Minutemen show stamina in the media

By Dan Post
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 7, 2005

Forget all of the economic, racial, compassionate and moral arguments surrounding the immigration issue in Arizona. Instead we should focus on how immigration affects our national security - how it contributes to rising crime rates, human deaths and general sense of disorder along the border.

At least that is what Chris Simcox, co-founder and media-savvy spokesman for the often-criticized Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, wants people to think. Simcox turned up on the UA campus last week for a debate on the UA Mall with Isabel Garcia of Derechos Humanos, a human-rights group that deals with border issues.

The Minuteman group is often criticized, and many of these criticisms appear to have merit. The group tends to attract negative attention toward poor Mexican nationals who only wish to make a better life for themselves. Its own leaders will admit that many volunteers in the group are racist vigilantes who wish to end the "Hispanic problem" in this country.

But if this is all true, then how did Simcox get his message - that immigration is a security issue - to begin to catch on?

For one thing, a regular flow of news about deaths and violent crime along the border supports the idea that illegal immigration leads to worsening crime rates. It has gotten so dangerous along the border that Arizona and New Mexico have declared their border regions to be in a state of emergency. The Minuteman group's message reinforces that the security situation on the border is dire.

However, their success goes beyond the confluence of the news and a luckily timed message. A closer look at their media presentation shows the Minutemen's success at changing the framing of the immigration debate through a number of smart media tactics aimed at creating a positive image for the group.

The Minutemen's ability to catch on is a good example of a group with a clever and tightly delivered message, repeated over and over again, be it on college campuses or on national news networks, with the spokesman (Simcox) always sticking to the script. Even those who despise the Minutemen have something to learn from their media strategy.

Faced with accusations of racism among their volunteers, Chris Simcox and the Minutemen consistently assert that they condemn and avoid racism, white supremacy and violence at all costs. They tell all of their volunteers to keep their personal racist feelings to themselves. Their Web site is plastered with this warning to potential racist and violent volunteers: "If one single individual steps over the line for their personal gratification, we are all stained with that irresponsible behavior, and labeled forever as a fringe element that embarrasses all who are counting on us to make this historic statement." In this way, they present themselves as a constitutionally protected group of peaceful assemblers, simply helping the government while making a statement about the situation on the border.

Another small detail - and this is where liberals can really learn something - is the amazing ability of Simcox to appear calm when faced with a raging liberal at an interview and in a debate.

Rather than get sucked in, overheated and lose his temper, Simcox tends to sit back and relax, and laugh at any liberal who loses their temper with him. He is always taking the higher ground and making liberals (who claim that Simcox is a nutcase) look like nutcases themselves. As Simcox sees it, what good does it do to get angry at someone on television or in a debate on a campus?

This scenario is repeated over and over again wherever Simcox appears. On campus last week, the calm Simcox made Isabel Garcia seem confrontational and ill-tempered. All the while, he presented his message about security and the border to anybody confused about the immigration debate (which is pretty much everybody).

Though I am not sold by any stretch on the Minuteman Civil Defense Corp's stance on immigration, it is clear that Chris Simcox and his Minutemen are not as stupid as some liberals have characterized them. Even though liberal Democrats are supposed to be smarter, Ivy League-educated intellectuals, they are being taken to school by media-savvy conservatives.

Instead of getting worked up about issues, liberals would be better served working on a more effective and coherent media strategy to effectively convey their message about the border. Maybe then the debate can be reframed in terms of morals, economics and compassion.

Dan Post is an ecology and anthropology senior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.