‘California Minutemen’ Begin Patrol

Times Staff Writer

A Minuteman-like group planning to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border east of San Diego drew a relatively small number of volunteers Saturday, launching what they said would be a three-week effort to stem illegal immigration.

Immigrant rights activists and more than a dozen journalists, some from Mexico, appeared to outnumber the Oceanside-based group.

Although the patrollers call themselves the California Minutemen, they have splintered from the original Minuteman Project, which drew headlines and kudos from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in April when hundreds of the group’s members patrolled Arizona’s border with Mexico.


The California group’s leader, Jim Chase, 58, a retired postal worker, said about 60 volunteers were expected to arrive Saturday. By afternoon, about 20 could be seen heading out from a base camp to observation posts along a 25-mile stretch of border about 50 miles east of San Diego.

The volunteers -- most of them middle-aged men, some with law enforcement backgrounds -- rejected accusations by immigrant rights activists that they were racists and vigilantes.

Chase likened the patrol to a neighborhood watch group. He said volunteers were under orders to call U.S. Border Patrol agents if they encountered illegal immigrants.

“The most aggressive thing we’ll do is give them water,” he said.

However, some volunteers are armed and will defend themselves if threatened, Chase said. The area is a notorious drug-smuggling corridor.

Although there were few volunteers, their appearance marked the first time this year that a California group has tried to replicate the Arizona patrols.

Two other groups are planning their own patrols later this year. Friends of the Border Patrol, based in Chino, plans to launch its operation Sept. 16, Mexican Independence Day. The group hasn’t announced where it will be patrolling. The other group is part of the Minuteman Project and plans to patrol the entire U.S.-Mexico border starting in October.

Authorities said these groups appeared to be more organized than the California Minutemen and would probably draw significantly more volunteers.

Chase, a gregarious Vietnam War veteran, set up the check-in area under two oak trees in a remote field near the border fence. Sitting back in a folding chair in the shade, he took questions from a parade of television and newspaper reporters.

The news coverage, he hoped, would stir interest in his group.

“As the media gets out the word and people realize that I’m not a lunatic, people should start flocking,” he said.

At one point, about 20 protesters surrounded a couple watching the border from their pickup truck. A protester led the group, chanting “We want a world without borders.”

The couple soon left.

“It’s just kind of a silly little spectacle so far,” said Rich Macgurn, a volunteer with Gente Unida, an immigrant rights group.