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The Minuteman's 15 Minutes of Fame (Minute 14.5) 

At the Arizona border, Infiltrator checks in with Americans who help the government look for illegal aliens

Wednesday, Jun 22 2005
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Page 5 of 8

I shrug my shoulders.

Driving down the dusty border road, I find it fun to wave at the Minutemen, who always joyfully wave back. We park next to a van with two cardboard, hand-scrawled signs in the window reading "Badges. We don't need no stinking badges! WE HAVE THE CONSTITUTION" and "THEY IMPEACHED Nixon & Clinton FOR LESS."

"A boring day is a good day," remarks Ken, oddly echoing what a frumpy ACLU girl said. A truly likable guy with a wry sense of humor, Ken is an ex-cop from Arkansas who, with his long white hair and thick mustache, looks like an old hippie. Recently, he was responsible for stopping 40 pounds of not-pot from coming across the border by reporting movement at an abandoned ranch nicknamed the Naco Hilton. Smoking a pipe, he points to the gun on his belt. "There's no rounds in it. This helped us get this press coverage. That's the reason why we're here, not to use them," he says. "'Oh, men with guns!' That's much better than, 'Oh, men with walkie-talkies -- they might throw them!'"

Ken claims the Minutemen's presence put the "bored" back in "Border Patrol."

"When the Border Patrol first heard we were coming, they said, 'That's great; all we need is a bunch of hillbillies out there, drinking, waving guns,'" he remarks with self-deprecating humor. "But after the third day they knew that was not what it was.

"They thought we'd come out, get all the press, and melt away by the end of the week. They had a pool going, guessing when the last Minuteman would be out there. And almost nobody was guessing past two weeks.

"Because we stuck it out, night after night, day after day, shift after shift, [the Border Patrol] came to have a lot of respect for us."

As we're walking toward the gate of the Naco Hilton, another Minuteman -- one you might describe as an asshole -- drives up, gets mad at us for leaving tracks by the gate, videotapes the license plate on our vehicle, then drives away.

"Do you want to see some garbage left by people who have come by?" asks a male nurse from Utah excitedly; he'd come out to the border alone, despite his wife's disapproval.

"Sure!" I answer enthusiastically. (Maybe there will be a copy of the Quran?!)

We go to the spot. There's a plastic bag weighted down by a rock and one tiny shoe. We stare at it for several seconds. It's a plastic bag and tiny shoe, all right.

The Utah nurse talks about the only major incident so far. "There was this guy. He called himself 'The Jokester.' He made a T-shirt that said 'I Caught an Illegal Alien at the Border & All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt.' The Jokester then found an illegal alien, made him put on the T-shirt, and took photos," the nurse says.

Oh, the laughter!

Huachuca Line, 3:37 a.m.

The night shift is not unlike sitting in one's car and being extremely bored. After a while, though, I get a little jittery, a little shaky, and a little jumpy from drinking loads of caffeine. I start seeing things in the dark void that is the border. (Good thing I'm not armed!)

We get some action. A message comes over the walkie-talkie: "I'm going to move my car. Don't panic if you see some lights."

With a chuckle, another Minuteman replies, "I'll try not to get too trigger-happy."

I push the talk button on my walkie-talkie: "I'M FREAKIN' OUT MAN! I'M REALLY FREAKIN' OUT HERE!"

Silence from the other end. Then, finally, "Do you need some security backup?"

Trying to get my car radio to work, I accidentally flash my car's lights. "There's someone flashing their lights towards the border," an urgent-sounding man going by the call name "Wisconsin" blurts over the radio. He thinks someone might be signaling coyotes.

"Do you want backup?" answers base headquarters.

"CALL IN THE AIRSTRIKE! CALL IN THE AIRSTRIKE!" I scream into my walkie-talkie.

There're more potential sightings: "I just saw some lights. I'm going to go investigate!"

This time it wasn't me. Maybe we've actually spotted our first illegal alien of the evening?! The radio transmits again: "This is Gooseberry Down, just south of you; I didn't see no lights, but I'm walking towards ya."

A few moments later, there're big chuckles over the radio concerning the light. "I just moved my position from in the trees, and it turned out to be the moon."

A couple of seconds later, to add drama to the affair, I scream, "MAN DOWN! MAN DOWN!"

Final Minuteman Briefing

"Don't wear full camouflage wear. We want to present a non-military, non-threatening image for the press" reads a sign outside the door to the cafeteria of a dilapidated bible college that serves as the Minuteman Project's dormitories. Being as I am a member of the press, I'm sure it's OK that I'm dressed head-to-toe in military fatigues.

The 9 a.m. briefing's already in progress, and several heads swerve with suspicion as we enter the cafeteria. At this meeting, there are fewer of the earnest, lovable Wilford Brimley-type Minuteman senior citizens, and more of the hardened older men in the sea of plaid and military green.

Jim Gilchrist, a salt-and-pepper-haired man in charge of the 800 to 1,000 Minuteman volunteers (the number seems to vary, depending on who's talking), takes to the center of the cafeteria.

"We are not common criminals," he says with a tinge of bitterness in his voice. "We are asking for an apology from the president about the Minuteman Project!"

About The Author

Harmon Leon

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