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Controversial anti-immigration activist visits Atascadero to endorse Huckabee

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You've gotta have some chutzpa to call yourself a minuteman. The title refers to either a fast lover or a patriot whose ideas of national independence and individual responsibility were at stake in the battle against colonial England.

Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minuteman Project, is no doubt reaching for fraternity with the latter, but his critics may find it hard to reconcile his group of self-appointed immigration regulators with the likes of Paul Revere. Each waged a battle that involved the haves and have-nots, but it would seem as though the modern minuteman's role has been reversed.

Like him or hate him, the controversial founder of the group will be speaking at Malibu Brew in Atascadero on Jan. 26 at 11 a.m. in support of Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. The event is a fundraiser sponsored by an Atascadero group for the election of Huckabee.

Although Gilchrist's support for the former governor of Arkansas is based on one issue--immigration--this modern minuteman isn't a one-dimensional personality. In a phone interview, he delivered both insights and incites.

"They're not here to pick strawberries," he said of immigrant farm workers. "They're here to pick pockets."

Gilchrist started the Minuteman Project in 2004, in response to what he calls a failure of the government to uphold its own laws concerning immigration. The basic function of the group is to physically monitor the border for people trying to cross illegally, and then report any activity to border patrol agents. Minutemen aren't tasked to enforce the law themselves. Mostly they push their agenda in Washington, which is why Gilchrist will speak in support of Huckabee.

His endorsement of the presidential hopeful is the result of several meetings and interviews. No other "reasonable" Republican candidate's stance on immigration, Gilchrist said, better embodies his own.

Gilchrist is for the criminalization and imprisonment of both undocumented immigrants and their employers, who he often refers to as modern-day slave traders. He supports a 2,000-mile wall between the United States and Mexico, but opposes tactics such as GPS monitoring of legal immigrants--"They're not prisoners," he said. He's also critical of any people, be they "ultra lefties" or "ultra righties," who would use violence to further their goals.

He supports more funding for increased border patrol agents, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents accountability from politicians who willfully ignore set immigration laws and he opposes health care, education, and voting rights for illegal immigrants.

Gilchrist comes off as a no-nonsense guy, someone who would be easy to get along with, so long as he stayed off the soapbox. His position--that the U.S. economy and culture are better off with fewer documented immigrants and zero undocumented immigrants--is crystal clear in his own mind, and he speaks at length, with an energetic Hemingway-simple style, about the "invasion" by people from South and Central Americas.

Many people don't agree with his stance, a truth that he accepts with a certain grace, as if it were a badge of honor or the natural reaction to his radical ideas. His website openly displays the scores of hate mail aimed at him, with such crude attacks as "fuck you Jim, I hope you die." He considers such comments, along with infighting among the anti-immigration community, as a bunch of "crap" and a distraction from the real issues at hand.

But for all the controversy surrounding him and the personal attacks, many people find something in his message. He doesn't charge any dues to join the Minutemen, but he accepts donations to his cause. Last year, he collected more than $400,000.

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