Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Minuteman group finds its footing
Border control corps holds first meeting
The Times


Scott Rogers The Times
Todd Walker, left, of the Georgia Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, talks with David Squires, right, about joining the organization Saturday during the Eastman Gun & Knife Show at the Georgia Mountains Center in Gainesville.

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Courtney Elder of Oconee County sees the most-wanted lineup on Gainesville-Hall County's government access channel as more evidence that "if anybody is overrun with (illegal immigrants)" it is this Lake Lanier-side county.

"Probably 90 percent are Hispanic," Elder, 60, said of suspects profiled.

His comments hint at the concern and perceptions that prompted the self-described "wanna-be" cook to join about 10 others Tuesday night for an organizational meeting of Georgia's first Minuteman Civil Defense Corps chapter.

Local real estate investor Todd Walker scheduled the session at the Oconee library after what he called a wake-up call: the sight of immigration advocates waving Mexican and other countries' flags during marches last spring.

"I've kind of been asleep at the wheel when it comes to immigration, like a lot of Americans," Walker, 44, said earlier this week.

The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps is an Arizona-based group that staffs highly publicized border patrols with civilian volunteers, sees the estimated 12 million-plus illegal immigrants in the U.S. as an invasion and is pushing to start chapters in states, 29 as of Walker's last check.

The effort could find support in Hall, where Latinos, the nation's largest immigrant group, make up a fourth of the population and opinions about the people Minutemen will only call illegal aliens, not immigrants, run deep.

Walker said he signed up 13 members during a gun show in Gainesville over the weekend.

Using an overhead projector, he outlined local goals Tuesday. Add members. Educate the public. Advocate legislation. Push the enforcement of laws. Sponsor local projects such as identifying businesses that hire immigrants without the proper documents.

And, yes, help man the U.S./ Mexico border. A trip is in the works for 2007, Walker said.

Eighty-year-old George Latherow, a World War II veteran, told tales from his two border trips: Listening with another "half-deaf" 83-year-old man on cold, black nights for movement in the desert; and stressing the mandate that volunteers' keep their guns holstered and refuse to even confront border-crossers, only alert federal agents.

"We just can't afford to have any incidents," said Latherow, a Minuteman since 2005 who lives in Middle Georgia and Atlanta.

The meeting in Oconee, a fast-growing county next to Athens-Clarke County, was low-key. Folding chairs and tables with pamphlets, sign-up sheets and a banner with the group's logo: a Colonial-styled Minuteman with binoculars, a radio and a rifle.

Those who came varied from Neil Carlisle, 62, a home inspector from Clarke County, to Kyle Lapointe, a 21-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen from Canada who works at a Watkinsville service station.

Lapointe said he liked the grass-roots approach, though he was unsure whether to join.

Carlisle sees membership as a next step after concerns about what he called the invasion spurred him to contact lawmakers. "I just want to do what I can," he said.

Oconee Sheriff Scott Berry stopped by, invited by Walker.

"I think the immigration issue is extremely complex," Berry said after ducking out early to check on county business. "... There is not a simple fix.

"But if a group like this is going to organize, I want to know what they're doing and what their mission is."

Joining requires a $50 background check, unless the applicant has a state firearms license, which includes the same check, plus questions from national headquarters.

Walker said it takes 25 members to form a chapter. He seemed close after Tuesday night.

The organization's origin, the 2005 Minuteman Project, drew criticism from both President Bush and then Mexican President Vicente Fox.

Some comments Tuesday carried overtones that ranged beyond immigration.

In a discussion about whether officials are alerting Mexicans about the location of Minuteman border volunteers, Latherow went on to say he was "uncomfortable" with Alberto Gonzalez, a Latino, as U.S. attorney general.

But Walker opened the meeting by saying that anyone "offended by the color of someone's skin or their nation of origin ... (is) in the wrong place."

He emphasized group standards that guard against violence. He also cited statistics from an Iowa lawmaker that claim, among other things, that 12 U.S. citizens are killed daily by illegal immigrants, on average.

Elder said it is "unbelievable" that in Oconee, where his family has lived nearly 200 years, sheriff's deputies cannot enforce federal law.

"The average person out here is just not really aware," he said.

Walker plans to hold the next meeting in early January.

Contact:, (770) 718-3411

Originally published Wednesday, December 20, 2006