Here in Tucson, people are watching with interest—and some trepidation—as volunteers for the Minuteman Project roll in to Tombstone (yes, it really exists—and it’s even cheesier than you imagine), about seventy miles southeast of town. I’m not sure why they’re rallying there rather than in Sierra Vista or Bisbee, which are a lot closer to the border. There’s a lot of very open land down there, and of course plenty of border-crossing going on—and a lot of other legitimate activity besides. If things go smoothly, then the Minuteman people will spend a few days hanging out and camping in the Sonoran deser, not cause anyone any hassle, and have their stunt create a bit of national news coverage. On the other hand, any one of a number of things could go wrong. If some of the Minutemen—who are showing up from all over—are clueless about managing in the desert, they might get lost or hurt. If some of them are excitable, they might provoke a confrontation with an immigrant, despite the project’s stated intention not to do so. The potential for confusing and possibly dangerous encounters with the border patrol (or even local residents or hikers or what have you) shouldn’t be discounted, either. And of course there’s always the chance that some of them will run into some drug smugglers.

All in all, I think the chances are better than not that nothing too serious will happen—they’ll probably just get in the way of the Border Patrol. On the other hand, paramilitary or militia organizations always find it difficult to control the hotheads in their ranks. Chris Simcox, the project’s leader, is aware that a single unpleasant incident will tar the Minutemen for good, and so the official site oscillates uneasily between cowboy rhetoric and quasi-military talk of standard operating procedures. Of course the Minuteman Project doesn’t have much in the way of Standard Procedure because it’s not a stable institution. The best they can hope for is that the people who show up for this aren’t nutters who want nothing more than to dress up in camo gear and take pot-shots at people.