By JAKE ROLLOW
Hispanic Link News Service
Minuteman Base Camp, Arizona - There's only one road into Minuteman base camp. The guards at its entrance just waved as we drove in. My partner, photojournalist Diana Molina, was behind the wheel of our Jeep. I sat in the passenger seat.
The project's co-leader, James Gilchrist, was a few cars ahead. He had invited us to join his caravan after Molina's persistent interview requests.
The base is actually a bible college just a few miles from the Mexico border. A one-story dormitory has rooms hardly bigger than the two single beds within - or there's space for camping, which we opted for the night we stayed.
The men's bathroom is communal and, while toweling off, can be optimal for overhearing how the press misquotes right-wingers. Meetings were held in the dorm's common room, furnished with a few chairs and an old bench press, but they were off-limits to us.
We weren't allowed in the communications center either. It's where messages are relayed in from the field. It's also why there's a 50-foot tall homemade antennae in the courtyard. The receiver is so thin the Minuteman Project tech-team has wrapped bright yellow caution tape around nearby trees, cutting of access to where a walker might knock it over.
Based on my encounters, they're nice people. Almost all were quite friendly, even when refusing to comment.
I conducted an informal survey of 13 of them, asking what had brought them to the project. Most of my questioning sessions occurred when we accompanied them on border duty.
About half cited lethargic politicians. The common refrain was that they're sick of contacting their representatives to no avail. Many expressed anger with President Bush, some saying they regretted having voted for him. He's shirking responsibility and pandering to corporations, they contended.
The threat of terrorism brought them to the border, they said.
"Ridiculous, not knowing who in the world's coming in," one expressed his worry.
Border Patrol spokesperson for the region Andy Adame supports the Minutemen, but wishes they were rallying further from the border, where there would be less chance of an accident at night or armed encounter.
"The border is a lot more secure than a year ago," he says, but "absolutely" needs more agents and resources.
Many Minutemen are also bothered by what they call the "invasion" of unauthorized immigrants. They express fear that the large number of migrants entering the United States - especially Hispanics - will lead to economic crisis or the deterioration of U.S. "culture."
But the most universal trait among the Minutemen is probably their deep sense of patriotism. Most are quick to proclaim they are serving their country. U.S. flags are omnipresent, displayed on hats, T-shirts, bumper stickers and flapping above car windows. The sense of righteousness bolsters their unity and pride.
And they are proud. Many already call the mission a success, as it has garnered national headlines and blocked the immigration avenues where they patrol.
A participant who traveled from Texas volunteered that there are those of his state who are considering duplicating the project on that state's border with Mexico.
The project proves the border can be secured, one of the few women on duty made the comment. "It shows elected officials it can be done."