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Originally published Friday, July 10, 2009 at 2:01 PM

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Guest columnist

Minutemen have no business on our borders; leave it to the pros

It's time to give up the farcical notion that the Minutemen have any real role defending the border, writes columnist Mary Sanchez. That job needs to be left to the professionals.

Tribune Media Services

SOMETIMES I don't know whether to laugh or cry at the antics of the anti-immigrant lunatic fringe. Lately, it's been a bit of both.

Shawna Forde, an Everett-based loyalist of the so-called Minuteman movement, which advocates paramilitary policing of the U.S. border with Mexico, was recently charged with orchestrating a "raid" in which an Arizona man and his 9-year-old daughter were shot dead. The terrified wife and mother was shot, and she played dead until she could frantically dial 911.

Forde and two pals posed as the law enforcement they fantasized about being. Their plan was to seize a stash of drug money to fund vigilante border patrols, armed to the hilt, to hunt down illegal immigrants. They were convinced they could do a better job than the U.S. government with its thousands of agents, high-tech equipment, drone aircraft, night sensors and miles of fencing.

One of Forde's accomplices in the murders has associated with white-supremacist groups and is also charged with stabbing a homeless Hispanic man to death for sport.

Forde is exactly the kind of armed and dangerous wing nut many feared would emerge from the grab-a-gun-and-defend-the-border movement. It's not that Minuteman followers — and multitudes of chapters have sprouted across the nation — can be held accountable for Forde's crime spree. Most of the movement's members are harmless, comical really, with their weekend-warrior bravado. They have long been more bumbling than menacing. Forde's murderous raid, however, show that some are capable of being bumbling and menacing.

The Minuteman groups do not necessarily form a coherent movement. They have a tendency to splinter and a penchant for infighting. New factions arise, claiming to be the true Minutemen and accusing their rivals of corruption or selling out.

Shortly after Forde was charged in June, various anti-immigrant groups let fly with vitriolic rants distancing themselves from her and trying to attach her to rival groups. Two prominent leaders resorted to calling each other "idiot" on their Web sites.

In fact, Forde was once a member of the Chris Simcox's Arizona-based Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, which was among the first border-watch groups to gain national prominence. But she'd also written articles for Jim Gilchrist's Minuteman Project out of Southern California.

Simcox contends that by kicking Forde out of his circle in 2007 (after which she started her own Minuteman group in Washington state) he proved that the Minuteman movement can police itself against violent extremists. However, it's not clear Forde was exiled because she was deemed dangerous. In interviews before and after the murders, Simcox explained that it was because she misrepresented herself as being a high-ranking leader of his organization.

Such fights over rank and leadership are common. That's because the Minuteman movement organizers tend to be lost souls seeking a purpose and a stature that actual life hasn't afforded them. Less-agitated everyday citizens also join, out of concern for the perceived threat of illegal immigration.

It would be a mistake to attribute too much capacity for mayhem to the Minutemen. Left to its own devices, the movement will unravel itself through money problems and internecine squabbling. But it's also unlikely that Forde is the last homicidal loony to dabble in the movement. Law enforcement should take note.

I've spent time with Minutemen in Arizona and attended their organizing meetings and rallies in several cities. Most of the curiosity seekers in attendance were average people, their only offending characteristic being gullibility.

I contrast those sessions with spending time along much of the nearly 2,000-mile line with the U.S. Border Patrol, with the Mexican military and with elite U.S. drug squads, men who have multimillion-dollar bounties placed on their heads by the drug cartels.

There is a distinct difference. The Minutemen are playacting. Time with them always is reminiscent of visiting Boy Scout camp. They plan outings of conjured adventure in the wild to break the monotony of daily living.

But now that two lives have been taken, it's time to give up the farcical notion that the Minutemen have any real role defending the border. That job needs to be left to the professionals.

Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. E-mail: msanchez@kcstar.com

2008, The Kansas City Star

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