TOMBSTONE, Ariz. -- There's a funny bit of vanity that the Minutemen, who have come out in hundreds to "guard the border" during April, apply to themselves.
"Oh, we're just a bunch of old cowboys," they'll say repeatedly and proudly. In fact, the word "cowboy," used throughout much of American history to describe the individual up against the elements, seems to come up a lot here. It's hardly surprising, since Tombstone, about an hour north of the Mexican border, is the original and in-tact town of the American silver boom of the 1880s.
What's more, many of the 800 or so Minutemen super-patriots -- with their beards, pickup trucks and barely contained anger at the "invasion" of their country, sitting on their lawn chairs in remote spots staring at the border lest an illegal alien pass their way -- play deliberately into the cowboy image.
But over in Douglas on the border with Mexico, there are people who call the Minutemen by quite different names. "Our first taste of 'vigilantes' came in earlier years," Ray Borane, the respected educator who is mayor of that pleasant little city, told me. "There was the 'Arizona Guard,' then a small group called 'Ranch Rescue.' But we have had nothing compared to the Minutemen. They have the ability to draw a lot of people, and they have used the popular term of early American history, 'Minutemen.'
"They only took this 'peacekeeping' approach because everyone is watching them. ... I always said that the goal and mission were superficial and insincere, and that the leaders were self-aggrandizing."
But in my discussions with some of the Minutemen and my observations of their behavior, I did not find them to be vigilantes, rednecks or nutcases, as their many critics have averred. I was surprised at the sophistication of much of the leadership in their tactical thinking, and at the discipline of the men and women out on the line. In an entire month, there has not been one incident of violence.
Grey Deacon, the administrator of the project, attributes the success to "mission focus." During a long conversation in the disheveled office in the Tombstone Tumbleweed newspaper, Deacon says: "No violence! We impress it upon them so much they get sick and tired of hearing it.
"That means we only report what we see. You never gesture [at illegals], you only shake your head negatively and walk away. You do not follow them; you report them to the Border Patrol."
At one point, amazingly, I ran into Paul Streitz, a prominent Shakespeare scholar from Connecticut who wrote "Oxford: Son of Queen Elizabeth I." "My reason to be here is to go back and tell our people why there are between 50,000 and 100,000 illegals throughout the state, replacing workers and having a huge economic effect. The mayor of Danbury has already asked that the state police be deputized to deal with immigration. Why am I down here on my own? Because I feel that my 12-year-old daughter's future is at stake."
The Minutemen do not want, as some members of Congress have urged, to be deputized to help the Border Patrol or the local authorities. Deacon, a former serviceman and son of a prominent Republican family from Washington state, insisted. "We haven't had significant background checks for that, and we don't have the ability to act as law officers."
But that does not mean that they do not have big plans. As they announced to me -- and then as they announced in demonstrations in Washington as their month here on the border ended -- they intend to move into two new phases. One, they plan to organize "White Collar Minutemen" to boycott and organize strikes against employers who hire aliens. Two, they intend to extend this Minutemen experience to the entire Southwestern border, and perhaps even to the Canadian border to stop drugs and smuggling there.
Universal Press Syndicate