Here's a story that will surprise exactly no one familiar with the history of Chris Simcox and the Minuteman movement he cofounded:
PHOENIX -- The leader of an Arizona militia group was arrested Thursday on suspicion of molesting three young girls.
According to police documents, Christopher Allen Simcox, 52, was charged after detectives found probable cause that he had molested the girls in the past several months.
Police withheld further details to prevent the victims being identified.
Simcox was charged with two two counts of molestation of a child, two counts of sexual conduct with a minor and one count of attempted molestation of a child.
Of course, this is a disgusting coda to the already-depraved saga of the Minutemen, who collapsed in a heap in 2010 after the horrifying 2009 murders of 9-year-old Brisenia Flores and her father in their Arizona home by a onetime movement leader named Shawna Forde and her white-supremacist cohort, a tale I describe in considerable detail in my book And Hell Followed With Her: Crossing the Dark Side of the American Border.
As if that weren't bad enough, the tale of Arizona's vigilante border watchers took a similarly ugly twist last year when neo-Nazi border watcher J.T. Ready massacred his girlfriend and her family before taking his own life. Most observers agreed that by then, the Minuteman movement was officially finished.
But this latest arrest should be the final nail that manifests once and for all what many observers said at the time (despite media fanfare to the contrary) -- that the Minutemen were a huge magnet for extremists, racists, mentally unstable people, and psychopaths.
It was also something that was long foreseeable, given Simcox's erratic behavior and volatile personality. I described this in some detail in And Hell Followed:
When Chris Simcox first arrived in Tombstone in 2002, he found work as one of these [Showdown at the OK Corral] actors. It was a way of staying afloat until he could get his feet on the ground. He had been drawn by the myth, and now he was on a mission to transform it into a kind of living reality.
A few months before, he had thrown away his previous life as a schoolteacher in California, moved out to the Arizona desert, and had an epiphany, all because of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. Traumatized by repeatedly watching the collapse of the Twin Towers, Simcox had sold off his belongings and moved out to camp in the Sonoran desert, where he witnessed all kinds of human and drug trafficking – or so he was fond of repeatedly telling reporters in later years. Concluding that the porous nature of the Mexican border posed a post-9/11 security threat to America, he had decided to pour all his efforts into doing something about it. That was his basic story, and it eventually became a kind of mythos unto itself.
In reality, Chris Simcox's life had been falling apart for awhile. Simcox grew up in rural Illinois and Kentucky; after high school, he moved briefly to New York in pursuit of a baseball career, then moved out to California with his first wife, Deborah Crews, who harbored ambitions as an actress, and their daughter. Simcox himself would later suggest he had tried his hand at acting too, but he also went to school, getting a degree in education from L.A.'s Pacific Oaks County.
Eventually, he found work as a teacher in Los Angeles – first in a gang-infested high school in South Central L.A., before he found more sedate work as a kindergarten teacher at a prestigious private school called Wildwood. He also divorced Crews and married an African-American woman named Kim Dunbar, who later gave birth to a son. He was a popular teacher, but his colleagues at Wildwood recalled Simcox as something of a condescending know-it-all who prided himself on being updated on the latest educational techniques and letting everyone else know it too: "He had this real holier-than-thou attitude, like he was so far above the other teachers they should be grateful he was even discussing his methods with them," one of them told a reporter. "He was insulting."
Some of them also witnessed a dark side to his sunny public persona. His then-teenage daughter from his first marriage came to live with him in Los Angeles in 1998, and Simcox got her a babysitting gig with one of his Wildwood colleagues. One night, she showed up suddenly at the colleague's house, visibly upset, seeking shelter: She claimed her father had tried to sexually molest her. Simcox later claimed he had just tried to give her a leg massage and she had gotten the wrong idea. No charges were filed. She returned to New York and her mother and broke off contact with her father.
Gradually, it all crumbled. Convinced of his own superiority, Simcox left Wildwood to start up his own tutoring business. But Dunbar said he was also displaying symptoms of a mental breakdown. According to her sworn depositions in their eventual divorce, she had to endure episodes of Simcox's violent rages, followed by numb, glass-eyed staring sessions mumbling to himself. He refused professional help. And he abused and threatened their then-4-year-old son. After ten years of marriage, Dunbar testified, "the only thing I could do was file for divorce."
Even as his tutoring work spiraled away because of his erratic behavior, Simcox was also becoming increasingly xenophobic and paranoid. He later told a reporter that he was dismayed by the way Hispanic gangs and students who couldn't speak English were overwhelming Los Angeles schools, and at the same time he was becoming increasingly fearful of the prospect of a terrorist attack. "You could see it coming," he said. "And then Sept. 11 hit, and that was it."
The 9/11 attacks convinced Simcox that he was right in his paranoid belief that Los Angeles was primed to become a terrorism target, and he freaked out. He called Kim Dunbar two days after the attacks and left a series of voice-mail rants about the Constitution and the impending nuclear attack on L.A. and how he intended to give his now-teenage son weapons training: "I will begin teaching him the art of protecting himself with weapons," he said. "I purchased another gun. I have more than a few weapons, and I intend on teaching my son how to use them. … I will no longer trust anyone in this country. My life has changed forever, and if you don't get that, you are brainwashed like everybody else."
Simcox also called his son and ranted at him over the phone. Kim Dunbar recorded the conversations and submitted them in court proceedings as evidence of his mental instability. On the tapes, you can hear Simcox angrily challenge the boy to become "a man and a real American."
"You better stop playing baseball, buddy, and you better do something real, 'cause life will never be the same," Simcox shouted. "I'm going to go down to the Mexican border and sign up for the government for Border Patrol to protect the borders of the country that I love. You hear how serious I am."
Simcox indeed applied to join the Border Patrol, but was rejected because, at age 40, he was too old. So he sold off his belongings and headed out to the Sonoran desert, camping for three months on the wild Arizona border and, he claimed later, witnessing all kinds of criminal border activity. He had his epiphany while camping at Organ Pipe National Monument and seeing drug traffickers: "At that moment, it clicked," Simcox recalls. "The borders were wide open. Terrorists could come through."
He eventually took up permanent residence in Tombstone, getting part-time work as a shootout-show actor – playing, aptly enough, one of the ex-Confederate "Cowboy" gunmen who died in the showdown. ("I always got killed," he wryly observed to a reporter.) Responding to an ad for an assistant editor at the Tombstone Tumbleweed – a local weekly/shopper that made its living with classified ads – he was hired on the spot.
The Tumbleweed was that kind of paper. It didn't really have a reporting staff or try to cover local news. Mostly it ran a hodgepodge of free material from local contributors around the edges of its twenty pages or so of local classifieds. It was run out of a little hole-in-the-wall office just off the town's main street. And like a lot of such papers in dusty rural locales in 2002, it was having a hard time staying afloat, and its then-owner wasn't merely desperate for an assistant editor – hell, he wanted a buyer. Sure enough, a few months after Simcox had been hired, he cashed in his personal reserves – at one time, Simcox told reporters he had liquidated his son's college fund, but in later versions it was his own retirement fund – and bought the paper himself for $60,000 in August of 2002.
Simcox's epiphany had given him a focus for his new career: Within short order, the Tumbleweed became all about illegal immigration a la Roger Barnett and his nativist cohort, from whom he later acknowledged he had received his inspiration. The headlines shouted: "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! A PUBLIC CALL TO ARMS! CITIZENS BORDER PATROL MILITIA NOW FORMING!"
He initially called it the Tombstone Militia, but shortly changed its name to the much more broadly marketable Civil Homeland Defense Corps. At its first gathering in December, Simcox told reporters he expected about fifty people to participate, but only a handful, about five or six, actually showed.
They may have been discouraged by the official resolution opposing Simcox's plans for border militias passed by the city council of the nearest big town, Douglas. The city's mayor, Ray Borane, authored the bill, writing: "Douglas is a bicultural and binational community, and the majority of its residents do not wish to encourage, be involved with or associate with these types of people, nor do they want our relationship with Mexico compromised by outside, xenophobic groups perpetuating hatred of humanity."
When Simcox held a border-watch training event for his militia in January 2003, all of two volunteers showed up to take part. Four reporters were there to cover them.
That was pretty much how it went for Simcox's militia for a couple of years: At best, the actual border watches would attract a handful of volunteers, many of them of dubious background at best. But there were always journalists of various kinds to be found: TV reporters, newspaper scribes, documentary filmmakers. They became Simcox's target audience.
It's certain that he wasn't making many inroads with his neighbors in southern Arizona. The city councils in both Douglas and Tombstone, along with the Cochise County Board of Supervisors, passed resolutions condemning efforts to form citizen-militia border-watch operations.
"We want the citizens of Tombstone, Cochise County and Arizona to know that the city of Tombstone doesn't agree with the vigilante approach he's taking," said Tombstone Mayor Dusty Escapule. "It can't end in a good situation. It's gonna get somebody hurt or killed."
There were pragmatic aspects to officials concern as well – namely, that adding amateur firepower to a complex and dangerous situation was like pouring gasoline on a fire. Cochise County Supervisors Chairman Pat Call pointed out that Simcox's armed civilians were in way over their heads: "The Border Patrol is facing fire power greater and more sophisticated than anything they carry," he said. "Right now, every evening, there are armed, nervous Border Patrol agents walking around in the dark, armed and nervous drug smugglers, people smugglers and armed and nervous residents. To add to this mix nervous, armed or poorly trained civilians, it just isn't good."
Locals in Tombstone pretty quickly adopted a view of Simcox very much like that of his former colleagues at Wildwood. "He's got an ego problem," said Bob Krueger, himself a relatively recent transplant. "He's got some kind of psychological need to be important and be recognized. This has more to do with him than with the real problems on the border."
Douglas Mayor Ray Borane also made his disdain for Simcox unmistakable: "That asshole is nothing but a media-publicity hound. He re-creates himself all of the time; he resurrects himself, and he will affiliate himself with anybody who can get any attention."
Joanne Young, a bartender at the Crazy Horse Saloon in Tombstone, observed: "Simcox doesn't have 10 people in this town on his side." Noting Tombstone's reliance on tourism, she said in 2003 that "visitors are down this year from last. People are calling and saying, 'I don't want to bring my children there; it isn't safe.' "
Sheriff Larry Dever tried to discourage them too: “Unfortunately, this kind of circumstance and these kinds of cries for forming posses invite fringe associations and agendas we don't need. They think it's a game or a sport.”
Around the corner from the Tumbleweed, Pete Tiscia was watching it all develop from the vantage point of his pawnshop, which specialized in buying and selling guns. "I think it's a big accident waiting to happen," he said. "Somebody's gonna get 'cowboy crazy' and shoot somebody."
Given this bunch, it might even be themselves getting shot. Especially if the guy leading them was sticking a gun down the front of his jeans.
It probably didn't help when, out on a Civil Homeland Defense patrol on January 26, 2003, Simcox wandered onto the Coronado National Monument, which prohibits guns within its boundaries. He was ticketed by the park ranger and his gun confiscated. Police also found the following among Simcox's possessions: a document entitled "Mission Plan," a police scanner, two walkie-talkies, and a toy figure of Wyatt Earp on horseback.
The last we heard of Simcox before this was in 2010:
Chris Simcox, who briefly flirted with a primary challenge to Sen. John McCain in 2010, has largely vanished from public view since April 2010, when his estranged wife, Alena, obtained a protection order against him after Simcox "brandished a gun and threatened to shoot her, their children and any police officers who tried to protect them."
Simcox was skilled at fooling people with a pleasing first impression, embodied in the makeover he made in 2006 at the hands of a group of Beltway media consultants he hired, after which he made public appearances trying to soothe people into believing the Minutemen were a benign organization. Here's a photo from his appearance that spring before the Bellingham Human Rights Commission:
As I say, he cleaned up real well. It was, of course, a con job.
I wonder if Lou Dobbs will do a segment. Well, no, actually, I don't.