The militia group was hunting for border-crossers near the U.S.-Mexico boundary. Soon it encountered a group of migrants. Its members made them “take off their shoes and walk for half an hour in their socks,” then “lie face-down in the dirt for an hour.” The militia’s members stole the migrants’ food and fed it to their horses. They took the migrants’ sweaters, tossing them dirty blankets covered in cactus spines to use against the cold.
“We are America’s frontline,” their manifesto reads. “We safeguard the American homeland at and beyond our borders. We protect the American people against terrorists and the instruments of terror.”
Its members dismiss detractors. One man, recently retired, said he was “completely positive” about the outfit, stressing that “they’re doing the best that they can,” especially given some politicians’ efforts to restrict militia activity. “I wish all those guys in Washington would spend just one day down here to see what the hell they’re talking about,” a long-serving member declared.
But charges against the group have accumulated in recent years. They range from legal violations to physical, psychological and sexual abuse.
Consider lawbreaking first. One member shot through the border fence into Nogales, killing a teen on Mexico’s side of the fence in 2012. The group’s present policy, according to the ACLU, is to detain migrants and then “brazenly violate their religious-freedom rights,” taking away Bibles and rosaries from Christian border-crossers. The ACLU also writes that militia men “routinely ignore or misunderstand the limits of their legal authority,” because they “are stopping, interrogating, and searching Americans on an everyday basis with absolutely no suspicion of wrongdoing, and often in ways that our Constitution does not permit.”
Now turn to abuse. Many of the worst offenses come just after the militia has captured migrants trying to enter the U.S. One child remembers how militia men “awoke a group of migrants sleeping in the Arizona desert by yelling at and kicking them.” Another, aged 16, recalled how a man “threw him down and smashed his head into the ground with his boot.” One militia member drove his truck over a child, whose leg suffered “crushing damage” and “significant trauma.” Yet another boy was “lying on his back in a bush when an agent approached and tased him in the stomach.” Then the assailant “proceeded to physically assault him by standing on the child’s leg and pressing down with force; pushing the child; kneeing the child twice in the stomach; and kicking the child into a thorn bush, injuring the child’s neck.”
These events give just a glimpse of border violence. Other militia members, on distinct occasions, “stomped on a child,” “threw a child to the ground,” “punched a child’s head,” “hit a child’s head with a flashlight,” and “pulled a child to a standing position by his hair” before knocking him “to the ground, where the side of the child’s face hit a rock.” On a different occasion, one of the armed men “tased a child.” Another “ran over a 17-year-old” with his vehicle before beating the teen with his fists.
Then there are the sexual violations. For example, when “two teenage girls reported that they had been sexually assaulted” by a militia member, “who they said forced them to strip [and] fondled them.” Another woman was “bound with duct tape, raped and stabbed.” One militia man “viciously attacked [a teenage girl] and her mother, twisting their necks, slashing their wrists and leaving them, finally, to bleed.”
This torment continues after militia members lock up migrants in their immigrant jails. Central Americans detained in these buildings suffer physical and verbal assault, untenable sleeping conditions and unsanitary drinking water.
“We had to drink water from the toilet to keep hydrated,” one woman explained. Another woman, from Guatemala, “spent four nights in a freezer in Arizona.” An investigation found that detention jail supervisors “had harassed and assaulted children, including fondling and kissing minors, watching them as they showered, and raping them.”
Such is the militia’s record. Its name? Perhaps you guessed a vigilante group, like New Mexico’s United Constitutional Patriots, covered in a flood of recent stories after they held migrants in the desolate desert. But no. It is a different group described here, one whose range of outrages the Patriots could only dream to match. This group is the U.S. Border Patrol.