Unaffiliated "militia" groups armed with semi-automatic rifles, masks, camouflage and tactical gear have been spotted in the Texas Rio Grande Valley, protecting the U.S.-Mexico border, one can only assume, from the thousands of unaccompanied children who have fled record violence in their home countries in Central America.
Photos published by The San Antonio Express-News on Monday show dozens of members of more than 10 "active" groups walking around campsites, pointing rifles and pistols out of frame, and interacting with U.S. Border Patrol agents. The members' faces were blurred, by request of the group's spokesperson who provided the photos, because of their fear of being identified by "cartel and gang members."
The movement, called Operation Secure Our Border, was formed in response to the recent influx of undocumented immigrants. It includes members from the Three Percenters, Patriots and Oath Keepers, the latter of which was involved with Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy's tense standoff with the Bureau of Land Management earlier this year.
One photo shows a Border Patrol agent providing directions to a vehicle of armed militia members. Officially, however, the U.S. Border Patrol 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," as quoted by The Houston Chronicle.
Barbie Rogers, founder of the Patriots Information Hotline, told the Express-News that the militia groups are stationed on private ranches with permission from the owners.
Democrats are calling on Gov. Rick Perry (R), who is already sending 1,000 National Guard troops to the border, to denounce the groups because "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," said Texas state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D).
Responses to the influx of more than 50,000 undocumented minors since the beginning of October has varied. Prominent conservatives such as Glenn Beck and George Will have sounded more compassionate notes. But the urge to reach for a gun to protest children, some as young as 12, isn't new. Earlier this month, conservative groups protested the possible housing of minors in Vassar, Michigan, by marching through town, some with AR-15 rifles and handguns, and holding signs that read “No gang members. No terrorists."