On Thursday, April 19, Chris Simcox, co-founder of the Minuteman Project and current leader of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, spoke at Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing, Michigan. Simcox spoke after his lecture was delayed for twenty minutes by protestors that chanted and disrupted attempts by Simcox and Young Americans for Freedom, the organization that brought Simcox to MSU's campus, to start their lecture. The speakers were drowned out until the campus police began arresting protestors and ordering people out of the lecture hall. While the lecture hall was cleared by the police under the pretext that the "event was cancelled," once the protestors were removed the police allowed the lecture to continue.
Simcox began by focusing his attention on the protestors, stating that an actual dialog about "the problem" on the borders could now take place. He stated that the protestors were "no better than the 1800s vigilante committees" and that his organization would not "still be in operation if the allegations [from the protestors] were true," asking "would he be here if he murdered people on the border?" Protestors and those opposed to him were a significant focus of Simcox's comments, as they were for the Young Americans for Freedom members in attendence. Simcox referenced the protestors throughout his talk, describing them as a "violent threat to society" and charging that the "people protesting were in diapers five years ago [when Simcox began working on the border], they didn't understand [border issues] then and still don't." He referred to a male Latino protestor as a "violent gangbanger" on the basis that the man wore hip-hop style clothes and had tattoos. When questioned about it, Simcox again said that "a gangbanger was arrested here, he violently attacked a police officer" before sarcastically stating in response to an audience member who called him out for his stereotyping that he "will be more tolerant" in the future and will instead "call him a violent hate-mongering individual." The MSU Young Americans for Freedom chapter was similarly focused on the protestors, with members of the group videotaping protestors before the lecture started, trying to identify conflict areas to record while the lecture was being disrupted, and appearing bored and uninterested in the actual talk.
Simcox also denied many of the prominent allegations against him–that the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps has members that are also involved in white supremacist groups and that he has a history of abuse towards his former wife and daughter. Simcox said that his organization has no ties with the National Alliance or other racist groups. According to Simcox, his organization does thorough background checks "using the internet" to keep out white supremacists. He argued that "the other side" makes this a racial issue when in fact the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps is a "mixed raced organization" and that "separatists don't like us." Of course, this comment directly contradicts reports of white supremacists in the Minuteman ranks, widespread advertising on the Internet for the Minuteman efforts on white supremacist websites, and the underlying racism that is contained with in many of the comments that he has made in the past and even within this talk. Similarly, Simcox dismissed allegations that he abused his wife and daughter, arguing that the only crime he has been convicted of is carrying a gun in a national park. Again, evidence available elsewhere disputes his claim, but Simcox argued that these allegations are the product of journalists that "defame and spread lies" as well as the Southern Poverty Law Center, whom he referred to as "the worst hate group" in the country.
However, while Simcox denied allegations that his organization was connected to organized racists and white supremacists, he made several comments during his talk that were racist. At one point, he said that there were immigrants in the country that "find it a badge of honor to drive drunk." He referred to immigrant agriculture workers as "the bottom of the food chain" when stating his opposition to Guest Worker programs. A similar hierarchy was implied when he advocated biometric profiling for immigrants–presumably of both the documented and undocumented variety–stating that he supported immigrants being given biometric identification cards that would track their purchases. Simcox said that he opposes this type of profiling for himself and other Americans, stating "they [immigrants] need to be tracked, not American citizens." Simcox advocated the idea that immigrants must learn English as a means of becoming "functional members of society," a statement that implied that those who do not know English are dysfunctional. In his comments, he also supported the idea that undocumented immigrants who had committed felonies–including the common crime of document fraud–be deported and said that he does not support citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants born in the United States. Moreover, much of Simcox's talk equated immigrants with criminality and advanced the idea that immigrants are criminals, a view that can create a climate in which either vigilante or state-sponsored violence towards immigrants is tolerated. These comments went so far as to equate immigrants with murderers, with Simcox saying that the country needs to do its "best to make sure people want to come in and prosper, not kill and murder." He also associated immigrants with terrorists, charging that 652 undocumented immigrants caught last year had connections to terrorists.
Simcox expressed support for the Young Americans for Freedom's "Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day" activity, which was held this year at Michigan State University. Ignoring the inherent racism and serious potential for the event to create a hostile climate towards Latino students on MSU's campus, Simcox said that he supports the idea because it brings national attention to the problem of immigration. In response to an audience question he said that "'I'll pick my own lettuce' shirts are not offensive, I'll wash my own toilets–I do." The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps was formed according to Simcox because both parties of the government have failed to address "the flood" of undocumented immigrants across the border. He explained that his organization has adopted its tactics because they had previously "tried everything" to get the government to address "the problem," but they had not done anything. He said that rather than the murdering vigilantes that they are portrayed as, the Minutemen are an organization that is trying to save lives, explaining that they allegedly give water and medical attention to immigrants whom they stop on the border before handing them over to the Border Patrol. Simcox, who stated that "nobody knows the border better than me," said that he had never seen a vigilante on the border and said that you would have a "better opportunity finding Bigfoot on the border than a vigilante." Of course, this comment is contradicted by widespread evidenceof the growth of vigilante groups on the border. He explained that he advocates addressing immigration by securing the border, enforcing laws, and removing lawbreakers from the United States. After that, Simcox said there could be a discussion about how to address the demand for immigrant labor. Simcox also asserted that if the government were to enforce the immigration laws on the books, the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps would end its operations once it had "certified" that the laws were indeed being enforced.
Throughout his talk Simcox's comments illuminated why racist groups should be taken seriously. Simcox talked about the displacement of American workers through modern day capitalism, adopting a rightwing populist rhetoric that views corporations and the government as two parts of the same problem. He called corporations "modern day plantation owners" that exploit people, but his concern was informed more by a desire to scapegoat immigrants rather than a true desire to hold corporations accountable for their role in exploiting workers en both sides of the border. Simcox identified the fact that "NAFTA is a disaster," but did not examine how it has increased immigration and negatively impacted workers in both the United States and in Mexico. Perhaps fortunately for those organizing to oppose the Minutemen and other racist groups, Simcox's arguments were occasionally contradictory and frequently went from advocating increased laws to restrict immigration to telling people not to trust the government. These contradictions imply a weak ideology that could be combated by anti-racist and pro-immigrant activists, but Simcox, the Minutemen, and other vigilantes present an argument that is quite persuasive to those who have been displaced by capitalism and for whom real notions of solidarity have been discouraged by involvement in a system that pits people against each other. Thus far, an alternative ideology has not been presented by the left.