Undercover With The Minuteman Project

Published: Apr. 9, 2005 at 3:02 AM MST|Updated: Apr. 22, 2005 at 3:53 AM MST
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By Morgan Loew, Phoenix

We're seeing a new side of the Minuteman Project -- what happens when volunteers think the cameras and microphones have gone away. In an undercover investigation, we found the Minutemen controlling what is released to the media and struggling to keep out extremists.

The protests and the patrols, the flags and the signs -- Minuteman Project coordinator Jim Gilchrist has told the media this "event" is running like a well-oiled machine.

Gilchrist says, "The sheriff's department has been very supportive."

But behind the scenes, our hidden cameras show there are problems and plenty the Minutemen are not telling reporters.

A lady on Hidden cam says, "We don't want the press to find out where the information is being handed out because we'll have CNN and FOX and yeah."

They're controlling what you hear, from why some of these volunteers "really" came to southern Arizona:

John says, "If the border's gone, they're going to be pushing drugs on every one of our kids at school." To problems the organizers are having controlling the extremists who showed up.

John says, "The guys up here, on what we were talking about earlier on Mountain View, with the shotguns and the flag and lighting the fire. And lighting a fire on G-----n BLM land."

To get the real story, we went undercover, camping and patrolling with the Minuteman volunteers. We blended in because we had signed up as volunteers ourselves.

A woman on our Hidden Cam says, " Noon and four.. Chris will give you your assignments - probably walk you in to the spot."

Our "spot" is at the base of the Huachuca Mountains, on the side of a state highway, just south of Sierra Vista. Along with instructions on what to do if our group spots illegal immigrants, we're told something else over and over.

One man says, "Don't be talking to the press. They'll misconstrue things.. not all of them, but we don't know which ones will and which ones won't."

The concern over the media is so great all of the volunteers are given these guidelines, that give suggestions for what they should say if they are interviewed. One woman says, "Economically it's ruining us. Environmentally it's ruining us." Suggestions that make it onto the major news networks.

One man says, "I think it's become a major national security issue."

But the stories we get from our fellow volunteers when they don't know they're on camera give an uncensored version.

Marc says, "You walk into a McDonald's and you wake up and realize the entire third world is here."

This Tucson resident tells us he doesn't like what Mexicans do to his neighborhood. Marc says, "It's not like these are poor immigrants are coming here for minimum wage jobs. A lot of these people have thousands of dollars in their pockets."

This couple from Georgia tells us they believe their small town is being invaded. The Georgia man says, "Until the Mexicans started moving in in '94..'95.. Dalton was about 35,000."

There are eight volunteers in our group, from as far away as Boston and Washington , DC . Our mission is to patrol this stretch of roadway, keeping an eye on two washes and a field. It doesn't take long to find what the Minutemen are looking for.

One volunteer says, "They're sleeping under the bridge. I just called the Border Patrol - they're sending a guy out."

The Georgia couple has spotted a group of suspected illegal immigrants. One man says, "The lady here.. she took off like a herd of elephants." Unfamiliar with the terrain and the situation, the lady from Georgia tripped and fell, splitting her chin.

Marc says, "One of them just ran up the wash and there's possibly four more."

Across the highway, more Minutemen show up with video cameras, eager to catch a real apprehension on tape.

After 10 minutes, Border Patrol agents arrive and take five illegal immigrants into custody. The Minutemen here follow their instructions - keeping their distance - and observing, as the agents do their jobs. It's a relief for my producer and myself, given the fact - everyone in our group - except us - is armed with handguns.

But as the sun goes down, problems keeping control of a group as big as the Minutemen begin to surface.

Marc says, "There was a standoff and people got killed." The man from Tucson is asked to leave our group - because he keeps talking to reporters.

John says, "People like that, they'll drag down, they'll drag down the whole thing."

And as the night goes on, a drama unfolds across the highway. Some of the volunteers are carrying shotguns, which is against the rules and our group leader admits: Minuteman organizers are having trouble deciding what to do about it.

"What's up with the shotgun guys? How are you going to deal with those two?"

"I have no idea.. that's out of my.. I don't even want to go up there."

"Well don't they have a guy like you are with us? Don't they have their--"

"He's not there. I can't find him."

The man says, "I hope they're not drinking or anything. I didn't see any beer there."

That was the end of our mission. We were done. The next day, project organizer Jim Gilchrist - confronted with the shotgun story - re-gained his tight control over the information going out.

Gilchrist says, "That report was followed up.. we did trace those people down. They are not Minuteman project.. they are not Minuteman project volunteers. They are rogue patrollers posing as Minuteman volunteers."

A Border Patrol says civilians running around in the desert at night is putting agents at risk.