By Kenneth Mullinax
A Millbrook man is heading a tri-county chapter of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, a volunteer border patrol group criticized by President Bush and described by human rights experts as a citizens' militia.
Wayne Funk is already actively recruiting residents interested in helping stopping stopping illegal immigration. An organizational meeting last week was attended by about two dozen residents.
Dues are $50 a year, or free for those members who are licensed to carry a concealed weapon.
Minuteman officials had tried to establish an Alabama chapter previously, but could enlist only three members. They decided to take a grass-roots approach and start local chapters in hopes of developing a statewide network. Right now, statewide membership stands at 75.
Funk is the head of the River Region chapter -- which covers Montgomery, Elmore and Autauga counties -- and oversees all chapters in the southern part of the state.
"I don't enjoy being an out-front guy, but if it helps us build up the organization, I will do it," he said.
In Texas, California and other border states, Minuteman members conduct armed patrols to prevent immigrants from crossing into the country illegally. Funk went on his first patrol this spring in Brownsville, Texas.
Founded in 1994, the corps came to the nation's attention two years ago when it undertook a monthlong patrol of the Arizona-Mexico border.
President Bush has described Minuteman members as "vigilantes" and the U.S. Border Patrol called the corps a "hindrance."
"We are only there to observe and report, just to notify authorities of illegal activity," Funk said. "We are only there to help the Border Patrol."
Minutemen volunteers in Alabama will lobby for state and local laws that target employers who hire undocumented workers and landlords who rent single-family houses to multiple families. Funk also is contacting Minuteman organizations nationwide for other possible legislative initiatives to support.
The corps wants to establish chapters in non-border states to improve its public image, according to Mark Potok of the Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center, a human rights advocacy organization. The corps estimates its national membership at 350,000. Potok, an expert in hate and extremist groups, puts the number of new Minuteman chapters at 250 since the 2005 Arizona-Mexico patrol.
SPLC classifies the corps as an extremist organization that targets individuals for confrontation and harassment, Potok said.
"When you bully day-laborers and other individuals," he said, "it goes beyond influencing policy and becomes hate-mongering activity."
Funk, a retired military officer, categorically denies his group provokes hateful confrontations and insists the corps doesn't knowingly have racists as members.
"If we find out a person is a member of the Klan, a Nazi or any similar group, we ask them to leave our organization," Funk said.
Funk explained the Minuteman group fully supports legal immigration and only supports lawful efforts to stem the tide of illegal immigrants into the United States.
"Our country was built on immigration and we are a non-partisan, nonracist group that merely wants to make sure our nation doesn't become like Europe and lose its national identity by allowing non-Americans to take over and remove our national heritage," Funk said.
Potok disputes Funk's assertion.
"The Minuteman corps believes the Mexicans are a bunch of brown-skinned invaders that are coming into the country to take us over," Potok said. "Their rhetoric is simply a recipe for disaster."