Minutemen Supporters Scammed?

Back on July 22, 2006 — I wrote about concerns that I, and other people, had about the way that the Minutemen were handling their money. Here’s a little sample from that post,

“I’m a big fan of the Minutemen and think they’ve been doing great work…

…(But) where’s the rest of the basic info? Where’s the basic breakdown of how much is being spent on fences, equipment for people in the field, etc. vs. how much is being spent on staff salaries and other backend expenses? Why aren’t they giving out a basic breakdown of where the money is going? $x is going for trips, $y is going for radios, $z is going for staff? Why won’t they open their books? If they want the public to continue to give them money, they need to give out more basic information to insure people that it’s being well spent, especially since serious questions have now been raised about it.

So, are they handling their money properly? It’s hard to say at this point because Simcox is withholding a lot of key info and saying, “Trust us, not the people making allegations.” But, since the Minutemen are taking in money from the public, it seems to me that the onus is on them, not their critics, to prove that they’re being careful with the money they’ve received and as of yet, they haven’t met the challenge.”

This story from CNN makes it clear that I was right to be concerned and that unfortunately, the trust that so many people put in the Minutemen looks to have been misplaced.

“It was supposed to be 14 feet high and topped with razor wire. It was also supposed to send a message to Washington that if the government wouldn’t seal off the southern border, volunteers could.

Almost two years later, the reality is a five-strand barbed-wire barrier that ranchers dismiss as a mere cattle fence.

The fence to help stop illegal immigration was the dream of Chris Simcox, the founder and president of the Minuteman Defense Corps.

…On the Minuteman Web site and in e-mails to members, Simcox asked for donations while making big promises, including a vow to build a fence along the border. It was not just any fence; it was to be 2,000 miles of state-of-the-art fencing at a cost of $55 million.

Simcox described it as “our high-tech, double-layered gauntlet of deterrent.”

The fence was described on the Minuteman Web site as 14 feet high, with security cameras and sensors, topped with razor wire and flanked by ditches to stop vehicles. Simcox referred to it as an “Israeli-style” fence, similar to the barrier Israel has erected to keep Palestinians from crossing from the West Bank.

…Donations started flowing in. One man actually mortgaged his home and contributed more than $100,000. And on Memorial Day of last year, there was a groundbreaking ceremony on John Ladd’s Arizona ranch. But what the Minutemen were building was not a tall, Israeli-style fence.

Former member Bob Wright said, “It wasn’t until they actually started the ceremony that it became clear. It was gonna be a cow fence!”

It was a five-strand barbed wire fence that would keep Ladd’s cattle in and keep Mexican cattle out. Ladd said he is happy with the fence. But some Minuteman leaders were stunned. In their first-ever interview, these former Simcox lieutenants told CNN they believed that the groundbreaking was a ploy by Simcox to raise even more money.

As a group, these leaders started to question Simcox about how donations were being spent. They wanted to him to provide specifics as to how much money was being raised and how it was being used.

…They demanded that Simcox meet them in person to address their concerns and answer their questions. They say he refused to meet with them and subsequently fired them.

Simcox now says that he never promised to build the high-tech security fence on Ladd’s ranch. And he insists the barbed-wire fence really does protect the country.

As the Minutemen strung their wire on Ladd’s property, another Arizona border rancher, Richard Hodges, agreed to allow Simcox to build nearly a mile of that Israeli-style fence on his land.

That was 10 months ago. CNN visited Hodges’ ranch a few weeks ago and found an as-yet-unfinished, tall, wire-mesh fence. There is no razor wire, no trenches, no cameras, which were to be the fancy facial-recognition type.

In a news release, Simcox claimed an Alabama company was going to provide those cameras, but the company told CNN it has made no deal to provide cameras and hasn’t heard from the Minutemen in 18 months.

And what happened to all the money donated to the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps is in question.

Simcox posted his group’s most recent tax filing and an independent audit on the Minuteman Web site. In the audit, the largest expense listed, by far, is for “professional services,” with no further details given.

Meanwhile, Simcox continues to solicit donations to build a fence. But, lately, it sounds as though he is lowering expectations, saying the fence is really just a symbol, a way to prod the government into building a real barrier.

CNN asked Simcox for responses to all of the allegations made by the former insiders. He replied that all of the allegations, as well as CNN’s investigation, are “a witch hunt” and “part of a smear campaign.”

A lot of good and decent people — patriotic people — have supported the Minutemen. They’ve volunteered to help them out, defended them when they’ve been attacked, and even sent them money. What are they supposed to think when they read this?

I’ll tell you what I think: it’s my opinion that the people who have donated money to the Minutemen have been mislead, perhaps criminally. And when something extremely fishy has been going on with your group’s finances for over a year, the whole — this is “part of a smear campaign” comeback doesn’t hold any water.

If there was a good answer to the questions people have about the Minutemen’s finances, Simcox would have provided it by now and the fact that he hasn’t suggests that it’s more likely that he’s a flim-flam man who’s taking advantage of people than a poor, misunderstood soul who’s the victim of “a witch hunt.”

I’d love to be wrong about this because I have great respect for the phenomenal work that the Minutemen have been doing on our nation’s Southern border, but it’s not possible to continue to support an organization that appears to be misappropriating people’s money.

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