The final curtain fell on Chris Simcox’s saga as a vigilante border-watch mastermind this week when an Arizona judge handed him a 19-1/2-year prison sentence after he was convicted on two counts of child molestation and one of furnishing pornography to a minor.
At one time, the now-55-year-old former schoolteacher was a widely recognized national figure, appearing on news programs promoting his 2005 nativist border-watch campaign, the Minuteman Project, cofounded with California activist Jim Gilchrist. His endorsement was sought by various politicians, and he himself made a brief run for the U.S. Senate in 2010.
However, all that was in the distant past earlier this week, when Simcox faced sentencing after his conviction last month. Simcox has been in prison since his arrest on 2013 for having molested a young neighbor girl, who was 5 years old at the time, and his own daughters, ages 6 and 4, though the charges involving the youngest were later dropped.
All three of his daughters, including an adult daughter from a previous marriage and the neighbor girl testified against Simcox during the four-week trial. At one point during the long runup to the trial, Simcox fought to have the right to cross-examine his young victims on the stand, but he wound i[ having an associate counsel do all the questioning for him during the trial.
Afterward, the mother of the now-8-year-old neighbor girl told reporters that she was unhappy that Simcox might someday get out of prison, but was relieved he was behind bars for a long time.
“I guess it’s better than nothing,” Michelle Lynch told the Phoenix New Times. “It’s not exactly what I wanted. I wanted consecutive terms. … I wanted him gone forever.”
However, she added that her daughter was elated that the ordeal was over. When his conviction was announced on June 8, the mother said, “She didn’t say anything, she just jumped into my arms and hugged me.” Her only statement to the court, Lynch said, was: “He messed with the wrong family.”
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery issued a statement noting that the sentence “won’t take back the harm he has done, but it removes the opportunity for him to prey on another child.”
Prosecutors at one time had offered Simcox a generous plea deal that would have given him a 10-year sentence – an offer that deeply angered Michelle Lynch, the mother of the neighbor girl. However, Simcox rejected the deal. He remained in the Maricopa County Jail for the duration of the long runup to the trial and announced in 2015 that he intended to act as his own attorney in the trial.
Originally founded as a border militia, Simcox and his Minutemen became the epitome of the nativist movement, embodied by a national fund-raising campaign that he led to build a fence on a section of the border as a demonstration project that mostly ended up lining the pockets of his Beltway-based handlers. The movement, which peaked with 319 nativist extremist groups in 2010, faded to just 17 groups by late last year.