The Magnificent Minutemen

by Mike Vanderboegh

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I just returned from a week on the Mexican border with the New Mexico Minuteman Project. Based in Hachita, the New Mexico Minutemen, aided by volunteers from all over the country– Washington state to Georgia, Alabama to Pennsylvania and Florida to California– spend their time broiling by day and freezing by night trying to assist a Border Patrol whose leaders do not want their help. I led a three man recon team from Alabama but this is not about our story, it is about theirs.
Hachita was chosen by the Minutemen because it lies at the junction of Routes 9 and 81 and is the freeway interchange for most of the human and drug smuggling in New Mexico. The Border Patrol maintains a daylight crossing point at Antelope Wells further to the south on 81. Once across the border, this road leads to Mexican Route 2 and Chihuahua State. Route 2 more or less parallels the border as it swings through Little Nogales and Janos before ending at Ciudad Juarez, opposite El Paso. As far as New Mexico is concerned it is the lower nexus of the Ho Chi Minh trail, with all the traffic headed north this time.

The country here is one of savage beauty and frankly alien to this Alabama boy’s eyes. Volcanic mountains jut starkly up from a plain that is already a mile above sea level. The Big Hatchet mountains tower some 8440 feet. It is a harsh land where contact with every bush can draw blood from the unwary and where some of the vegetation seems to have leapt from the drawing pad of Dr. Seuss. It is a land of rattlesnakes, Gila monsters, scorpions and tarantulas. The first day we were there, the ambient temperature on our Blazer’s dash readout was 90 degrees. That night it got down to 45.

As far as volunteers go, the Minutemen weren’t much to look at. Just average folks of the kind you might see at a ball game anywhere. The oldest fellow I met was a Navy radio operator in WWII, flying PBM patrol planes. Now this Georgian was back for one more war because his country needed him.

And it is a war, make no mistake. Most people who admit there is a “War on Drugs” shrink from applying the same terms to illegal immigration, but the two are indissolubly linked. The old Miami Vice model of huge shipments of dope hardly obtains anymore. The risks to the cartels of seizure are too great. Nowadays, they count on thousands upon thousands of lowly mules who filter across our border. Once they make their drops, they are free to continue on into the land of plenty. No, there is nothing benign about illegal immigration.

The locals, those who do not make a living profiting from this trade, live in a state of suspended fear. If they keep their heads down and their mouths shut, the contrabandistas will allow them to live. If they do not, their cattle turn up dead, their stock ponds poisoned, their houses and barns burned. Still there are the quietly courageous who support the Minutemen openly and dare the contrabandistas to do anything about it.

As for the volunteers, there is little to recommend Hachita as a vacation spot. On vigil by night, freezing despite thermal underwear, they fall exhausted into Korean War vintage tents for a couple hours sleep before the baking sun awakens them and they are forced to flee their cots. For those of us who slept on the concrete floor of the somewhat cooler Hachita Community Center, we had to share it with tarantulas and deadly scorpions, forcing us to check our bedrolls and boots morning and night.

Numbering only a few dozen, in the first five days we were only credited by the Border Patrol with 8 capture assists, a mere fraction of the traffic we knew from local knowledge was passing through here. For all of the misery the Minutemen suffered in accomplishing it, it seemed like a pitiful payback. A few grew discouraged and left. But as time went on we noticed something: none of our captures were occuring at night during our line operations, all had been chance encounters during the day. And we noticed something else: wherever we would set up, the Border Patrol would set up in front of us, and the Mexican Federales would set up in front of them on their side of the border. It was as if both governments were telling the contrabandistas “Minutemen here, do not cross.” This impression was solidified in my mind on the last night line operation the Alabama team participated in. Just after dark, a Border Patrol vehicle came down the fence line with its brights on and highlighted our camouflaged position. Shortly thereafter, my assistant team leader with excellent Generation 3 night vision spotted an infrared strobe marking our position several hundred yards in advance of our line. All night long, on both sides of the border, the forces of the US and Mexican governments displayed flashing lights so that anyone would know not to come through there.

Frustrating? Yes. But then it began to dawn on some of us: we few dozen volunteers were forcing the governments of two nations (as well as the minions of the largest economic enterprise on the planet) to dance to OUR tune. With this knowledge, we began to tailor our operations to take advantage of that fact. And while I am back in Alabama, the Minutemen volunteers are still interdicting that part of the border, mindful of their new power to call the tune.

History, for good or ill, is made by determined minorities. Never was that truer than among that small band of New Mexico Minutemen. They were dirty, unshaven and exhausted on their best day. They didn’t look like much more than a small convention of the homeless. But by their presence and their gritty determination they were calling the shots on the border. They were pitiful, they were magnificent. I am proud to have known them and to have served with them. And if we can find more of their kind, we just might be able to save the country

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