'Armed patriots': the private citizens out to secure the U.S. border

Wed Sep 10, 2014 6:48am EDT
 
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By Lisa Maria Garza

BROWNSVILLE Texas (Reuters) - With binoculars in hand, an assault rifle slung over his chest and a Glock pistol on his hip, a man named Will scans the banks of the Rio Grande looking for anyone trying to cross from Mexico into Texas.

Will is a member of the Patriots, a group of heavily armed private citizens who use displays of force to intimidate people attempting to cross the border illegally. Since early summer the Patriots have patrolled an area near Brownsville, Texas.

"If you spot them and shine your light on them, that lets them know that you're there," said the 25-year-old construction worker from Indiana who flew to Texas for a stint with the Patriots. “Nine times out of 10, they're not going to come over.

"Even if they are going to try to cross again, we're still making it harder for them, and that's the reason we're here."

The Patriots Information Hotline, a networking call center, estimates that 22 groups of “armed patriots” have sprung up along the border from Texas to California this year.

With names like Patriots and Citizen Defenders, the groups often set up camp on private land along the border at a property owner’s invitation. Expenses are generally paid by members, though some funds come from like-minded donors.

To critics, they are militias - vigilantes spoiling for a fight. For would-be migrants, they are another barrier to entry. For the U.S. Border Patrol, they can be either a nuisance or a help in spotting people trying to enter the country illegally.

The groups insist that their presence is unrelated to the tens of thousands of children from Central America who flooded across the border with Mexico earlier this year. Law enforcement officials say an increase in people taking part in citizen patrols in border states coincided with the attention being paid to the issue of unaccompanied minors this year.   Continued...

 
A sign sits on display in a farm field near the U.S.-Mexico border outside Brownsville, Texas September 2, 2014.   REUTERS/Rick Wilking