Washington Times reporter Jerry Seper spent much of the past year covering the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps and writing sympathetic articles on the anti-immigrant vigilante group, from “The Granny Brigade” to the Minuteman caravan. He even received the “2005 Eugene Katz Award for Excellence in the Coverage of Immigration” from the right-wing Center for Immigration Studies, to whom the reporter joked that he had “blatantly ripped off many of your stories.” Today, however, Seper offers two articles that show the Minutemen in a decidedly unflattering light. The first deals with questions about the Minutemen’s finances:
A growing number of Minuteman Civil Defense Corps leaders and volunteers are questioning the whereabouts of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of dollars in donations collected in the past 15 months, challenging the organization’s leadership over financial accountability.
Many of the group’s most active members say they have no idea how much money has been collected as part of its effort to stop illegal entry — primarily along the U.S.-Mexico border, what it has been spent on or why it has been funneled through a Virginia-based charity headed by conservative Alan Keyes. Several of the group’s top lieutenants have either quit or are threatening to do so, saying requests to Minuteman President Chris Simcox for a financial accounting have been ignored.
Other members of the group, according to Seper, claim that money for “food, fuel, radios, computers, tents, night-vision scopes, binoculars, porta-potties and other necessary equipment and supplies” never reached vigilantes on the border.
Critics said vast sums of money are being collected to build what has been described as an Israeli-style fence to keep out illegal aliens, but all that has been constructed is three miles of a five-strand barb-wired range fence on 2-inch metal poles. One former Minuteman volunteer said the fence “wouldn’t stop a tricycle.”
Minuteman President Chris Simcox’s response is “blaming the concern about his leadership and accountability on open borders and anti-rule of law lobbyists, racists and ‘those who were terminated from MCDC for violating our code of conduct,'” according to Seper. Says Simcox, “I can’t wait for the final audit to answer and embarrass our critics, those who have tried to destroy this organization.
Simcox claimed that the group had received $1 million in donations, plus $600,000 for the fence, all routed through Alan Keyes’ group Declaration Alliance, and, as Seper reports, some Minutemen question why Keyes is involved. The connection to Keyes, who calls Minuteman critics “decidedly racist and anti-Semitic,” is the subject of Seper’s second article, looking at the role of the “intricate weave of conservative organizations founded and chaired by Mr. Keyes or tied to longtime Keyes associates working with MCDC.”
Groups aligned with the Declaration Alliance and the Minuteman organization include:
* Diener Consulting Inc., whose president is Phil Sheldon, son of the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition. Diener serves as the MCDC’s public-relations arm, as it did for Mr. Keyes in his unsuccessful 1996 and 2000 presidential campaigns and failed U.S. Senate races in Maryland and Illinois. Peter Kunz, a Diener employee, manages the Minuteman border fence project. Connie Hair, another Diener employee, is MCDC’s spokeswoman.
* Renew America, a Washington, D.C.-based fundraising organization founded by Mr. Keyes that advocates the “basic principles and core values of the conservative movement.” Its Web site (www.renewamerica.us) provides a direct link for donations to the Minuteman organization through Declaration Alliance, offers a Minuteman “message board” and lists a link for people to volunteer or donate to the Minuteman fence project.
* Response Unlimited, the self-proclaimed “best and most comprehensive source of mailing lists for conservative and Christian mailers and telemarketers,” which offers — for a fee — the names and contact information of Minuteman donors. The charge is $120 for every 1,000 names, with 150,000 names now available. The Waynesboro, Va., firm, headed by Christian right activist Philip Zodhiates, also maintains an “exclusive contract” with the Declaration Foundation.
* RightMarch.com, founded by conservative activist William Greene in 2003 as a counter to MoveOn.org, a liberal tax-exempt organization that raised money to defeat President Bush. Mr. Greene, whose partner is Mr. Sheldon, president at Diener, raised more than $500,000 for Mr. Keyes’ 2004 senatorial campaign. He joined MCDC on the border in April in Arizona; sent 400,000 faxes, e-mails and letters to Congress demanding a secure border; and helps raise MCDC donations through a direct link on its Web page to the Declaration Alliance.
Seper reports that the involvement began when Diener employee and former Keyes adviser Connie Hair called Simcox and asked “whether he had a media plan.”