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Some call them patriots, others racists, but just about everyone's got a take. Even the movement's members have differing views regarding who, how and where the Minutemen should be. The original Arizona group has split into two factions, each led by one of its two founders: Chris Simcox continues border operations with the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, and Jim Gilchrist is using the Minuteman Project to go after employers who hire immigrants illegally.
"We're working together and that's what so many people don't understand," says Simcox, a former kindergarten teacher. "Our goal is still the same. We're unified. We want the border shut down You come in legally, through an authorized port of entry, or you don't come in at all."
Ray Ybarra, an Arizona native who headed up the team of American Civil Liberties Union observers in April and who's currently training people in Texas, says, "The purpose of the [Minutemen] was to mainstream violence towards people of color, namely towards immigrants, in saying it's acceptable to put a gun on your hip to go out in the desert and hunt for somebody because you don't like what you think they're doing to U.S. society."
This attitude has been accepted, says Ybarra, because of the Minutemen's media savvy, and it's Simcox who seems to have done the best job of modifying his rhetoric over the years. At a meeting last month in Houston, Simcox said, "What we're talking about is pro-immigrant. I'm tired of finding dead bodies out in the damn desert. We found two of them over the Fourth of July weekend. It's sad. These people are dying a horrible death."
But two years ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Reportquoted him as saying, "They have no problem slitting your throat or taking your money or selling drugs to your kids or raping your daughters and they are evil people," referring to immigrants flooding into southern Arizona.
It was this kind of attitude that imbued the members of the Goliad chapter of the Texas Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, according to Parmley. At one of the first Texas Minuteman meetings two months back, one member wondered aloud why local residents couldn't just shoot migrants trespassing on their property. Disputes also arose over whether the Minutemen should give water to dehydrated migrants. "Part of the Minuteman thing is you're a humanitarian," says Parmley, "so I suggested us throwing some money together and going out and buying some Pedialyte water and they just went through the roof."
A lot of Parmley's woes seem to revolve around small-town politics, particularly his relationship with other members of the Sarco Concerned Citizens organization, which meets regularly in a white, one-room schoolhouse in Sarco. Members started complaining to elected officials a while back about the smuggling problem, says current chapter president Kenneth Buelter, but they didn't get much help. The white vans kept flying through, loaded with migrants, at all hours of the day. "So we started looking around," he says, "and the Minuteman organization was the place that has gotten us the most publicity."
And nothing generates publicity like a little bit of controversy.
Parmley claims other members of the citizens group, all of whom are part of the Goliad chapter of the Minutemen, have been trying to undermine the local sheriff, Robert DeLaGarza, because he's Hispanic. "DeLaGarza, he's a great guy, a very nice guy," says Parmley. "I've known him since he was little. I've known his daddy for a long time. I've known his family. They're good people. I couldn't care less if they're Mexican. This is South Texas. Get over it."
Parmley says it all started about a year ago when he went to a local meeting where citizens were discussing how they could replace local Hispanic politicians with Anglos. He says he brought these issues to the attention of Simcox about a month before quitting, but Simcox put him off. Parmley suspects he was off somewhere grooming himself for political office.
Buelter denies any racism in the group, saying they're critical of the sheriff because he allegedly can't keep his department within its budget. Buelter also has concerns that convicted felons, including a child molester, were allegedly left unattended while performing roadside community service. "If you consider that undermining the sheriff -- I think it's more of some concerned citizens wanting to know who's in their neighborhood and if those folks should be in their neighborhood."
DeLaGarza did not return phone calls for comment.
Al Garza, a former private investigator appointed by Simcox as the new state president, says he recently visited the Buelter home and saw no hints of racism. "They treated me with nothing but respect," he says. "They fed me. They provided me with a guest room, my own shower, my own toilet, and I lived among them for three or four days."
Says Parmley: "They've blown sunshine up Al Garza's ass."
The group will continue without Parmley, says Buelter, "and we will be part of the Secure Our Borders operation in October."
Parmley says he still supports the national organization, "the people in Houston and all the other chapters, but this chapter I do not support, at least the leaders who are in it."