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By the end of September 2006, the local Minutemen had organized their first large gathering — and Semler was there. The daylong "Operation U-Turn" drew more than 100 people to the Clarion Hotel near the Truman Sports Complex for an event billed as a "Neighborhood Watch and National Defense Conference." One of the most enthusiastically received speakers outlined ways that Minutemen could prod their state and city officials to root out illegal immigrants. During one of the breaks, Semler helped Mucci pass out fliers for an upcoming learn-how-to-lobby day in Jefferson City.
The day before Halloween, Semler helped organize a "Vigil to Save the American Worker" — complete with white candles and the backdrop of a war memorial — on her home turf in the Northland. With local talk-show host Chris Stigall broadcasting live from Anita B. Gorman Park, U.S. Rep. Sam Graves and Missouri state Rep. Jerry Nolte suggested that illegal immigrants were undercutting U.S. wages and threatening local citizens' livelihoods. A modest crowd of supporters applauded and hoisted homemade signs ordering illegals off American soil.
Earlier this year, anti-illegal-immigration groups around the country planned a mass gathering in Washington, D.C., to oppose bills that included any measure of amnesty and to call for the installation of a border fence. At home, Semler helped plan a simultaneous demonstration in Topeka. Roger Thompson, another local Minuteman, says he took over the organizing after Semler had to deal with family issues.
Semler didn't attend that rally. By June 16, she was nearly a week deep in what would become months of outrage and controversy regarding her involvement in the organization.
After her appointment to the parks board, a coalition of Hispanic, minority and faith-based groups held multiple press conferences denouncing Semler as a vigilante by association. Nine City Council members voted in favor of a resolution asking Funkhouser to oust Semler. The National Council of La Raza and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People threatened to pull upcoming convention business if Semler stayed on the board.
Rice, the Northland Neighborhoods director, says his interactions with Semler had always been "professional." But he foresaw the messy fallout from Semler's appointment, which he says reflects poorly on the metro and unfairly brands the Northland.
"Frances probably does represent a certain point of view that people up here hold, but I think there are a number of other folks who don't hold that view," he says. "I'm just always concerned that the Northland try to present itself realistically, and it is more diverse than people think."
On September 5, a handful of immigrants' rights advocates, clergy members and local Latino leaders delivered a letter to Semler's home, asserting that she did not embrace cultural diversity and that only her resignation would allow the city to "heal."
The neighborhood president took it as an assault on her privacy and filed a police report. The incident left her "shaky for a day or two." She has since posted a "No Trespassing" sign on her garage.
Helen Richmond, a fellow River Forest resident who visits with Semler frequently, says the parks commissioner has her neighbors' support.
"She's a nice lady, and why the Mexicans are picking on her, I do not understand," Richmond says.
Semler says she's uncomfortable seeing her name in the paper every day. She thinks citizens should stand up for their beliefs but doesn't want to be the activist earning the headlines. She gets a weary tone in her voice when she says this issue has taken up all her time and energy — time and energy taken from her husband, who spent part of the summer in the hospital.