By: Graham Webster
When a California schoolteacher got concerned about border security after Sept. 11, he did what any red-blooded American would do: He bought a local newspaper. He also started his own border patrol to, as he said, “challenge our federal government to do its job by threatening to do it for them.”
Chris Simcox edits a weekly with a wonderful name, the Tombstone Tumbleweed, in Tombstone, Ariz., but he best known as a co-founder of the Minuteman Project, a band of volunteers — heroes to some, vigilantes to others — who supplement the U.S. Border Patrol’s staff by keeping watch on the border with Mexico. Some have labeled the group anti-Hispanic and anti-immigrant. For his part, Simcox says he thinks some of the newspapers in Arizona are “pro-illegal-immigrant.”
He has nicknames for some of the other papers in his state, such as “The Arizona Repugnant,” in Phoenix, and Tuscon’s ” Arizona Red Star.”
As Minuteman founder he has appeared before Congress, but when as a journalist he arrived to cover a visit to his area by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff this month, he was denied entry.
“So I show up at the location, which was the Douglas [Ariz.] Border Patrol station,” Simcox told E&P. “First, I went through two layers of security … and I gave my credentials. Of course I’m pretty well known, and I was told to pull over to the side of the road.” There he waited for about 10 minutes, he said, before being told he would not be allowed to enter. The explanation for denying Simcox’s entry, he said, was that he would be a “security risk.”
As Tumbleweed editor for roughly three years, Simcox has kept his politics and his publishing far from separate. The paper, which he owns, publishes, and edits, has only one full-time news staffer: Simcox. With the help of occasional freelance work, Simcox fills his paper’s two sections: local news and “Borderline Politics,” which addresses border issues head-on. The paper’s Web site is fairly eclectic, currently featuring, for example, a photo sequence of a mule killing a mountain lion.
Simcox said he often reports on the issue in which he is most politically active, the protection of the U.S. border with Mexico, because he knows those issue best. He also writes “Chris’ Corner,” an opinion column that often covers the same issues. But he said he keeps his reporting and his opinion separate, even if the byline is the same.
“I guess in a sense that I follow strictly the ethical canons of being a journalist,” Simcox asserted. Yet he doesn’t try to hide the connection between the Minuteman Project and the Tumbleweed. Calling a phone number listed for the Tumbleweed to arrange an interview with Simcox, a reporter was first directed to a press agent with a Minuteman e-mail address. Asked if the Minuteman Project and the Tumbleweed were “the same thing,” the woman answering the phone said plainly: “Yes.”
Simcox definitely sees his paper as well-positioned in the debates and rhetoric of his state. “I look at myself as a balance to those other viewpoints,” he said.
As for being denied access to Chertoff’s visit, Simcox said it hasn’t been a hindrance for the paper: “It was great publicity. Are you kidding?” he told E&P. “It’s brought great attention to my newspaper.” (He said its Web site gets plenty of traffic.) “I consider the media the fourth branch of government, and I certainly believe in that, and it could be an example of ? how the government can deny the freedom of the press to make sure that certain opinions you know are suppressed,” he added.
“You think I could get into a White House press conference?” Simcox asks rhetorically. “I doubt it. It seems like those reporters are hand-picked some of the time.”