Chris Simcox was a nobody until, for a little while at least, he wasn’t.It may be hard to remember now, but there was a time when Simcox was a national figure. Back when he led the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, and organized armed patrols along the Mexican border. Back when he was invited to talk on national television, and appeared on CNN and Fox News. Back when he commanded the attention of governors and lawmen and members of Congress, and even allowed himself to dream about a seat of his own in the U.S Senate. All that seems a long time ago.
On Wednesday, Simcox surfaced in the headlines for the first time in years, following his arrest in Phoenix on suspicion of child molestation. Simcox is accused of sexual conduct with three girls younger than 10. (In a press release, Phoenix police said Simcox denied the accusations.) In a mugshot, Simcox looks tired, with his hair grown out, looking more his age — now 52 — then he did back when his critics in the Minuteman movement gave him the nickname “The Little Prince.”
Simcox’s path toward vigilante fame began in the days after Sept. 11, 2001. He was living in Los Angeles when the planes were hijacked, working as a teacher at a private school, a job he had held since 1990, after giving up on an acting career. 9/11 changed something in Simcox. He began talking about stockpiling weapons and “apocalyptic premonitions,” as The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report put it in a 2005 profile of Simcox. On Sept. 30, 2001, Simcox left Los Angeles.
“I’m going on a great adventure,” he told his teenaged son. “If I end up going to prison, you can always e-mail me.”
In October 2001, Simcox would later tell reporters, he went on a 40-day camping trip alone in Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. There, he claimed to have seen illegal immigrants coming from over the border, along with “five paramilitary groups of drug dealers just driving caravans of vehicles right into this country.” He decided to rededicate his life to national security, according to the Intelligence Report. Within a few years, Simcox had transformed himself into a leader of the anti-immigration movement.
Simcox became president of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, which organized “citizen border patrols” in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas, along with several states on the Canadian border. At an October 2005 Minuteman summit in Arlington Heights, Ill., Simcox claimed to have signed up more than 1,200 volunteers who have “assisted in the apprehension of more than 6,500 illegal immigrants representing 27 different countries.”
“I didn’t choose this cause, it chose me,” he said during his remarks at the event. “But the Minutemen are now a force to be reckoned with, and I will continue to lead these proud and patriotic Americans until we achieve total victory. We’re not leaving the border until we’re relieved from duty by the U.S. military or National Guard. There will be no compromise.”
His rhetoric was extreme, but extremism was en vogue, and he found a ready audience among some of the most powerful people in the country. In September 2005, Simcox held a Minuteman rally in Washington D.C. Twenty members of Congress showed up, and six signed up with his group, according to the Intelligence Report. The same month, Simcox met with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), who both endorsed Minuteman patrols.
Back at the height of his Minuteman days, Simcox always insisted that his work was about national security, not racism
“When they ask me, ‘Well, what do you have to say to people who call you a racist?’ I come back at them with, ‘What do you have to say to people who call you a child molester?'” Simcox said during his remarks at the 2005 summit in Illinois, according to Intelligence Report.
His profile loomed largest in Arizona. In 2008, Simcox presented Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio with a “plaque of appreciation” during a meeting that included members of both the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps and the nativist extremist group United for a Sovereign America, according to The Phoenix New Times. The following year, Simcox left the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps to challenge Sen. John McCain in the 2010 Republican primary.
“John McCain had the audacity in 2003 at a press conference to tell me he thought I was going to be more of a problem than the drug cartels,” Simcox said during an appearance on Fox News at the time. “I hope that everyone makes him eat his words now, because we have a major national security threat along our border that happened under his watch.”
But things spun out quickly for Simcox. By early 2010, his Senate dream was over. Early in the year, Simcox dropped out of the race and backed former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ) against McCain. Simcox never quite found his way back to the spotlight, and his personal life took a turn.
In April 2010, a court granted Simcox’s then-wife a restraining order against him, after she accused of making several threats against her, their children, and the police. Simcox countered that she had hired a bounty hunter to track him down as part of “a pattern of devious and malicious conduct including statements of iniquity, to torment me emotionally in an apparent attempt to drive me out of my marriage.”
Since 2010, Simcox has been relatively quiet, but this week’s accusations against him aren’t without precedent. In 2005, two of Simcox’s former colleagues in Los Angeles and his first ex-wife told the Intelligence Report that in the summer of 1998 Simcox had attempted to sexually molest his then-14-year-old daughter.
“He tried to molest our daughter when he was intoxicated,” Deborah Crews, Simcox’s first ex-wife and the girl’s mother, told Intelligence Report. “When she ran out, he tried to say he was just giving her a leg massage and she got the wrong idea.”
No charges were filed in the incident, and Simcox refused to answer questions from Intelligence Report about the allegation.