WASHINGTON - The Minutemen, the anti-immigrant vigilante force set up two years ago to patrol the US-Mexican border, is in danger of imploding in a row over finances.
The group was formed in 2005 in response to concern over illegal immigration, mainly Hispanic. It has been accused of attracting racists, a charge it denies. The group, which split within months of its formation in a row over funds, has now fragmented again. A breakaway group, the Patriots' Border Alliance, is being set up and has established a website.
One of the leaders of the new group, Bob Wright, acknowledged the risk of the whole movement falling apart. "I think this absolutely unjustified farce has a good chance of tearing this organization apart, which would be a damn shame," he said.
The demise of the Minutemen would be welcomed by liberal organizations such as the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center. Heidi Beirich, its deputy director of intelligence, said the latest split was "a big deal". She said: "The movement had grassroots support when it first appeared. They had chapters in a dozen states - and that era is coming to an end."
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In 2005 the Minutemen attracted volunteers from all round the country to protest at the numbers of immigrants crossing the border clandestinely. Amid much publicity, they set up their own border patrol posts. But federal border guards said the Minutemen were largely ineffective.
Before the split, Mr Wright was deputy leader of the biggest of the Minuteman groups, the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, which claims a membership of up to 8,000. The split came after he and other senior members invited the leader, Chris Simcox, to a meeting in Arizona to account for funds. Mr Simcox accused them of arranging an unauthorized meeting and purged Mr Wright and other senior leaders, and about a dozen state organizers.
Mr Wright said: "We asked for a meeting and this insanity is the result of that ... We were worried that the standard operating practice was not being followed as religiously as should have been." Hundreds of members were now leaving, he said.
In a separate development, a contributor to the Minutemen is suing for the return of a $100,000 (£50,000) donation, after their failure to build a promised Israeli-style barrier on the Arizona-Mexico border.
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2007