They organized citizen patrols along the Arizona-Mexico border. The action shined a spotlight on the issue of illegal immigration.
Simcox cut ties to the group later that year over financial disputes and founded the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. Gilchrist changed tactics from physically watching the border to trying to influence public policy and opinion.