Militia groups along the Texas-Mexico border have grown to more than 10 active “teams” from El Paso to the Rio Grande Valley, despite warnings from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and state lawmakers.
More than 30 photos obtained by the San Antonio Express-News show dozens of members carrying semi-automatic rifles and wearing masks, camouflage and tactical gear, providing a first glimpse of the militias.
The armed individuals are seen posing at campsites, walking along the Rio Grande while speaking with Border Patrol agents, and pointing rifles and pistols out of frame.
A spokesperson for the group provided the photos under the condition that members’ faces be blurred because of fear of being identified by “cartel and gang members.”
CBP said this month that it does not “endorse or support any private group or organization from taking matters into their own hands, as it could have disastrous personal and public safety consequences.”
One of the photos shows a Border Patrol agent providing directions to a vehicle of armed militia members. The agency did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Gov. Rick Perry, who last week ordered 1,000 Texas National Guard members to the border, declined to comment through a spokesman specifically on whether he supports the militia groups but said the governor is “leading to secure the border.”
State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, denounced the groups in a statement, saying “pointing guns at children solves nothing.
“Local law enforcement and federal Border Patrol agents have been clear. The presence of these outside independent militia groups does nothing to secure the border; it only creates an unsafe situation for law enforcement officials that are protecting our communities. Unfortunately, the vile rhetoric of my opponent inspires misguided efforts,” said Van de Putte, who is running against state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, for lieutenant governor.
In a statement released Monday, the Texas Democratic Party called on Patrick and Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican nominee for governor, to denounce the “armed vigilantes.”
Patrick and Abbott did not return requests for comment Monday.
The groups, with members of groups including Oathkeepers, Three Percenters and Patriots, began recruiting and organizing more than a month ago as national media outlets began focusing on the growing number of Central American immigrants illegally crossing the border, including more than 50,000 unaccompanied minors.
Barbie Rogers, founder of the Patriots Information Hotline, which is helping organize and recruit for the militia groups, said there are 10 “operations on the ground along the Texas border” from El Paso to Laredo to the Valley. Many of the groups are stationed on ranch land with permission from the owners, she said.
In an interview with the Express-News last month, Chris Davis, commander of the militia’s Operation Secure Our Border: Laredo Sector, who is seen in some of the photos, said members would secure the border in a “legal and lawful manner.”
In 21-minute YouTube video that has since been deleted, Davis said: “How? You see an illegal. You point your gun dead at him, right between his eyes, and you say, ‘Get back across the border or you will be shot.'”
Davis, a 37-year-old truck driver from Von Ormy, was discharged from the Army in 2001 “under other than honorable conditions in lieu of trial by court-martial,” according to a summary of his military service obtained by the Express-News.
The Texas militia’s operation names, according to Rogers, are: Bolinas Border Patrol, Central Valley Militia, Independent Citizens Militia, Alpha Team, Bravo Team, FOB Harmony, Operation Secure Our Border: Laredo Sector, O’Shanessy’s Team, the 77’s and Camp Geronimo.
Rogers called on Perry to send 5,000 more National Guard members to the border and said that “if cost is an issue” then “call the militia. They will come if you call them.”