By: EDWARD SIFUENTES - Staff Writer
NORTH COUNTY -- The San Diego Minutemen, one of the region's most conspicuous anti-illegal immigration groups, has lost at least one of its top members after a recent bitter internal feud.
The group's founder, Jeff Schwilk, ousted Christie Czajkowski, a former spokeswoman and one of the group's most active members, after an angry dispute Sunday in his Oceanside home. He also filed a temporary restraining order against her earlier this week.
The argument, which was caught on video and broadcast over the Internet, apparently stemmed from a disagreement over who owned videos the group posts on its Web sites, according to Czajkowski. She claims she owns most of the videos and asked that they be removed.
The San Diego Minutemen are a loose-knit group of activists against illegal immigration. The group frequently organizes rallies to protest against hiring day laborers in North County.
Czajkowski often films the group's rallies. Schwilk said the videos belong to the group.
"He was mad when I simply asked him if you don't like the videos, don't use them for your self-promotion," she said. "It's that simple."
In documents filed in court, Schwilk alleges Czajkowski showed up uninvited at his home during a Super Bowl party. He said he asked her to leave after she went into his office and turned on his computer without his permission.
"I found her, we argued and I told her to leave my house repeatedly," he wrote in a statement about the incident. "She refused. She began filming me and harassing. I physically removed her."
The two said they dated for a while but ended their relationship weeks ago. Czajkowski said she was invited to the party and was about to retrieve her keys when he grabbed her and pushed her down the hall.
Czajkowski said the video she took of the incident, one that she posted on the Internet but was later removed, frazzled some of the group's members and others.
"I have received numerous letters from everywhere today from people that are enraged with his action," she wrote in an e-mail to the North County Times. "Jeff has been more concerned with his own agenda and has pushed a lot of people away."
The video shows an angry argument laced with profanities. Schwilk is shown screaming at Czajkowski to get out of his house while her two young children plead with her to "go home."
Schwilk founded the San Diego Minutemen in late 2005. He has said the group has about 350 members, but some individuals identify themselves as "independent" Minutemen.
Czajkowski said the group exists only as an "email list."
Penny Magnotto, who has attended the group's rallies but considers herself an independent Minuteman activist, described Schwilk's leadership style as "pushy," but added that the movement is strong and unlikely to fall apart.
"For the most part, I feel people willÝput the goals of our movement aboveÝall the foolishness," she said.
Schwilk said Wednesday that Czajkowski's ouster from the group had nothing to do with Sunday's incident or with the group. But he said in an e-mail to his group earlier this week that she was operating outside of the group's guidelines and that she insisted on removing the videos from the group's Web site.
"She also has her own strong opinions about confronting our opposition as well as law enforcement," he wrote. "She is now an independent Minuteman and free to do her own thing as long as she does not harm the overall Minuteman movement."
The rules, posted on the group's Web site, www.sandiegominutemen.com, include "never engage in conversation" with counterprotesters, "never speak or gesture to any suspected illegal aliens" and "follow all instructions by law enforcement."
Migrant rights advocate Claudia Smith, an opponent of the Minutemen, said she has seen little difference in what members of the group, such as Czajkowski and Schwilk, do during their protests at day-labor sites.
"It's interesting that he would accuse her" of breaking the rules, Smith said. "He's the first to violate all of them."
A court hearing for the restraining order is scheduled February 22 in Vista.
-- Contact staff writer Edward Sifuentes at (760) 740-3511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.