I'm headed toward Jim Carter's home and shooting range, twenty minutes south of Nashville in the booming suburb of Murfreesboro. Telltale signs of breakneck development whoosh by on either side of the highway: long swaths of denuded earth, ragged mounds of orangy dirt, Hispanic workers climbing and hammering. Carter lives out beyond the new subdivisions, on ten woody acres ringed by an electronic security fence. He waves me through the front gate and points me, aircraft carrier-style, to a spot on the front lawn where my rental car can sit in the shade. After introducing one of his Minuteman "coordinators," a hulking young carpenter named Ryan Kerr, Carter leads us into the comfy house he built, "foundation up," after retiring from his job painting commercial aircraft. As we sit down on his glassed-in back porch, Carter fetches me a cold bottle of water. I'm beginning to wonder what such a gentle soul is doing leading a Minuteman group. Until a few minutes later, when Carter leans forward, gazes laserlike through his yellow shooting lenses and declares: "We have some people already who are like kindling. We have to be the spark. We're gonna get the fire roaring. People are gonna have a bonfire."
Carter, a Vietnam vet with a white beard and rosy complexion, started sparking his Minuteman chapter in February. He now has "over eighty" volunteers signed up. It's hard work, though. "I probably get thirty, forty e-mails each and every day with people wanting information," says Carter. "My wife complains because sometimes I have to work from 6 o'clock in the morning until I can't see anymore, have to turn the headlights on the lawn mower."
Why does he do it? When I ask the question, Carter turns to Kerr--as if to say, there's your reason. Until recently, Kerr ran his own framing business. He says he did well until he refused to join his peers in hiring illegal immigrants and slashing wages. "By trying to be legit, I was losing twelve to fifteen hundred a house as I was framing. I had fifteen people working for me, three crews. By being stubborn, I ran my business into the dirt. If I'd hired illegal immigrants, I'd be living high on the hog right now."
Carter says that much of the Minuteman membership, so far, consists of white folks--and two black men--who've had similar struggles. Now they're hatching plans to confront local construction firms that have "gone brown." "We'll pick our places, inform the owners of our intentions, and then we'll start marching on them," Kerr says. "To me, it's a no-brainer. If we show up with eighty or ninety people and the Daily News Journal, we're probably going to stop this. Within a month, we'll get rid of all of them. They're going to know the heat is coming."
The other goal, Carter says, is to recruit enough members "to have a small group on the border, fifty-two weeks out of the year." He and Kerr both plan to be part of the MCDC's next Border Watch month, in October. Carter will surely not lack for ammunition. At the immigrant-rights march in Nashville this spring, when he was accompanied by about twenty-five other counterprotesters, "I had five guns on me. I had over 150 extra rounds of ammo just in case. I didn't know what was going to happen, or who was going to be there."
Kerr is resigning his membership on the county's Republican Party executive committee now that he's a Minuteman leader. "What I'm doing now is going to upset a lot of people who put me forth" in the GOP, he says. "I've been a contractor here for twelve years. I know these people. And they know me, and know that I'm a 250-pound state wrestler. They have that in the back of their heads. My goal is to have twenty contractors up in my face. If I don't have twenty, I'm not making enough noise."
"The only time we will become violent is in self-defense," Carter interjects.
"Yeah, well, they're going to come after me. There's going to be some upset people who are affected by this. My thing is, you make the first move and there's witnesses, and we'll take care of it from there." A five-beat pause. "But let's hope it won't come to that. Calm. Positive attitude. Restraint." Kerr says it like a mantra he's trying to learn--so much so that it makes us all laugh. Until Carter speaks up.
"If it gets too violent, I still got six acres out on Walter Hill," he says, referring to a plot of land he owns in the country. "I'll take my tent out there, take my long guns with me, put up my tent and stay out there."
"If they come to shoot you, they'll have to hit me first."
"Well, if they shoot through you they'll hit me, 'cause I'll be right there with you."