Tea Party and the Right  
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Dangerous Levels of Overlap Between Xenophobic 'Minuteman' Movement and Tea Party

Glenn Spencer's land was once a meeting ground for anti-immigrant vigilantes. Now, with many of the same faces present, he hosts the Tea Party Nation.

Last August, more than 600 right-wing activists gathered for a Tea Party Nation rally on private land near the U.S.-Mexico border in Cochise County, Arizona. Fluttering in the desert breeze were hundreds of tiny American flags attached to a border fence of 15-foot-tall rusty poles.

Rally speakers included Tea Party candidates for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, as well as marquee names from Arizona's anti-immigration movement. The headliner was Maricopa County Sheriff (and  Fox News favorite) Joe Arpaio, the swaggering lawman whose ski-masked deputies terrorize suspected " illegals" in controversial roundups, and whose idea of a good photo-op is the forced march of shackled Latino inmates down a city street.

Arpaio shared the stage with Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce, the chief architect of Arizona's infamous Senate Bill 1070

"We have an invasion going on that's going to destroy this Republic," Pearce said.

"USA!" came the chanted reply. "USA!"

Grinning on the sidelines behind mirrored sunglasses was Glenn Spencer, the leader of the border vigilante group American Border Patrol and the owner of the Tea Party Nation rally site. 

Spencer's founding of American Border Patrol in 2002 pre-dated the first Minuteman "civilian border patrols" by three years. Before his ranch land became a Tea Party rallying point it served as both meeting grounds and temporary housing for high-ranking members of various border vigilante factions. Minutemen American Defense leader Shawna Forde lived on the property in an RV owned by Spencer in the summer of 2008.

The following May, Forde masterminded the home invasion murders of a 9-year-old girl and her father in Arivaca, Arizona. Two weeks after the slayings, a SWAT team arrested Forde on murder and conspiracy charges as she was leaving American Border Patrol headquarters. (There is no evidence Spencer had any prior knowledge of the murders.)

Spencer informed Media Matters that he travels almost weekly to speak at Tea Party events, and that his ranch, the onetime vigilante outpost where Forde took shelter, is now a Tea Party rallying point. "Plans are for Tea Party groups to come to the ranch every week from now on," he said. "They are really fired up over the border issue."

Despite his association with Forde and his well-documented history of bigoted ranting and "reconquista" conspiracy mongering, Spencer is a rising star in the Tea Party movement.

He's not alone.

Glenn Spencer at his ranch.

Over the past two years, more than a dozen former border vigilante leaders have taken on key roles in the Tea Party movement. Some, like Spencer, continue to maintain their hardcore nativist personas. Others have sought to separate themselves from their Minutemen identities in pursuit of mainstream political legitimacy.

"The Forde killings really made the whole movement sordid and these guys [Minuteman leaders] needed to find somewhere else for their ambitions," said Heidi Beirich, co-director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, which tracks extremist groups. "Rebranding themselves as Tea Party figures is their effort to stay relevant. They saw the rising populism as a good thing to latch onto, so they just toned down their anti-immigrant messaging a bit and synced themselves with the larger Tea Party agenda."

Internal rivalries and  financial scandals had already crippled the anti-immigration vigilante movement by the time of the Arivaca murders. Shawna Forde's murder of a child  begging for her life at gunpoint generated massive negative publicity for the entire Minutemen movement and hastened the decline of once-powerful vigilante outfits like the Minuteman Project and the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps.

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