"It's the media that's the other half of the problem in this country for not covering the story THE WAY IT REALLY IS!!!!" the hard-ass fireman yells.
Sitting at long rows of picnic tables, the Minutemen -- the civilians who have been so publicly patrolling the Mexican border to spot illegal aliens -- start thunderously whistling and jeering. This is the closing barbecue for the Minuteman Project's monthlong patrol, and they're basically going apeshit.
The hard-ass fireman, a third-generation Mexican-American ("They came in the right way!") is vividly infuriated. The press, apparently, has avoided him as a face of the Minuteman Project, instead focusing on the many, many more white participants, some of whom have been labeled racist in some newspapers.
Taking a quick visual inventory, estimating with complete impartiality, I'd have to say it's pretty fucking white here. Mainly, it's a crowd of hardened elderly white men with big potbellies, some of whom have brought their wives.
The irate third-generation Mexican-American points in the direction of the media -- which, in this case, are composed of myself, several well-groomed local reporters, various photographers, a few documentary crews, and, of course, Fox News -- and screams, "SO WHY DON'T YOU FOLKS PACK UP AND GO SOUTH OF THE BORDER WHERE YOU WANT TO BE CONTROLLED!"
I'm not exactly sure what that means, but the very white crowd (plus one third-generation Mexican-American man) starts throwing out angry taunts and heckles.
"Like Bush said, you're either with us or against us!"
"Sorry excuses for Americans!"
We, the media, shift uncomfortably from foot to foot, staring at our shoes. (Actually, I think we're expected to take off, running. Honestly, I think someone is going to yell, "GET THEM!")
But wait a minute, Minutemen. Didn't the media make the Minuteman Project? Wasn't the Minuteman Project, in one way, a big publicity stunt to bring attention to its border concerns? And so I ask, Minutemen: Where did the love go?!
Before I was faced with the proposition of going south of the border where I want to be controlled, I came to Tombstone, Ariz., to meet the men and women behind the Minuteman Project. (Surprisingly, no Minutekids.) Sure, I heard the news description of vigilantes hunting down illegal aliens like angry villagers chasing the Frankenstein monster. Sure, I heard others saying the Minutemen were a bunch of harmless senior citizens spending their twilight years sitting in lawn chairs along our borders, backed by beloved Gov. Arrrrrnold (who, in Predator, also chased aliens). To me, it just sounded like a big, three-ring, anti-immigration circus, with the Minutemen as the ringmaster under the Mexican-border big top. And I never miss the circus.
With my videographer/drinking buddy Brad in tow, I arrive for the morning Minuteman orientation session, on the 28th day of the Minuteman Project's monthlong jamboree. (Note to readers: The Minuteman Project should not to be confused with the Alan Parsons Project.)
"I'm going to ask you a pertinent question: Are you armed?" a large, intimidating man with a gun strapped across his chest asks us before we enter the office of the Tombstone Tumbleweed newspaper (the local institution of the independent press whose duty is to tell the story how it really is), a few blocks from the historic OK Corral. Though I'm dressed as a Minuteman (but even more so, with aviator shades and matching Army-fatigue shirt/shorts/hat), I do a visual inventory of my body.
Firmly, I answer: "No!"
After a short wait, they allow us into the newspaper's back yard, where 18 people, with serious, almost grim, looks on their faces, are assembled. (All are men, except for a hardened grandmother and the unhappy female part of an unhappy couple.) Most are dressed like me and display nervous uneasiness, as if they are about to be shipped off to war -- and some might not return!
Being members of the media, the photographer and I receive the same warm welcome granted to a fresh outbreak of genital herpes.
"Does anyone feel uncomfortable having members of the media here?" bellows the large, intimidating man as a historic Wild West stagecoach and its horses clop by; there is tense silence as future Minutemen, not sure how to react, turn their heads toward one another. "If anyone feels uncomfortable, raise your hand, and I can ask them to leave!"
No hands go up. I take a chair in the hot sun, behind an old guy whose T-shirt reads "Retired -- I Can Play With My Trains Anytime I Want."
But we're still not in the clear. Making intense eye contact, the large, intimidating man asks, "Do you have any recording devices on you?"
Letting out a nervous chuckle, I shake my head, hoping the tape recorder doesn't fall out of my pocket. The large, intense man has one other demand. "You can't quote me directly!" he says to absolutely no response from me.
"This is not about skinheads. This is not about the KKK," his orientation continues, as if these statements are necessary to weed out trigger-happy fanatics. (I look to see if anyone is disappointed.) "We are here to observe and report."
The Minuteman mission statement is laid out: "The Constitution says protect our borders from the threat of invasion. We have the right to freedom of assembly." The intimidating man points to the gun strapped around his own neck. "If anyone has one of these things -- no monkey business. We're not about this," he sternly states. "No rifles! No shotguns!"