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Report: Border-watch groups in Ariz. vanishing

In this July 10, 2005, file photo, Chris Simcox, center, president of the Arizona Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, speaks in Las Cruces, N.M., during the New Mexico Minuteman Civil Defense Corps recruitment meeting. (AP Photo/Las Cruces Sun-News, Vladimir Chaloupka, File)

The Minuteman border-watch movement that exploded in southern Arizona in the last decade has virtually disappeared, according to a new report from an Alabama-based civil rights center that monitors hate groups.

The Arizona Daily Star reports that an annual report by the Southern Poverty Law Center said the drop comes after members’ concerns about illegal immigration have been adopted by other groups and state legislatures.

In 2011, the number of groups termed by the center as “nativist extremists” — such as the Minuteman — declined by 42 percent, the center’s report said. But at the same time the center said the number of anti-government “Patriot” groups grew to record levels.

The center began tracking what it calls “nativist extremist” groups after the Minuteman movement exploded in the mid-2000s. These groups distinguish themselves from regular anti-illegal-immigration opinion by directly confronting suspected illegal immigrants at the border, at day-labor centers or elsewhere, said Heidi Beirich, director of the center’s intelligence project.

The number of active groups in this category hit a peak of 319 in 2010 before declining to 184 last year, the center says.

Infighting, bad press and co-opting of the movement has driven its decline, Beirich said.

Groups such as the Arizona-based Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, once the best known of this category, splintered and dissolved. The arrest of one-time Minuteman Shawna Forde, for murdering an Arivaca man and his daughter in 2009, also drove people away.

Most important, Beirich said, anti-illegal-immigrant actions were taken up by state legislatures and absorbed as a major concern by groups such as the tea parties and the Republican Party. Many people who once concerned themselves with border-watch activities moved on to the broader concerns of the tea-party movement, she said.

Another concern was safety as Mexico’s drug traffickers raised their level of violence, said Al Garza, a one-time leader of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps.

“For anyone on this side to make a stand against them would be foolish,” he said.

But not everyone considers the Alabama-based law center, which began as a civil-rights group in 1971, a reliable source on extremism. Longtime Arizona Republic reporter Jerry Kammer, now a staffer at the Center for Immigration Studies in Virginia, has written several critiques of the center’s work, especially on anti-illegal-immigration groups.

Kammer called it a “hysteria and hype machine that cons the well-intentioned but poorly informed.”

“In its hysteria to sound the alarm about ‘record levels’ of hate, the SPLC assembles phony and trivial statistics that distract attention from the truly dangerous groups,” Kammer said via email.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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