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The Minuteman Project is an activist organization started in April 2005 by a group of private individuals in the United States to monitor the United States – Mexico border's flow of illegal immigrants. Co-founded by Jim Gilchrist, the name derives from the Minutemen, militiamen who fought in the American Revolution. The Minuteman Project describes itself as "a citizens' Neighborhood Watch on our border", and has attracted media attention to illegal immigration.
On May 25, 2005, James Gilchrist spoke in Garden Grove, California, to the California Coalition for Immigration Reform at the Garden Grove Women's Club. Hal Netkin, a Minuteman collaborator, came to the event. Netkin's car was surrounded as he arrived at the location and demonstrators allegedly rocked the vehicle and banged on it. Garden Grove Police Lt. Mike Handfield claimed that some of the 300 demonstrators were there "not to protest but to commit criminal acts" and that "A small contingent of people that were troublemakers had backpacks filled with full cans of soda that they were throwing and also cans filled with marbles that they threw." Lt. Handfield claimed that, "We determined it was reasonable for him to move forward" through the crowd surrounding his car. Two people who were standing in front of Netkin's car fell down when he moved forward. Both went to the hospital. The police declared an illegal assembly. "It got out of control in terms of protesters getting violent", Lt. Handfield said. Jan Tucker, who accompanied state and local leaders of the League of United Latin American Citizens to the talk, stated that the crowd outside the building was peaceful.
On October 4, 2006, approximately forty students and demonstrators allegedly stormed the stage of Alfred Lerner Hall during a Minuteman presentation at Columbia University in New York City, where Board Members Marvin Stewart and Gilchrist had been invited to speak. The student protesters rushed onto the stage with a yellow banner toward Stewart and supposedly disrupted the presentation by exciting the crowd, who cheered the protesters on and heckled the speaker. The protesters then gathered outside the Columbia University gates and continued chanting. The protest was quickly broken up by security workers. The event spawned a public discussion at Columbia over freedom of speech and transparency regarding the process through which controversial speakers are invited to speak. Columbia University president Lee Bollinger stated in a campus-wide email that "No one ... shall have the right or the power to use the cover of protest to silence speakers". The event was monitored by several media organizations. Neil Cavuto of Fox News interviewed Stewart, an African American, to announce a Hate Crime lawsuit against Columbia University for racial insults that Stewart endured during his 55‑minute speech. Though no racial epithets can be heard in the video footage of the event, rebels can audibly be heard calling the speakers "racists", "murderers", and, later, chanting "racists, fascists go away!"
On April 6, 2005, three Minuteman Project volunteers convinced a 25-year-old man to hold a T-shirt and pose for a photograph and a video with one of the volunteers. The T‑shirt, which was also worn by volunteer Bryan Barton, read "Bryan Barton caught me crossing the border and all I got was this lousy T‑shirt".
The volunteer approached the young man near a main highway while off duty from patrolling. He then contacted the Border Patrol. He gave $20 to the man as the U.S. Border Patrol arrived and took the man into custody. Critics of the MMP raised questions about the incident, but an investigation by the Cochise County Sheriff's office cleared the volunteer of any wrongdoing. The Border Patrol and the Mexican consul agreed that no crime had been committed.
In August 2007 the Southern Poverty Law Center reported the surfacing of two videos which depicted the murder of an alleged illegal immigrant along the Mexico/California border by two Minutemen. These videos appeared briefly on YouTube but were removed. In this video, a figure is videotaped in night vision being shot while two narrators exchange obscene comments expressing satisfaction about doing so.
A few days later, Minuteman representatives alleged to a San Diego TV station that the videos were made by members of the Mountain Minutemen group and that they were fake. Robert "Little Dog" Crooks, who admitted making the video, said "we're old men and we're bored" and said he made the video to express a political opinion about an immigration bill being debated. Minuteman Project leader Jim Gilchrist would later ban cooperation by members of his group with the Mountain Minutemen in response to the video incident.
In January 2006, the actions of California Minutemen helped influence the cancellation of a program sponsored by Humane Borders and the government of Mexico to supply over 70,000 maps to migrants to aid their illegal entry into the United States. The maps were not designed to encourage illegal entry into the country, rather, they were aimed at mitigating death and injury by mapping out the positions of water stations, rescue beacons and recorded deaths. However, Miguel Angel Paredes, a spokesman for Mexico's National Human Rights Commission said "this would be practically like telling the Minutemen where the migrants are going to be" and as such, they'd have to "rethink this, so that we wouldn't almost be handing them over to groups that attack migrants".
On April 28, 2005, then California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger praised the Minuteman Project during an interview on The John and Ken Show on Los Angeles radio station KFI, saying that the group had been doing "a terrific job". He reiterated his supportive comments the following day, noting that the Minutemen would be welcome to patrol the border between California and Mexico.
Other supporters have included the Council of Conservative Citizens, national radio hosts Sean Hannity and Michael Savage, politicians from both major political parties, Tennessee radio host James Edwards and Virginia activist Mark Hopkins.
Members of an advisory board for Minuteman Project, Inc. took control of the organization's bank account and, at least temporarily, took control of the Minuteman Project's main web site, Jim Gilchrist filed a lawsuit in Orange County, California, against three of the members of the group that claimed to be members of a board of directors: Marvin Stewart, Deborah Courtney and Barbara Coe.
Stewart, Courtney and Coe alleged that they constituted the Board of Directors of Minuteman Project, Inc. and fired Gilchrist for a variety of reasons. Gilchrist fired Stewart and Courtney. Rather than accept their termination, Stewart and Courtney filed papers with the Secretary of State of Delaware saying that they were the Board of Directors and Officers of the Corporation.
Stewart and Courtney are defendants in another action brought by Minuteman Project. The former volunteers at one point ran out of money to afford legal counsel and were forced to represent themselves in court. That trial began January 4, 2010.On February 5, 2010, Judge Wilkinson issued a Statement of Decision finding that Stewart and Courtney were legally fired from Minuteman Project, Inc. on February 2, 2007. The February meeting was properly noticed, the purpose of the special meeting (the firing of Courtney, Coe and Stewart) was noticed, and Courtney, Coe and Stewart were in attendance at the meeting. The court ruled previous meetings the pair held purporting to fire other members of the board were lacking - in that they neither gave notice, nor had a quorum and the directors lacked authority. At that meeting Barbara Coe resigned her position (giving her resignation from MMP, Inc. to Jim Gilchrist, its president) and Stewart and Courtney were fired. Judge Wilkinson ruled that the two defendants were legally terminated from the board of MMP on February 2, 2007 and "under no circumstances" are they board members after February 2, 2007. He issued a permanent injunction against their claiming that they are board members, officers, members or spokespersons for the Minuteman Project, called for them to remove any websites making those false claims, and finally ordered them to return to MMP any of its property they have in their possession.
The ruling affirmed Gilchrist's position as head of Minuteman Project, Inc. and its successor organization Jim Gilchrist's Minuteman Project, Inc.
The project has generated controversy, drawing criticism from former Mexican President Vicente Fox and former United States President George W. Bush, who expressed dislike for "vigilante" border projects. In 2005, James Gilchrist said he had been told that the Latino criminal organization MS13 had "issued orders to teach 'a lesson'" to the Minutemen. The Minuteman Project and its chapters have been called an extreme nativist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Anti-Defamation League has observed that Neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups have campaigned alongside them. No official connection between these groups has been established. In December, 2005 James Chase turned over leadership of the California Minutemen (CMM) & the national Border Watch Federation (BWF) to his son, Mike Chase. Recruits, operations and the influence of the California Minutemen continued to grow, and the North County Times complained of Mike Chase's appointment to the political steering committee of California Senator Bill Morrow's campaign for the 50th District Congressional seat vacated by Randy "Duke" Cunningham.
In a June 2008 interview with the OC Register, Jim Gilchrist stated, "Am I happy at the outcome of this whole movement? I am very, very sad, very disappointed". He also added, "There's all kinds of organizations that have spawned from the Minuteman Project and I have to say, some of the people who have gotten into this movement have sinister intentions. ...I have found, after four years in this movement...I very well may have been fighting for people with less character and less integrity than the 'open border fanatics' I have been fighting against", Gilchrist concluded. "And that is a phenomenal indictment of something I have created."
Various media representatives, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and observers from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) are also in the patrol zone attempting to observe Minutemen volunteers at work. In November 2006, ACLU released a report detailing the Minuteman Campaign and stated that a large number of daily newspapers "wildly exaggerated" the number of volunteers who actually participated in the group’s operation in southeastern Arizona in April 2005.
Individuals who claimed to be Minuteman Project's board of directors claimed they removed Gilchrist as head of the Minuteman Project amid allegations of fraud and financial mismanagement, but a representative of the Delaware Secretary of State told the Los Angeles Times that only Gilchrist could make those changes. In a May 2007 interview, Gilchrist claimed: "I’m the President and always was. I got the corporation back. I have the right to the web site, the bank account, everything. We are back in the same position as we were prior to the hijacking." Judge Wilkinson issued an interim ruling barring the board members from spending Minuteman Project donations until Gilchrist’s lawsuit is resolved. In April 2007, Gilchrist announced the formation of a new non-profit corporation, named Jim Gilchrist’s Minuteman Project, Inc.
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