TheMinutemen are coming, the Minutemen are coming

Published on Thu, Sep 22, 2005 by eg Olson

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The Minutemen are coming, the Minutemen are coming

By Meg Olson

When they patrolled the southern border President George Bush called them vigilantes, but Deming resident Tom Williams describes members of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps as patriots.

“President Bush called me a vigilante and here I was looking out at all these grey-haired patriotic people and thinking the president owes us an apology,” said the leader of the Washington /Northwest chapter of the group, which is planning to begin civilian patrols of local borders next month. “All we’re looking to do is make sure everyone goes through the front door.”

The minuteman project got rolling this April along the southern border where 1,000 volunteers patrolled a 30-mile section of border near Tombstone, Arizona. Williams, Vietnam veteran and retired member of the Marine Corps, said he became aware of the group because he spends time in Arizona “riding around in a jeep and taking pictures of wildflowers.” He joined in March. “I told them I was interested but if they were just a bunch of gun-toting nuts or racists I was going to stay away.” When he returned to Washington Williams said he had a good feeling about the time he spent along the border in Arizona and was open to leading a similar effort here.

Williams said his group had identified 23 positions between Blaine and Sumas from which minuteman members will be watching for anyone crossing or attempting to cross the border illegally throughout the month of October. He described the observation posts as often being nothing but “a dude and his wife in a truck with field glasses and a phone.” The mission, he said was simply to call the border patrol if they see anything suspicious. After lessons learned in Arizona, where there were allegations of misconduct by minuteman members, Williams said they have a no-contact rule and will videotape and photograph anything they observe. “The rule is to walk away. No waving off, no nothing. Just call the border patrol,” Williams said.

Whatcom County sheriff Bill Elfo said he has met with minuteman representatives and “as long as that’s what they’re doing they have every right to. If there are any violations of state law we’re going to respond swiftly.” Elfo said he had received assurances from Williams that no alcohol would be allowed during the patrols and that members would not carry long guns or shotguns. However, “Washington is a right-to-carry state,” Elfo said, and minuteman members who have the proper permits may carry weapons.

Williams said he could not prevent members from carrying weapons “to be used for personal defense,” in accordance with state law but that “most of them don’t. I’m discouraging them because I don’t think it’s necessary,” he said. In an interview with The National Post, Williams was quoted as saying he planned to carry a weapon.

Elfo said he had organized a meeting with members of the local Latino community concerned about racially-motivated vigilante action and Williams said he felt his group were able to “put a lot of their fears to rest,” blaming those fears on media images of confrontations between members of the unaffiliated California Minuteman Project and human rights protesters. “I don’t blame them for being concerned,” he said. “But we’re just going to stand quietly at the border.”

Williams said members of his group applied online, paid a $50 fee and underwent criminal background checks and training before they went out to stand watch at the border. Training would emphasize the group’s “observe and report” policy. A “security force” will monitor behavior and members can be kicked out for alcohol use or “touching their weapon.”

Blaine police chief Mike Haslip said had been impressed by the efforts the group had made to engage local law enforcement agencies and he was optimistic the operation would go well if members stuck to the rules. “I’m treating it similarly to a block watch,” he said. “It’s a group of citizens who have come together to be of assistance to the government. Anytime citizens make a point of being observant and reporting suspicious activity it has the potential to be useful.” Deputy chief patrol agent Joe Giuliano was not available to comment on how the Blaine border patrol felt about the minuteman plan.

The October patrols are perhaps more a political statement than an enforcement effort, Williams said. “This is not a tactical operation,” he said. “We are putting people where they can be seen and be safe.” He said the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps would mount a national effort to get as many people along the border in October as they can to send a message the administration needs to funnel more resources to protecting the border. The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 mandated the Department of Homeland Security to create 2,000 new full-time border patrol positions per year from 2006 to 2010.

The federal budget for 2006 only funded 210 positions. “What we’re saying here is you people are doing a good job on Iraq’s border but what about our own,” Williams said.

Williams predicts that after October, minuteman members will have made their point and the border patrols will dwindle. “Someone may surface who is more political,” to lead the group, he speculated, but Williams said he will be going back to taking pictures of flowers.