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Minuteman changes tone (Founder Runs for Congress)
« on: November 03, 2005, 04:32:16 PM »
Title: Minuteman changes tone (Founder Runs for Congress)
Author: MICHAEL MARTINEZ
Date: 10/31/2005
Source: Chicago Tribune



LAKE FOREST, Calif. - Jim Gilchrist, founder of modern-day Minutemen patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border, is suddenly watching his vigilante rhetoric now that he's searching for votes.

He's running for Congress, and despite his one-issue campaign, he captured enough votes as an independent in the Oct. 4 primary to help force a runoff in coastal Orange County.

Gilchrist launched the Minuteman Project in April, when his condemnation of lax border control inspired scores of binocular-toting volunteers, some of them armed, to scout for illegal immigrants walking across the porous but perilous Southwestern desert.

His movement now has spinoff groups in 14 states, including some on the Canadian border.

It even inspired a recent episode of "The West Wing," when a presidential candidate portrayed by Alan Alda called the group "vigilantes," just as President Bush did last spring.

Gilchrist, 56, is a member of the American Independent Party founded by former Alabama Gov. George Wallace. But he urges voters not to read anything into that.

He says he's no bigot or racist. He's a Vietnam veteran with a Purple Heart and has an "American-Mexican" son-in-law. He says he just wants immigration laws enforced to keep America strong and united.

On the campaign trail he has backed off previously stated fears of a civil war and mob rule, although he has not said what the country should do with illegal immigrants. He's hoping his emergence as a national leader in the push for a hermetically sealed U.S. border will propel him to the nation's Capitol.

In several conversations earlier this year, Gilchrist let loose.

"Too many immigrants will divide our country. We are not going to have a civil war now, but we could."

"We are becoming a country run by mob rule. Whoever moves in rules. I'm worried about the illegal immigration. I can see our country splitting apart."

"Illegal immigrants will destroy this country."

Now, with campaign fliers depicting him as an arms-crossed, sleeves-rolled-up "citizen patriot," Gilchrist, a former newspaper reporter in the early 1970s in Rhode Island, says he's using softer words now and trying to express himself more fully.

"I probably have used some coarse rhetoric," Gilchrist acknowledged in an interview in October in his campaign office.

When he talked about a potential civil war, he said he was referring to "what happened in Russia. After 75 years of communism, they broke up into seven or eight different countries."

"Without legal immigration, we're going to have an inflow of some part of a 6.5 billion world population who wants to come here," he said. "And what that could result in is several nations within a nation.

"Due to the lack of assimilation," he said, "we would be sacrificing a cohesive America that would guarantee us our survival as a unified nation."

But Gilchrist doesn't hold his tongue about President Bush's proposed guest worker program for the nation's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants.

The guest worker proposal is "just another what we call failed amnesty," he said. "We have to have some orderly queue and a vetting process and assimilation so we can have, in my opinion, a civilized America."

Gilchrist expressed optimism about his candidacy, though he's clearly the dark horse.

He asserts he's a Reagan Republican, but Gilchrist is officially a candidate of the American Independent Party, the largest third party in California that claims almost 2 percent of the state's registered voters.

That affiliation, however, is a strike against him in a heavily Republican district that hardly offers hope to Democrats, let alone third-party candidates.

Gilchrist switched from the GOP to the AIP in 1992 to protest the Republicans' drift from the "Reagan model," he said.

He could not return to the GOP as a candidate because state law requires candidates to be affiliated with their parties for at least a year. Gilchrist was a registered Democrat from 1979 to 1981, the year he joined the Reagan Revolution, campaign manager Howie Morgan said.

Gilchrist concedes that his party's founder could create some political baggage. Like Wallace, Gilchrist has been called a bigot and a racist by his harshest critics.

Wallace, he said, "was probably a bigot."

Gilchrist, however, reminds people that his daughter is married to an "American-Mexican," whose grandparents were legal immigrants from Mexico, and thus he has a Hispanic grandson.

Gilchrist's emphasis on enforcement of immigration laws comes as Republican voters nationwide favor more than just a border crackdown, according to a poll released in October by the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. In addition to crackdowns that Gilchrist advances, Republican voters favor a plan to allow the millions of undocumented immigrants to earn legal residency, the poll found.

Still, the Minutemen enjoy a high profile because they draw attention to a concern shared by many voters nationwide but unresolved by lawmakers, analysts said.

"People have a hunger for a solution," said Tamar Jacoby, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. "The problem is that the Minutemen don't have a solution" that completely resonates with voters, she said.

A retired certified public accountant, Gilchrist said his stance will resonate at the polls. He emphasizes patriotism and service and has the scars to show for it. He took shrapnel in the face and scalp and was thrown from a helicopter under fire in Vietnam. From 1986 to 1990, he underwent three surgeries on the back of his head for a cerebral-spinal leak, he said through an aide.

Gilchrist's campaign has received the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., who leads a 91-member immigration reform caucus that advocates a border crackdown but has yet to weigh in on Bush's guest worker program.

Gilchrist also favors a crackdown against employers who use illegal immigrant labor, including big agricultural and corporate businesses - often donors to the Republican Party.

"My winning this race would be the vanguard that's going to transform, redesign our politics from San Diego to Bangor (Maine)," Gilchrist said. "It's going to make paramount the issue of unenforced U.S. immigration laws, and that issue will be vehemently addressed."

Will Adams, spokesman for Tancredo, drew upon American Revolution lore in describing Gilchrist: "He's sort of a Sam Adams for the secure-the-borders movement ... a guy who is not establishment but goes out and in retrospect is viewed as a courageous figure."

Some analysts question what following Gilchrist really has beyond his frequent appearances on CNN's Lou Dobbs show about "broken borders."

On Oct. 4, Gilchrist finished third overall among 17 candidates to fill the congressional seat of former Rep. Christopher Cox, a Republican. Cox resigned to become chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

No candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote, requiring a runoff Dec. 6.

The top vote-getter was state Sen. John Campbell, a Republican, with 45.5 percent, followed by another Republican, Marilyn Brewer, with 17.1 percent. Gilchrist won 14.8 percent.

The leading Democrat, Steve Young, finished fourth with 8.7 percent.

Jim Terry, campaign manager for Campbell, questioned whether a singular focus on illegal immigration, as well as running on a third-party ticket, would be successful strategies.

"While this is a huge problem and a crisis, there are many issues out there," Terry said. "He has now found it convenient to call himself a Reagan Republican."

The Minuteman Project has 200,000 people on its e-mail list, but Gilchrist said actual membership is 4,500, about 6 percent of whom are Latinos.

In October, 4,200 volunteers have registered for various patrols by the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, a sister group devoted to border watches, in the four Southwestern border states and in four Canadian border states, spokesmen said.

Marc Cooper, a senior fellow at the Institute for Justice and Journalism at the University of Southern California, said Gilchrist's candidacy will demonstrate whether the Minutemen are a fringe or substantial group.

"The Minutemen have always claimed to speak for a kind of silent majority of Americans, and they claim they are just the tip of the iceberg," said Cooper, who writes for the Nation magazine. "I think the stakes for the Minutemen are very high in this because Gilchrist is calling his own bluff, so to speak."

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