Customs and Border Protection has opened an investigation into the posting of racist and xenophobic messages by current and former Border Patrol agents on a private Facebook group. More than 9,500 people are part of the group, which was exposed by ProPublica on Monday. The Facebook group is filled with racist, homophobic, anti-immigrant and misogynistic content about migrants and asylum seekers, as well as public officials like Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is depicted in a photoshopped image being sexually assaulted by President Trump. In another thread, members of the group made fun of a video of a man trying to carry a child through a rapid river in a plastic bag. Someone commented, “At least it’s already in a trash bag.” We speak with ProPublica reporter A.C. Thompson, who broke the story.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: U.S. Customs and Border Protection has opened an investigation into the posting of racist and xenophobic messages by current and former Border Patrol agents on a private Facebook group. More than 9,500 people are part of the group, which was exposed by ProPublica on Monday. The group’s Facebook page is filled with racist, homophobic, anti-immigrant and misogynistic content about migrants, as well as some lawmakers and other high-profile people.
One post contained a photoshopped image of Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez being sexually assaulted by President Trump. In another thread, members of the group made fun of a video of a man trying to carry a child through a rapid river in a plastic bag. Someone commented, quote, “At least it’s already in a trash bag,” unquote. Asked by a reporter to respond to her depiction in the Facebook post, Congressmember Ocasio-Cortez said it was, quote, “indicative of the culture” she observed inside the migrant prison she had just visited, and said she did not feel safe around the Border Patrol officers.
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO–CORTEZ: In that last facility, I was not safe from the officers in that facility.
NATASHA CHEN: Do you have any comment about what was posted about you in the alleged Facebook group?
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO–CORTEZ: I mean, I think it’s just — it’s just indicative of the violent culture that we saw on the inside.
AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, members of the New York congressional delegation came together to condemn the postings in the private Facebook group. This is Congressmember Nydia Velázquez.
REP. NYDIA VELÁZQUEZ: But here is the most chilling part. The people behind these posts are responsible for the well-being of the most vulnerable among us — children, pregnant women, families. They are enduring desperate conditions. And these posts suggest they are literally in the hands of people who engage in vile, racist online behavior.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we go to Berkeley, California, where we’re joined by A.C. Thompson. He’s the man who broke the story, the ProPublica reporter who covers Border Patrol and policing on the southern border, as well as hate crimes and racial extremism. His new piece is headlined “Inside the Secret Border Patrol Facebook Group Where Agents Joke About Migrant Deaths and Post Sexist Memes.”
A.C., welcome back to Democracy Now! Why don’t you take us on the journey of, first, how you were alerted to this group, that has, what, more than 9,500 participants?
A.C. THOMPSON: You know, I think what’s important to note is that there are people within the Border Patrol and the broader CBP agency who don’t like what’s going on there. They say, “Look, the culture has gotten toxic. It has gotten dangerous.” And there are people that were in that Facebook group who said, “I want to alert the media about this. What’s going on is absolutely unconscionable.”
Interestingly, about 7,000 people have left the group since we first did our reporting. And I think that says something, that people realize this is not a group they want to be associated with, and what was happening there was absolutely incorrect.
AMY GOODMAN: But talk about exactly what you found in this Facebook group. What were people saying?
A.C. THOMPSON: I’ll tell you, I’ve been reporting on law enforcement for more than 20 years, and I have never seen anything like this. I have spent time with corrupt cops, with cops who went to prison. And I just have not seen people who would post memes joking about sexual assault, apparently celebrating sexual assault. And I have not seen people, you know, sort of posting these things, referring to the folks that they’re supposed to interact with, with the migrants, as essentially trash or subhuman. And like I said, I’ve met a lot of bad cops. This is way outside of the norms of normal behavior, whether in the civilian world or the law enforcement world.
There were memes about homophobia, about mocking Anderson Cooper’s sexuality. There were memes questioning whether migrants who had died trying to cross the river between the United States and Mexico were actually — if that actually happened, referring to them as “floaters” and saying maybe it was all a scheme concocted by the Democrats and liberals. I mean, the levels of antipathy for women, for migrants and for just for people in general, very, very high.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, A.C., you noted that CBP agents who have posted this kind of vitriol online in the past have also been found to have been involved in violence or illegal activities against migrants. Could you talk about that, as well?
A.C. THOMPSON: You know, I think, to me, one of the things that’s interesting and concerning — right? — is that we know that, by the agency’s own reporting, they get, quote-unquote, “hundreds” of allegations of excessive force every year. We know that they, by their own reporting, discipline a handful of the agents and officers accused in those allegations of excessive force.
We know that just recently in California, two Guatemalan teenage girls settled a suit with the agency, alleging that they were sexually groped by an agent in a Border Patrol station in Texas. The agency paid out about $125,000 to settle that case, suggesting that it was not a case they wanted to take to trial. And what we know — what I can tell you is that it appears that the agent in question has not been disciplined and is still on the force, and, further, that CBP did not seem willing to disclose his name to the lawyers who were litigating that case.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, we’re talking about CBP as a federal law enforcement agency that is already, what, bigger than the FBI or the DEA. It’s the largest federal law enforcement agency. It also has an extremely high record of agents being arrested, doesn’t it?
A.C. THOMPSON: Yeah, that’s pretty stunning, right? So, this is the nation’s largest law enforcement agency. And when you combine customs officers with Border Patrol agents, you’re talking about around 40,000 law enforcement agents — much, much bigger than any other law enforcement agency in the country.
What we know is that, for years now, about 250 employees of CBP have been arrested every year. And that’s a really high number. The charges range from the minor traffic stuff to, you know, serious allegations of drug trafficking, of human smuggling, of domestic violence, etc.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break and then come back to our discussion with A.C. Thompson, the reporter who broke the story of this private, this secret 9,500-member Facebook group, where — well, we’ll talk about some of the issues that they talk about. We’ll talk about the epithets they hurl. His new piece is headlined “Inside the Secret Border Patrol Facebook Group Where Agents Joke About Migrant Deaths and Post Sexist Memes.” Stay with us.