The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps is no longer.
The Arizona-based border watch group that burst onto the national scene in 2005 sent an e-mail to its members this week announcing the corporation has dissolved.
The group's president, Carmen Mercer of Tombstone, said she and the board's two other directors voted to end the group's five-year run because they were worried her recent "call to action" would attract the wrong people to the border.
On March 16, Mercer sent an e-mail urging members to come to the border "locked, loaded and ready" and urged people to bring "long arms." She proposed changing the group's rules to allow members to track illegal immigrants and drug smugglers instead of just reporting the activity to the Border Patrol.
Mercer said she received a more feverish response than she expected and decided the group couldn't shoulder the responsibility and liability of what could occur, she said.
"People are ready to come locked and loaded, and that's not what we are all about," Mercer said. "It only takes one bad apple to destroy everything we've done for the last eight years."
The group formed as Civil Homeland Defense in 2002 and later became the Minuteman Project in April 2005. The named changed again to Minuteman Civil Defense Corps.
Others familiar with the group say poor leadership, money mismanagement and a lack of interest led to the group's demise rather than the recent call to arms.
Minuteman Richard Humphries said he'd been unhappy in the group for the past two years and that fewer people were attending its border watches. The "musters," as they called them, were successful in deterring illegal entries but short on action.
"Many people didn't want to continue to do the musters because they were so damn boring," he said.
Mercer and former leader Chris Simcox said interest was as high as ever, with 12,000 active members and chapters along the border. But Glenn Spencer, president of another Arizona-based border security group called the American Border Patrol, doubts the numbers.
"They have no money," Spencer said. "How could they have 12,000 active members and be broke?"
Mercer admitted in the e-mail sent this week that the group could no longer raise money effectively.
Spencer credits the group with bringing attention to border issues but called the group's border watches "silly." After receiving national media coverage in 2005-2006, the Minuteman had become largely irrelevant in recent years, he said.
During its tumultuous five-year run, the group experienced several leadership changes, questions about finances and most recently, had its image blemished to some when a woman with ties to the group was charged with first-degree murder in a double-killing in Arivaca.
Questions about how Simcox was managing donated money surfaced in 2006-2007, creating distrust that sent the group on a downward spiral, said Humphries and Spencer.
Simcox disputes the claims, calling them unfounded, unsubstantiated and "just ridiculous." He says Minuteman members with military backgrounds tried to pull a coup in 2006 under the guise of money mismanagement because they wanted to take a more aggressive approach. Simcox, who stepped down from the group in 2009 to make a run for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.
Former Minuteman leader Al Garza split from the group last year and blamed the decline in part on Mercer.
"I didn't see Carmen as a strong leader," he said.
Call to arms
Mercer said her anger with the federal government about health-care reform and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's claims that the border is secure led her to send out the March 16 e-mail.
"You are strongly encouraged to exercise your rights and duty as an American citizen to carry a long arm and if challenged use it to defend the United States of America," she wrote.
Humphries said he and many other members of the group strongly disagreed with Mercer's message and refused to support the new rules. Mercer said in her e-mail this week that most of the supervisory team didn't support the proposed rules.
She and Simcox said the end of the national corporation doesn't mean the end of other Minuteman chapters. In the farewell e-mail, Mercer encouraged members to continue as independent Minutemen.
That could make the vigilante movement even more of a threat to border crossers and border residents, said Jennifer Allen, director of Tucson-based Border Action Network. The national organization at least tried to make sure their members abided by their rules to earn legitimacy.
"They are still an incredibly dangerous group of people," Allen said. "We should be even more concerned than in the past. We know less about them and what they are doing."
On StarNet: Read more articles about the border and immigration at azstarnet.com/news/ local/border
Contact reporter Brady McCombs at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4213. Arizona Daily Star reporter Tim Steller contributed to this story.