The Minuteman's 15 Minutes of Fame (Minute 14.5)

At the Arizona border, Infiltrator checks in with Americans who help the government look for illegal aliens

Oh, the laughter!

Huachuca Line, 3:37 a.m.

The night shift is not unlike sitting in one's car and being extremely bored. After a while, though, I get a little jittery, a little shaky, and a little jumpy from drinking loads of caffeine. I start seeing things in the dark void that is the border. (Good thing I'm not armed!)

We get some action. A message comes over the walkie-talkie: "I'm going to move my car. Don't panic if you see some lights."

With a chuckle, another Minuteman replies, "I'll try not to get too trigger-happy."

I push the talk button on my walkie-talkie: "I'M FREAKIN' OUT MAN! I'M REALLY FREAKIN' OUT HERE!"

Silence from the other end. Then, finally, "Do you need some security backup?"

Trying to get my car radio to work, I accidentally flash my car's lights. "There's someone flashing their lights towards the border," an urgent-sounding man going by the call name "Wisconsin" blurts over the radio. He thinks someone might be signaling coyotes.

"Do you want backup?" answers base headquarters.

"CALL IN THE AIRSTRIKE! CALL IN THE AIRSTRIKE!" I scream into my walkie-talkie.

There're more potential sightings: "I just saw some lights. I'm going to go investigate!"

This time it wasn't me. Maybe we've actually spotted our first illegal alien of the evening?! The radio transmits again: "This is Gooseberry Down, just south of you; I didn't see no lights, but I'm walking towards ya."

A few moments later, there're big chuckles over the radio concerning the light. "I just moved my position from in the trees, and it turned out to be the moon."

A couple of seconds later, to add drama to the affair, I scream, "MAN DOWN! MAN DOWN!"

Final Minuteman Briefing

"Don't wear full camouflage wear. We want to present a non-military, non-threatening image for the press" reads a sign outside the door to the cafeteria of a dilapidated bible college that serves as the Minuteman Project's dormitories. Being as I am a member of the press, I'm sure it's OK that I'm dressed head-to-toe in military fatigues.

The 9 a.m. briefing's already in progress, and several heads swerve with suspicion as we enter the cafeteria. At this meeting, there are fewer of the earnest, lovable Wilford Brimley-type Minuteman senior citizens, and more of the hardened older men in the sea of plaid and military green.

Jim Gilchrist, a salt-and-pepper-haired man in charge of the 800 to 1,000 Minuteman volunteers (the number seems to vary, depending on who's talking), takes to the center of the cafeteria.

"We are not common criminals," he says with a tinge of bitterness in his voice. "We are asking for an apology from the president about the Minuteman Project!"

President Bush, it seems, has referred to the Minutemen as vigilantes.

Big applause.

"We are asking the president to meet with us and give a personal apology!"

Bigger applause.

Then, with major bitterness built up from a month of presidential unappreciation, Gilchrist adds, "I don't think we're going to get it."

The bible college cafeteria grows silent.

"If we stop now, we'll be seen as a 30-day dog-and-pony show. We have to continue," he says, his voice rising and his metaphors mixing madly. "We have just lit the fuse to keep this bomb rolling!"

The Minutemen eat this up. A large, steely-eyed man with a bowie knife on his hip moves next to me and looks over my shoulder, intentionally trying to intimidate, eyeballing me as I scribble in my notebook.

"Anyone here with military background?" Gilchrist asks.

A sea of hardened elderly hands rises up in the bible college cafeteria.

"This was a battalion-sized operation. In October, this has to be an army-sized operation!" Gilchrist cries.

"Let's hope we don't have reveille!" an old guy quips. Big laughs. (Ah, Minuteman humor.)

Yes, the Minuteman Project hopes to patrol four Mexican-border states, with further plans to cover the northern borders (fucking Canadians sneaking over, taking our jobs!), plus the grand, overall Minuteman master plan of citizens patrolling in 12 border states.

"This is going from a 1,000-person operation to 12,000," Gilchrist says.

More night-vision goggles will be needed. More infrared. Plans are made to sweep the entire Huachuca mountain range for illegal aliens.

"I'd do that 20 years ago," a large, mustachioed man who has a baby-fat face and is wearing green Army clothes leans over to tell me. "Now I have to bring my blood pressure medicine."

In seeming conclusion, Gilchrist says, "The media is not your enemy." Then, in sincere disgust that trumps the false ending, Gilchrist curses the members of the press who have criticized the Minutemen. "It's dirty journalism!" he says. "They will get theirs from their peers, who will shun them!"

"You're our Patrick Henry!" spontaneously exclaims a patriotic grandmotherly woman to a round of applause. "A 21st-century Minuteman!"

"How about Paul Revere?" suggests an old codger to significantly less applause.

The patriotic woman, taking his lead, puts her hands in the air, riffing, "The Mexicans are coming! The Mexicans are coming!"

The baby-fat-faced man leans in again: "If Bill Clinton were president, he'd have Janet Reno send the FBI to shoot us out!"

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