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Photo by Tenaya HillsYou really want to loathe JimGilchrist, you really do. One minute, the 56-year-old Aliso Viejo resident rails against illegal immigrants, warning ominously that "40 years from now, I see neighborhood armies of 20 to 40 going out and killing and invading one another. The United States is going to have 100 tribes with 100 languages and no common bond. It's future mayhem."
But just a couple of breaths later, his tone softens. Illegal immigrants, he says, "are not barbarians coming over here, chucking spears and swinging swords. This isn't the Gallic Wars. They're just looking for a better life." Then, a sentence or two later, Gilchrist resumes his apocalyptic predictions. "The first place I lived in Orange County [in the early 1970s] was Santa Ana," he says. "Everything was English. Ten years later, it changed into mostly Spanish. Twenty years later, it was completely Spanish. Talk about colonization!"
And then, some minutes later, Gilchrist mulls about what he just said. "They just want to get away from that rotten Mexican regime that has no respect for them," he says. "There's something seriously wrong with a country where half of the population wants to get out.
"I would support a revolution down there," he spurts. "I'd only give money, though—I'd probably be executed as a foreign mercenary. "
Gilchrist, a retired CPA and Vietnam War Purple Heart veteran, heads the Minuteman Project, a call-to-arms that promises to place more than 1,000 people on a 20-mile stretch of the Arizona-Mexico border near Tombstone during April. Their goal: prevent any illegal immigrant from entering the United States.
"At the current rate of invasion, the United States will be completely overrun with ILLEGAL aliens by the year 2025 . . . only 20 years away," Gilchrist writes on the introduction to his website, www.minutemanproject.com. "ILLEGAL aliens and their offspring will be the dominant population in the U.S. and will have made such inroads into the political and social systems that they will have more influence than the U.S. Constitution over how the U.S. is governed. That ugly consequence is already taking place. The United States of America is under invasion."
The Minuteman Project has become a cause célèbre among conservatives, publicized via e-mail and highlighted on the FOX News program Hannity & Colmes, MSNBC's Scarborough Country, and Bill Handel's radio show on KFI-AM 640.
"We're going to have 40 outposts down there," Gilchrist enthuses. "We're all going to have military-style radios. There's going to be para-gliders from Texas, pilots, police officers and lawyers."
He insists that his quasi-militia will not actually apprehend anyone. "That's not our job," he explains. "If we see an illegal alien, we're going to report them to the Border Patrol. None will cross—we're going to be 100 percent effective."
This goal seems quixotic. After all, Arizona saw more illegal-immigrant border crossings last year than California, New Mexico and Texas combined. And the Border Patrol has already voiced its objection to the Minuteman Project. "We don't want to say we don't want the public's help," a spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times. "We just don't want it in this format."
Nevertheless, around 441 people from 44 states have already signed up with Gilchrist, including 12 Orange Countians. He won't dissuade volunteers from carrying weapons, though he plans to patrol the borders unarmed. And co-heading the Minuteman Project is Chris Simcox, who in a March 2003 speech to the Huntington Beach-based California Coalition for Immigration Reform, warned prospective illegal immigrants, "Take heed of our weapons because we're going to defend our borders by any means necessary."
But if Simcox is the Minuteman Project's Stalin, then Gilchrist is its Trotsky. After patrolling the border for 30 days, Gilchrist wants his volunteers to begin assisting the Internal Revenue Service in cracking down on companies that hire illegal immigrants. "It is more effective," Gilchrist says, than waiting around in the middle of the Arizona desert. And on the Jan. 26 broadcast of Hannity & Colmes, Gilchrist described himself as a "former '60s liberal . . . turned quasi-conservative in the '90s." And glimpses of his former ideology emerge if you ask Gilchrist about the root cause of illegal immigration.
"I blame it on the corporate barons," Gilchrist thunders. "Not just the huge ones, but the smaller corporations who know they can get desperate workers to work for literal peanuts to do the same work American citizens would want twice the salary for. They laugh all the way to the bank. They're professional slave traders, just like in the Southern states back to the Civil War. . . . I do not like these capitalistic pigs."
He laughs, seemingly aware of the contradiction inherent in his remarks.
"Part of me is conservative," Gilchrist concludes. "And part of me is a left-wing wacko."