That hasn't prevented them from declaring victory anyway, even before they've officially wrapped up their three-ring anti-immigration circus:
- "In just 17 days, the Minuteman Project has successfully sealed the San Pedro River Valley border from illegal activity," Minuteman organizer Jim Gilchrist said on the project's Web site this week, halfway through the monthlong venture.
Gilchrist pointed to a drop in Border Patrol apprehensions in the area as proof: The agency caught about 2,500 illegal immigrants in the Naco area during the first half of the month; agents apprehended nearly 7,700 during the same period last year.
But others aren't so sure:
- "They're taking credit for securing the border, and surely no one with any credibility believes that," said Michael Nicley, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol's Tucson sector, which encompasses most of the Arizona border.
... Nicley and others attributed the drop to U.S. agents and the increased presence of Mexican police and members of Grupo Beta, a Mexican government-sponsored organization that tries to discourage people from crossing illegally and aids those stranded in the desert.
Authorities suggested that illegal immigrants are simply going around the Minutemen's lines.
"They are going west of Naco, but they are still trying," said Bertha de la Rosa, a coordinator with Grupo Beta.
But in a way, Gilchrist is right: the Minuteman Project has been a success. Not for actually doing anything substantive about immigration. Rather, it's been eminently successful in mainstreaming and legitimizing extremist vigilantism.
After all, they've even gotten a United States Senator ready to give them official imprimatur. Sen. Wayne Allard, a Colorado Republican, came up with the idea yesterday:
- A Republican senator said Wednesday the government should consider deputizing private citizens, like the Minuteman Patrol in Arizona, to help secure U.S. borders.
Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., said the U.S. Border Patrol also should look to local law enforcement and state officials for help along the most porous parts of the U.S.-Mexico line.
"I wonder sometimes if maybe we're not looking too much to a federal solution," Allard told Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing.
"I happen to believe that those people down along the border that formed the Minutemen organization have some real concerns," Allard said.
Sure, if you consider the imminent "minority status" of the white race to be a "real concern."
The mainstream conservative pundit corps -- particularly Sean Hannity and Michelle Malkin, not to mention Lou Dobbs of CNN -- have been adamant that the Minutemen haven't a racist bone in their bodies, and insist that they're just a gigantic "neighborhood watch."
The Minuteman organizers have assiduously promoted this line as well, insisting that the volunteers' backgrounds are being thoroughly checked, and that anyone who doesn't meet their standards (which appear mostly to involve criminal backgrounds) is not being accepted. What they're not telling you, of course, is that the Aryan Nations types and similar assorted extremists who've attached themselves to the Project hung around the scene anyway, setting up their own camp spots, and the Project, as I reported earlier, had no way of controlling them.
And it doesn't appear that their background checks are exactly weeding out the racists, either. For instance, in the largely sympathetic portrait of the Minutemen that ran recently in the Ventura County Star, we get a description of this fellow:
- "Something is going to happen here," said Joe McCutchen, 73, of Fort Smith, Ark. "We are hopeful."
As the sun sank, rumors descended across the border like darkness.
Minutemen organizers said they were warned that the Central American drug-smuggling MS-13 gang was planning an attack on the Minutemen.
McCutchen had a flak jacket and a .38-caliber snub-nosed pistol, in case.
But the night would grow darker without immigrants or gangs.
McCutchen, it seems, was a model Minuteman. A piece on the Minutemen for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette featured McCutchen prominently:
- Armed with binoculars, a video camera and a.22-caliber pistol, Joe McCutchen manned his post Tuesday, braving 105-degree heat and 50-knot winds to guard a lonely stretch of Arizona desert where Mexicans sneak across the border.
"The desert is mean -- it's brutal," McCutchen said. Besides the elements, there are rattlesnakes.
Nonetheless, the 73-year-old retired Fort Smith pharmacist set out Tuesday afternoon for another unpaid shift monitoring a porous stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border near Tombstone.
And it featured a familiar refrain at the end:
- "The president hit the lowest of low blows when he called us 'vigilantes,'" McCutchen said.
But there's just one teensy little problem. As Daryl at One People's Project points out, Joe McCutchen has a long history of involvement with all kinds of white-supremacist organizations, including Jared Taylor's American Renaissance and the Council of Conservative Citizens.
Indeed, I devoted a previous post to McCutchen's activities as a leading example of the way right-wing ideologues play footsy with real extremists.
If Joe McCutchen is a model "Minuteman," it should be interesting to see what happens if Wayne Allard succeeds in federally deputizing him.