As an organization, VOP advances initiatives that are founded on common antigovernment and anti-immigrant ideas. The group has also pushed anti-Indigenous, antisemitic, anti-Catholic and anti-Mormon falsehoods. VOP activists have incorporated QAnon conspiracy theories into their activities as well, including operation of two camps in Arizona – one in Three Points and one in Sasabe – under the exaggerated premise that they are rescuing children from satanic pedophiles who are trafficking children for sex, human sacrifice and organ harvesting. Even after having their conspiracy theories debunked by law enforcement and media, Meyer and VOP continue diverting attention away from legitimate organizations and law enforcement agencies combating human trafficking. According to statements shared by VOP, group members believe their activities are sanctioned by God, and they therefore don’t have to comply with state or federal laws.
In Their Own Words
“Of course the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints instruct their Members to inject themselves with a Bioweapon created with Aborted Fetal Matter with the technology to alter the Image that God imprinted on us... HIS Image. 80 million in Pfizer assets provide the Satanic Leaders incentive. Following the money of ALL Religions these days shows their investment in Globalists, who are compromised of Satanic Pedovores [sic] devouring innocent Children for sacrificial purposes and their ‘Fountain of Youth' known better as Adrenochrome. God sees an overwhelming majority of the Mormon Church Members as Lost Sheep following their False Prophets. Satan provides this Cult plenty of wealth and power, and their Members do not question the Blasphemy taught by their Founder Joseph Smith, who was a Free Mason known for ‘Tall Tales.’” – @BorderWarsAZ via Telegram, March 20, 2022
“Not only do we continue permitting the slaughter of our own Children in Abortion Sacrificial Centers...
Not only do we permit altering our Children’s DNA with Globalist Vaccinations that kill and sterilize...
Not only do we permit Government Agencies like CPS to abduct Children from their Parents...
Not only do we permit the Captivity, Rape, and Abuse of Migrant Children being trafficked by Catholic Charity Services...
We now permit Afghan Pedophiles to bring their Child Rape Victims for further Abuse on our own Soil...
Americans will reap horrible consequences for continuing to allow God's Children to be defiled and abused.
I ask everyone to Pray for the Children... and I ask my Father to destroy this Nation for perpetuating evil equal to Sodom and Gomorrah.
Americans will not fight for these Children... May our Father in Heaven bring His Righteous Judgement upon this Satanic Nation claiming to be under Him
PREPARE YOUR FAMILIES.” – @BorderWarsAZ via Telegram, Sept. 15, 2021
“The Tohono O'odham Nation remains ground zero for criminal smuggling, drug smuggling, and child trafficking… all 3 evils that are perpetrated by Catholic Charity Services and the CIA.” – @BorderWarsAZ via Telegram, Sept. 8, 2021
“Our nation refused to repent, and his judgment is already upon us, yet the Sheeple continue to play the fiddle while America burns. Those who will NOT accept the vaccines, social distancing, masks, mandates or the incoming global currency & mark to seal it all are being asked to immediately cast off the world and join us in preparation.” – @BorderWarsAZ via Telegram, Aug. 18, 2021
“Border Patrol they have their hands tied. They give these individuals fourth amendment rights for all purposes when they cross. Well, when we intercept them and we find their phones, they’ll throw their phones, they’ll hide their phones, we’ll get their phones. We don’t have to get a warrant to open their phones, we’re not law enforcement, we’re private citizens and we take that intel, sift through it and try to give whatever border patrol needs to get a handle on the situation and most of the time they know what we’re reporting. Occasionally they don’t and that’s very important because if you can give them a piece of intel they didn’t know then they can shift their resources and people to become more effective.” – Michael “Lewis Arthur” Meyer, in an interview with Women Fighting For America posted to Facebook, Aug. 9, 2021
“We also know that the Biden administration is ten steps ahead of the conservatives because Biden’s been flying them in. Now what they’ve done is they’ve totally played America. Biden right now is rescuing child victims, they’re being abused, they’re having their organs harvested, being sexually abused, being recycled, now Americans and conservatives are screaming about the illegal problem; Biden is going to be able to show the world all the child victims and all the rape victims that they are trying to save and get out of the cartel’s hands, even though this government worked with this whole operation and this invasion to take place.” – Michael “Lewis Arthur” Meyer, in an interview with Women Fighting For America posted to Facebook, Aug. 9, 2021
“The children are being sold, smuggled, raped, recycled, impregnated, and harvested for organs right before my eyes. I am the least worthy to get them. I was shown 3 years ago but Satan had me looking to prove the Truth to a world who consumes lies. God used Satan’s trickery to acquire the means and capabilities of both setting them free and providing for them. When borders are under invasion and children are the sacrifice…When there is no line any government is capable of establishing…When China sends Fentanyl into America, and migrant organs to China… All that matters is to rescue those enduring these evils while the world watches and blames each other.
I am the most guilty. I have repented. There is no border. Only children to rescue.” – @BorderWarsAZ via Telegram, June 12, 2021
“Global currency will accompany the Mark and the world will see WEALTH being created instead of spiritual health being destroyed. Nearly all those who wore a mask or conceded to taking anti-fertility vaccinations with DNA altering nano technology created from unborn murdered babies in the womb will take the Mark. Americans crave wealth, power, and personal gain… The numbers of socialists, Marxists, and communist people needed to ensure Christians are overwhelmed and eventually separated from persecution have already poured across our border and continue to do so. We will continue fighting to obstruct the invasion on behalf of the woman and children rape victims…” – @BorderWarsAZ via Telegram, May 20, 2021
“Unaccompanied children are being smuggled across the Arivaca to Lukeville West with a majority being concentrated along the Tohono O'odham Nation Reservation [aka Cartel Land]” – @BorderWarsAZ via Telegram, March 25, 2021
“Fact: President Trump only strengthened the Deep State’s human trafficking corridors known as #SorosGate” – @BorderWarsAZ via Telegram, Feb. 19, 2021
“There are unknown number of stash houses across the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation where humans, weapons, drugs, and money are transported continuously across border lines. Several locations by our reporting. Child trafficking layups and rape trees are concentrated mostly on the reservation or on routes originating from the reservation.” – @BorderWarsAZ via Telegram, Jan. 23, 2021
“George Soros OWNS an overwhelming majority of our Politicians in Pima County Arizona [Follow the $$$]
Ask yourself why he is so invested in Ground Zero for #ChildTrafficking in Arizona.
Did you know he finances Caravans?
#ThesePeopleAreSick” – @VopReal via Twitter, May 15, 2020
“#OperationWaterBait is mobile...
6 #Shitbags and counting.
What we do in secret far outweighs what we do in Public.
#StopChildTrafficking #BuildTheWall #WWG1WGA #ArizonaBorder #WaterfighterWall #NoMoreWater #NBorderWarsAz #KAG #VOP #OpSIA” – @VopReal via Twitter, May 8, 2020, 12:06 a.m.
“#BorderWarsAz continues with #OperationWaterBait...
Patriots will not set up ‘Decoy Water Stations’ along the Illegal Trafficking Routes leading up to the Cartel Water Stations operated by @HumaneBordersAZ... and illegals will find a one-way trip back to Mexico via @CBPArizona.” –@VOPReal via Twitter, April 26, 2020, 3:08 p.m.
“Sheriff Mark Napier is a criminal.
County Attorney Barbara Lawall is a criminal.
County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry is a criminal. Period.
#BorderWarsAZ just escalated... we will protect the Children at ANY COSTS. We are bringing in extra security... [a LOT of it.] The release of certain videos will explain why.” – VOP in AZ Facebook page
“It’s not just the Cartels who are Trafficking Children... how many other fake Case Workers are out there funneling innocent children to Pedophiles and Perverts?
#ThesePeopleAreSick #WWG1WGA #VOP” – VOP in AZ Facebook page
“How does Lewis Acquire his intel? Surprisingly despite the dangerous individuals involved in trafficking, Lewis and his team mainly acquire contraband discarded and rarely by force.” – VOP website
Veterans on Patrol (VOP) is an antigovernment militia organization based in Pima County, Arizona. Over the years, the group’s QAnon and related conspiracy theories have driven members to engage in what many see as clear harassment of migrants and humanitarian workers in purported search of Mexican cartels, pedophiles, human traffickers and child-sex rings. As an organization, VOP is designated a militia by the SPLC for its internal hierarchical structure, past firearm field-training exercises, and paramilitary-style activities they believe are enforcing national security measures. Throughout the years, members have also been spotted brandishing firearms while they patrol the desert for cartel hideout spots and for migrants crossing through the region. The group also engages in coordinated harassment campaigns against humanitarian and immigrants’ rights groups. The organization is staunchly opposed to both state and federal law enforcement agencies such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), the Pima County Attorney’s Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Child Protective Services (CPS). The hostility toward such agencies stems from VOP’s belief in conspiracy theories alleging that children are disappearing while being processed through government agencies. Particular animus is directed at such groups as USFWS, the FBI and the Pima County Attorney’s Office, agencies that have questioned the legitimacy of VOP’s beliefs that elected representatives and government agencies are helping traffic children. On social media, Meyer argues his group’s activities don’t have to adhere to state or federal laws because VOP’s antics are sanctioned by God.
The VOP leader, Michael “Lewis Arthur” Meyer, is a Christian nationalist with extreme views on the role of Christianity in society. On Telegram, Meyer’s belief that government agents are trafficking, sexually abusing and kidnapping children has led him to call for God to “destroy this nation perpetuating evil.” The false narratives that drive Meyer and the rest of VOP have led to posts on social media calling the U.S. a “Satanic Nation.” On the surface, Meyer appears to be obsessed with several issues including violent sex crimes against children, drug trafficking, immigration and pushing back against government agencies such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Child Protective Services (CPS). Underneath his obsession is the belief that satanic forces are at work corrupting the nation from within.
Extremist groups like VOP have successfully leveraged conspiracies that play on legitimate concerns around national security and community well-being to radicalize individuals. Concepts like the “deep state,” child trafficking by government agents and agencies, and the idea of a stolen 2020 general election have mobilized large groups of people against government officialdom.
Not to be confused with everyday Christianity, Meyer’s Christian nationalist beliefs push hateful falsehoods about immigrants, Native Americans, the Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and government officialdom. Christian nationalism is best characterized as a cultural framework where Christianity and American identity merge, leading to the belief that America is a Christian nation founded on a divinely inspired Constitution. Christianity is then seen as a blueprint for laws and cultural norms in the country, establishing guidelines for what is defined as the ideal American citizen – typically white conservative protestants. Christian nationalists call for the Christian faith to be elevated above all other religions and see secularism as the root of social unrest and turmoil.
Meyer’s worldview has also led him to spin wild tales about the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation, a Native American reservation in Southern Arizona. In line with other reservations throughout the U.S., the Tohono O'odham reservation limits some access to non-Tribal members, such as Meyer and other VOP members. As a result, VOP’s Telegram channel has continually claimed the reservation is a hotspot for human and drug trafficking. The hostility appears to stem from the fact that the group can’t freely encroach on tribal land, leading to baseless accusations about the Tohono O'odham Nation.
Likewise, VOP has also targeted the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). Meyer’s adherence to Christian nationalist beliefs have led VOP to coin the term “Mormon Mafia” to describe the LDS. In addition to allegations of kidnapping, Meyer has referred to LDS followers as “lost sheep following their false prophets,” and he likes to describe this religious group as a “cult.” Conspiracy theories are intertwined with antigovernment rhetoric. In some cases, VOP falsely claims the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints instructed its followers to take COVID-19 vaccines while receiving an incentive from Pfizer, a vaccine manufacturer. Meyer and VOP have labeled Pfizer a “globalist” organization, arguing it secretly engages in child-sacrifice rituals in search of the fountain of youth.
The term “globalist” has a history of being used as an antisemitic slur by far-right extremists to call into question the allegiance of Jewish Americans to the U.S. The racist underpinning of the phrase has been used to insinuate that Jewish people have unwavering loyalty to a global government that will hold influence over global banking systems, media and governments.
VOP started out in 2015 as an initiative to draw attention to the number of veteran suicides each year, but it has slowly evolved into a group of far-right vigilantes vandalizing lifesaving hydration stations for migrants traversing the desert. The membership of VOP has gradually snowballed into a conspiracy-driven group of extremists who brazenly detain migrants and track minors crossing into Arizona. Their activities include vandalism, doxing campaigns and online propaganda that has attracted other far-right extremist groups and individuals including white nationalists, Proud Boys, anti-vaccine individuals and Jan. 6 insurrectionists.
The group Veterans on Patrol was founded by Michael “Lewis Arthur” Meyer, an antigovernment prepper turned militia leader. Antigovernment preppers are individuals who engage in stockpiling food, weapons and other resources in preparation for a cataclysmic event. Meyer slowly morphed from prepper to leader of the militant group VOP. Known in antigovernment circles as “Screwy Louie,” Meyer is a conspiracy theorist and a self-proclaimed pastor/minister who manages a network of far-right extremists who intercept migrants and claim to be saving children from pedophiles on the Southern border. The group, established in Pima County, Arizona, was initially formed as a branch of the “Walking for the Forgotten Ministry” (WFTF Ministry). The WFTF Ministry is not actually a church; rather, it is the name given to a stunt Meyer concocted to walk around Pima County with an American flag in an attempt to bring about attention to the number of veterans who commit suicide after returning from war. Meyer has a track record of trying to sell his organization’s missions as being centered on veteran affairs, although Meyer himself isn’t a veteran.
Through the WFTF project, Meyer connected with homeless veterans in Tucson, Arizona. The relationships Meyer built sparked an idea that resulted in him establishing encampments that were meant to serve as safe havens for homeless vets in Southern Arizona. Early on, Meyer claimed his camps were a safe place for people down on their luck, including undocumented immigrants. In recent years, this sentiment appears to have changed with the manifestation of the more militant Veterans on Patrol organization.
In a December 2015 online interview, Meyer recounted the creation of VOP in October of the same year. Meyer accused Indigenous kids of the Navajo Nation and Black kids of the Black Lives Matter movement of theft and gang activity, naming them as his justification for creating the more militant VOP to serve as a vigilante safety patrol for his camp sites.
Around that period, WFTF was managing approximately three different campsites. Two camps were in the Tucson area: Camp Bravo in Santa Rita and Camp Pulaski in Picture Rocks. The last, Alpha Camp, was located in Phoenix. By 2017 all camps had been shut down due to security and sanitation concerns. Although the camps might have been a failure, they did allow Meyer to develop skills he would later use in his VOP efforts targeting migrants and humanitarian workers in the region. For starters, he admits the walkathons and camp sites, created to bring awareness to veteran suicides, allowed him to connect directly with homeless veterans who sometimes felt lost after returning from war.
In a 2017 interview with WHYY, an NPR and PBS affiliate, Meyer told the network that soldiers would sometimes come back without a sense of purpose and struggle to assimilate back into society. Although at the time Meyer had not yet formed the more militant VOP, the facade of being a veteran-focused organization was being used to attract veterans, a practice that falls in line with other extremist organizations such as the Oath Keepers and the now-defunct United Constitutional Patriots (UCP). Meyer’s VOP has never been a registered 501(c)3 and has never offered veterans professional services of any kind. Both the Oath Keepers and UCP openly tried to recruit and cater their messaging to veterans to incorporate legitimacy and unique skillsets into their organizations.
These early years also gave Meyer a glimpse into the impact that bombastic allegations and carefully crafted messages could do for an organization reliant on donations. His narratives that VOP and WFTF were serving the community received an exuberant reception from many community leaders. The response brought attention, donated goods, and in some cases free services such as water and electricity for the WFTF campsites.
At VOP’s core are Meyer’s beliefs that government agencies are inadequate to carry out their duties as defined by Meyer, whether it be CBP processing migrants or the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) providing services to homeless veterans. The WFTF initiative was born out of Meyer’s frustration with the VA and his belief that the agency was incapable of properly addressing the problem of homeless vets in Pima County. The core mission of WFTF eventually spurred the creation of VOP, the militant arm of WFTF that argues CBP, CPS, the Biden administration and the county sheriff’s department are part of a criminal syndicate helping facilitate human trafficking.
The birth of ‘Screwy Louie’
Meyer has a history of opposing government authority. In 2014 he reportedly traveled to Bunkerville, Nevada, to support the Cliven Bundy family in a standoff between antigovernment extremists and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In 2016, Meyer once again made an appearance alongside members of the Bundy family when Cliven’s two sons, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, led a group of armed antigovernment militants into the Malheur Wildlife Refuge opposing the government’s management of public lands. In the case of the Bundys, their extreme rhetoric vilifying the federal government as tyrannical is usually followed by calls to overthrow or engage in armed confrontations with law enforcement. The rhetoric is usually accompanied with other beliefs such as the concept that the county sheriff is the supreme law of the land, able to circumvent any federal laws the sheriff deems unconstitutional. The refuge, located in Oregon, was occupied for 41 days and received a slew of national attention that attracted antigovernment extremists from around the country, including Meyer and his followers.
As the Phoenix New Times reported in January 2016, Meyer’s arrival to Malheur was met with hostility from the pro-Bundy extremists. Accounts vary as to which faction among the antigovernment extremists initiated the violence, but what is a clear is that a scuffle ensued between the Malheur camp of occupiers and Meyer’s Arizona group. Meyer told the Phoenix New Times that his goal in traveling to Oregon was to remove Ryan Payne, a Bundyite, from the compound. Meyer claimed Payne was desperate to become a martyr. Additionally, Meyer made the journey north operating on the idea he would be rescuing women and children he believed were being held at the compound, a baseless allegation that was never corroborated by authorities.
Members of Payne’s camp accused Meyer of traveling to Oregon in search of fame. According to Bundyites, upon Meyer’s arrival to the occupation, two consecutive physical altercations broke out after Meyer became combative and antagonistic. Meyer’s reportedly combative behavior and unhinged rants, which included railing against other extremists in the antigovernment circle, ultimately caused VOP to be ostracized and earned Meyer the nickname “Screwy Louie.”
The CMEX conspiracy
Having been shunned from the Malheur occupation, Meyer continued pursuing his obsession to identify and locate human trafficking networks. The 2018 “Operation Backyard Brawl” brought waves of support for Meyer after he duped local media into believing his group had uncovered the remnants of a “child-sex camp” at a location belonging to CMEX, a Mexican cement company operating out of Arizona.
Articles began appearing detailing the allegations Meyer made that his group had discovered irrefutable evidence that a child-sex-camp had been operating in Tucson. To skeptics, the campsite resembled the remains of a homeless camp, but to Meyer every detail represented a twisted scene that confirmed his belief that children were being sexually abused and held against their will. Using Facebook, Meyer livestreamed what he called a prison cell that he speculated had been used to hold children, as well as what he referred to as a “rape tree,” which can only be described as a tree with makeshift straps on the branches. The small detail prompted Meyer to assert that the straps must have been used to bind children while they were being physically abused.
Meyer’s allegations garnered enough attention that Tucson Police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement responded by investigating the site. Both agencies found no evidence that could back up the sex-camp narrative. Adding to the hysteria, VOP members also claimed to have discovered the skeletal remains of a child, saying they had come across a child’s skull. That claim was also debunked, this time by the Pima County medical examiner, who concluded the remains belonged to an adult and had been discovered in a different area. As High Country News reported in 2018, Meyer’s fabrications spread like wildfire, leading his supporters to peddle misinformation, at one point even claiming they had also discovered additional skeletal remains, which were later confirmed to be animal remains.
On July 22, 2018, Meyer was arrested for trespassing when he tried to occupy the CMEX property, adhering to his narrative that children had been trafficked at that site. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence from experts debunking the outlandish narratives drawn up around the CMEX incident, to this day Meyer and the rest of VOP stand by the idea that they discovered the remains of a child sex ring in the Arizona desert.
On Telegram, Meyer has credited the CMEX incident as the “catalyst” for VOP’s shift in priorities, from “rescuing teenagers, homeless veterans, and drug addicts from the streets of Tucson to the child trafficking routes on the Arizona border.”
Meyer’s conspiracy theories have resulted in VOP using dehumanizing language when referring to migrants. On online spaces including Facebook and Telegram, such phrases as “shitbags,” “rapists,” “pedophiles,” “terrorists” and “thugs” are commonly used to describe people crossing the border. As VOP shifted its attention to identifying child trafficking routes, and by extension child traffickers, voiceless migrants became an easy target. By portraying all migrants as criminals, Meyer and VOP helped drive the nativist belief that an “invasion” is currently taking place at the Southern border.
Operation Water Bait
Unfazed by the facts surrounding the CMEX allegations, VOP continued operating in Pima County, conducting searches in the desert in hopes of uncovering human trafficking networks. The group slowly adopted QAnon conspiracy theories, and in online spaces they began tagging posts with hashtags such as #WWG1WGA, a message that translates to “Where we go one, we go all,” a unity slogan for QAnon followers. They also adopted beliefs that the “deep state” was secretly running human trafficking rings throughout the U.S., with the border serving as the entry point where children were being brought into the country by members of the Democratic Party and Hollywood elites. According to VOP, the purpose of this activity is to exploit women and children, harvest their organs and use them as sacrifices for satanic rituals.
After Meyer’s stint at Bunkerville, his group returned to Arizona and was relegated to trash cleanup missions in the Sonoran Desert, something Meyer later dubbed #OperationDesertSweep. Having been labeled a fringe conspiracy theorist even within the antigovernment movement, Meyer eventually found his new calling in 2020 when he launched a new venture titled #OperationStopitAll and #OperationWaterBait.
As VOP’s missions evolved, so did its narratives about the leaders orchestrating the supposed human trafficking rings. Operation Stop It All became their plan to start getting involved in border vigilante work to detain migrants. Operation Water Bait launched around the same period and had Meyer and his accomplice, Paul Flores, a UFO hunter and videographer for VOP, mischaracterize and harass faith-based humanitarian groups.
Hatewatch reported on VOP’s history of targeting and vandalizing water tanks belonging to the non-profit Humane Borders. The organization manages a network of water stations in the Sonoran Desert that provide clean drinking water to stranded migrants. The initiative launched in 2000 and is still operating in 2022 at a time when migrant deaths have hit record-high numbers, according to U.S. Border Patrol statistics.
Operation Water Bait consisted of Meyer and Flores setting up fake humanitarian water stations that resembled the stations managed by Humane Borders. The duo even copied the blue water flag and blue water barrels that have become synonymous with the Humane Borders name. The goal was for the two men to wait at the campsites and detain migrants who stopped for water, while simultaneously calling Border Patrol to pick up the detainees. Images shared on Telegram appear to show these detainments.
For years, Humane Borders has been on the receiving end of harassment campaigns by border vigilantes. A near constant stream of vandalism-related acts has left their water tanks emptied out, shot and damaged. Meyer has been a propagator of this activity, uploading videos of himself emptying out water tanks and threatening humanitarian workers. On Telegram, he has threatened to dox humanitarian workers, and he has shared images of volunteers along with their license plates, accusing them of helping traffic drugs and children into the country.
Historically, Meyer and the rest of VOP have tried to circumvent criticism by arguing their organization is “press,” claiming they are a “ministry,” and more recently, rebranding as a “humanitarian organization.” Underneath the labels, it is clear the group is a vigilante organization. While group members have said they would “rarely” use force on migrants, they have been documented detaining unaccompanied children in online videos. The group has been allowed to operate freely in the face of officers with U.S Customs and Border Protection and the Pima County Sheriff’s Department.
Videos shared by VOP and Meyer debunk the notion that the organization is a humanitarian or press institution. The media shared on online spaces such as Facebook and Telegram show Meyer stop, chase and, at times, physically detain migrants.
The lack of oversight from both state and federal authorities has led VOP to launch additional operations that appear to violate the rights of migrants. In the quest to identify child trafficking networks and cartels near the border, VOP launched the initiative dubbed #OperationCode-17. This scheme was focused on the collection of cellphones and the analysis of personal content by Meyer and others on his team. Their goal is to identify traffickers, and in many cases, private contents from these cellphones are shared on Telegram, from phone contacts to personal images and videos. Meyer is convinced the digital lives of these migrants are proof of an international market for children and drugs in Arizona.
The Border Coalition
At the start of 2021, Meyer helped form what he called the “Border Coalition,” a network of three far-right organizations that had come together to repel what they called the “invasion” of migrants passing through Pima County. This network of extremists was made up of Veterans on Patrol, AZ Desert Guardians, and the United People of America.
The group AZ Desert Guardians had historically engaged in missions to find child trafficking sites and has had an on-and-off relationship with VOP. Rebecca “Becky” Ferland, the group’s leader, engaged in border operations similar to VOP’s, with her group targeting water stations and spreading conspiracy theories about supposed jihadis entering the U.S. via the Southern border.
The United People of America (UPA) is a white nationalist group that has attempted to recruit on the white nationalist site Stormfront. The group’s leader, Tyler Wentzel, has shared videos where he can be seen dropping antisemitic flyers around the Catalina Foothills community in Tucson. Wentzel and fellow UPA programmer Sean Gugerty have posted a steady stream of pro-Nazi propaganda online. On the UPA website, the group claims to be looking out for the interests of citizens while simultaneously railing against Jewish people, immigrants and LGBTQ individuals. A post on the VOP mission page states: “Without any form of voting or consulting with the American people. The Jews have used their political puppets to alter the constitution and create new laws that allow mass-immigration, same-sex marriage, unregulated market, bribing of politicians, funding of Israel, and many more destructive policies.”
On Telegram, Meyer uploaded media with the help of his coalition, showing what appeared to be migrant apprehensions, pictures of ammunition, videos of shooting exercises and images of interactions with Border Patrol agents. In summer 2021, Hatewatch detailed at least one meeting between a CBP agent and Meyer at a border patrol checkpoint. In the video, Meyer can be seen engaging in friendly banter with the agent before handing over an SD card and parting ways.
The following month, The Southern Poverty Law Center sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security alerting them of the presence of Meyer’s coalition at the border.
By fall 2021, the makeup of the border coalition began to change. Both AZ Desert Guardians and UPA took a hiatus, but that didn’t stop VOP from working with other extremist organizations. This included at least one Proud Boy, the organization Women Fighting For America (WFFA), the online conspiracy group calling itself Dragon’s Den, Christopher Key aka “Vaccine Police,” and the Idaho antigovernment group the Panhandle Patriots Motorcycle Club. Several members from these extremist organizations were also found to have traveled to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, the day of the Capitol insurrection.
A common theme among border vigilantes is their belief in VOP’s message that they are helping repel migrant invaders, disrupt drug trafficking routes and carry out God’s mission to rescue children from pedophiles. These groups frequently peddle their bigoted beliefs in the name of religion, even claiming VOP members and volunteers do not have to adhere to federal or state laws while encouraging others online to do the same.
“We do not serve any government, nor recognize any perceived authority any government entities believe they have over our most high God, whom we serve. Not being subjected to the synagogue of Satan or its governments, we do not participate in selecting masters, serving in their wars, nor will we finance those who choose to serve in this Global One World Order. We serve The Most High God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Only his orders are acknowledged and obeyed,” read a statement released by the “ministry” and signed by Meyer in 2022. The conspiracies Meyer and VOP peddle are common falsehoods repeated in antigovernment circles with origins in the antisemitic Posse Comitatus movement of the 1970s.
At the start of 2022 Meyer and VOP began to aggressively push the idea that they were a “humanitarian” organization and a “ministry,” co-opting rhetoric of legitimate faith-based humanitarian organizations. A review of Telegram posts makes it clear that Meyer opposes not just government authority, but also the Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The search for River Jennings
In March 2021, the Southern Poverty Law Center released the Year in Hate and Extremism report, which assessed the state of hate and extremism in America. The report highlights the growing trend of extremist narratives becoming part of the mainstream discourse. This finding holds true when looking at the way VOP managed to bring together antigovernment extremists, white nationalists, anti-vaxxers, Christian nationalists, anti-immigrant advocates and even Ron Watkins, a QAnon icon and 2022 candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District.
In December 2021 Meyer faced vandalism charges stemming from 2019 when he destroyed water stations owned by the humanitarian group Humane Borders. According to Tucson.com, Meyer was “convicted of four counts of criminal damage and one count of trespassing – all misdemeanors. When it came time for sentencing in January, he didn’t show up to court.”
Meyer quickly took to Telegram to update his followers, saying he would not turn himself in. One post read: “Ever heard of ‘where’s Waldo?’ Now it is ‘where’s Lewis Arthur.’ Get to border NOW and shut down these Pima County smuggling routes.” Not long after a warrant was issued for his arrest, Meyer announced he was going into hiding, choosing to run while leaving behind his operations to Shawna Martin, a VOP volunteer with ties to the extremist biker group Panhandle Patriots. Martin filmed herself in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, but it doesn’t appear that she went inside the Capitol.
Even though he’s removed himself from the day-to-day activities of VOP, Meyer continues to post on the group’s Telegram channel. As the rebranding of VOP continued into 2022, the group began taking on new campaigns, this time encouraging their followers to go after Child Protective Services (CPS). By February 2022, Meyer began inserting himself in the child custody case of Lee Jennings, a Seattle resident who was fighting to get custody of his son River Jennings. It’s unclear how the biological mother, Sarah Stanley, became acquainted with VOP, but after Jennings was granted increased visitation rights in late 2021, Stanley took the child and fled Idaho. Prior to her disappearance, she had been uncooperative and reportedly had a history of restricting Jennings’ access to River.
Online, Meyer and VOP supporters began spreading disinformation about Jennings, peddling some of the same narratives they use to describe migrants. Uncorroborated allegations began circulating on Telegram accusing Jennings of being a “domestic violence perpetrator, con-artist and abuser.” In some instances, flyers were also being shared that targeted Jennings, his legal team and court officials, accusing them of being child traffickers, child predators and kidnappers.
Meyer continued to hold significant influence over VOP, even after his departure from the border. In early 2022 he continued to launch new initiatives and called for volunteers from his pool of over 10,000 followers on Telegram. Meyer’s online activities continue even as he remains in hiding from authorities.
Targeting children: Operation Heaven’s Snare
By March 2022, VOP was preoccupied with two main missions. The first was to continue intercepting migrants near the U.S. border while emphasizing the task of collecting the personal details of unaccompanied children. The second mission was to create a network of what Meyer calls “safe houses,” where he hopes to harbor children he thinks he is rescuing from CBP and CPS.
The first mission, which started in 2021, is dubbed Operation Heaven’s Snare and is described by VOP as a “child rescue and advocacy mission operated by WFTF Ministry’s Missionary Strike Force across the intercontinental United States.” The goal of the group is to collect personal details of unaccompanied children, usually consisting of any details about their U.S.-based family or friends, with the intent to later track and follow the children. As Hatewatch has previously reported, in at least one instance, a group calling itself Dragon’s Den worked to track down and question the U.S. sponsor of a child that had previously been stopped by VOP.
Both Dragon’s Den and VOP believe migrant children are being trafficked by federal agencies, a debunked conspiracy. Online, Dragon’s Den describes itself as “online pedophile hunters” and claims the organization is “filled with #VoicesForTheVoiceless, CPS whistleblowers, & dozens of volunteers that help raise awareness to the epidemic of child sex trafficking, online child predators & the agenda to normalize pedophilia.”
Meyer and VOP are so committed to collecting the information of unaccompanied minors that they drafted a Spanish questionnaire to hand out to children. A copy of the questionnaire was shared online depicting a cheerful image of Dora the Explorer, a bilingual children’s cartoon character, asking for the child’s name, age and the name and phone number of their sponsor.
On several occasions, VOP members have shared images of migrant children filling out these forms or providing the details while being recorded. The content is used to create propaganda montages that are then used as recruitment videos online. It’s unclear how many unaccompanied children VOP has intercepted and deceived into handing over personal details. In Meyer’s absence, Martin took it upon herself to continue his work detaining migrants and pushing Christian bibles into the hands of unaccompanied children, according to videos the group has posted on Telegram.
In late March, Melissa del Bosque of The Border Chronicle visited the VOP Sasabe camp. Del Bosque detailed her experience saying she spent time with Martin, who expressed her desire to save children from satanic child traffickers. Martin confirmed VOP members have engaged in the collection of the presumed phone numbers of U.S.-based sponsors from the unaccompanied minors. Martin also used the opportunity to reiterate fringe QAnon conspiracy theories, including the idea that child trafficking near the border could be traced back to the “deep state,” Democrats, Catholic Charities and “globalists.”
By April 30, Martin uploaded a video on Telegram announcing her arrival back in the state of Washington. Martin cited family matters as her reason for retreating but reiterated the need for volunteers to head down to the border. Although she has previously taken breaks from her border ventures, it is unclear if or when she might return to Arizona. Regardless, Martin and Meyer’s calls to action were answered when Martin announced VOP volunteers “Jason,” “Rob” and “Adam,” had picked up where VOP left off intercepting migrant children.
The ringleader of this new group of border vigilantes appears to be the Trump devotee and QAnon adherent Jason Frank. Frank, who was recently profiled by The New York Times, appears to have followed in the footsteps of VOP leadership, intercepting children under the guise of saving them from human traffickers.
In videos shared to the group’s YouTube account, members appear to stop migrants and offer them food, water and the opportunity to dial their loved ones before they are handed over to Border Patrol. Video montages show migrant children receiving anti-Biden merchandise as gifts and in some cases being photographed wearing T-shirts provided by Frank and his group featuring such slogans as “Let’s go Brandon!” a right-wing euphemism that is code for the motto “Fuck Joe Biden.”
As of May 2022, some members of Frank's group continue their border activities, in some cases transporting migrants to CBP agents, carrying out the mission VOP started in 2021.
A Christian utopia
While Martin continues calling for volunteers to join VOP border operations in Arizona, Meyer has taken it upon himself to handle VOP’s second priority, dubbed Operation Promised Land. According to the VOP Telegram channel, Operation Promised Land is the “expansion of, and establishment of, off-grid properties where Christians and endangered children are provided sanctuary under the shadow of our almighty god.”
On Telegram, Meyer rallied his base around the child custody case of River Jennings. Using a steady stream of conspiracies, Meyer crafted a narrative that government agencies were attempting to kidnap River. The conspiracies also include anti-vaccine narratives that asserted the government was looking to force River to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Both Meyer and Stanley peddled such narratives with posts online denouncing the government, the courts and Lee Jennings. A post from February summarized this sentiment: “Sarah is protecting River from a brainwashed liberal pervert that will jab his kid with a bioweapon just to virtue signal to his yuppy perverted friends in Seattle, WA.”
Meyer and VOP’s attempts to get involved in the River Jennings case came to an end when the child was located in Alabama in April 2022. On Telegram, Meyer and Martin voiced their frustration with the government agencies that they accused of kidnapping River, and they continued to peddle the concept of instituting “safe houses” that could be used by VOP to hide children from pedophiles and government agencies.
Earlier in April, Meyer shared an open letter addressed to “the United States Federal Government, all State, Local, County Governments, all Agencies and Law Enforcement Entities, including courts and Federal Agencies and all political parties or participants,” announcing the creation of the “New American Movement.” The letter consolidates VOP’s beliefs into a plan that aims that to create a new nation separate from the United States and what is referred to in the text as “the Synagogue of Satan’s Globalist Government.” The sentiment and language expressed in the announcement is in line with the antigovernment Sovereign Citizen ideology. Beliefs commonly associated with the Sovereign Citizen movement include the idea that they have severed their citizenship with the United States government and are therefore immune from its laws. Many form their own territories or communities inside the United States that they believe are outside the jurisdiction of the local, state and federal government.
Details of how this new movement will go about creating this new nation are limited, with the declaration stating only that private land throughout the U.S. and private property owners will form the basis for this new initiative. The letter goes to claim this new nation will be shelter for children that are “extracted” by VOP. At the bottom of the proclamation, the statement reads, “Signed, We the People Liberated by God and walking now from the Devil.”
The Veterans on Patrol organization has adopted several far-right extremist ideologies since their founding in 2015 and continue to peddle conspiracy theories in their search for child trafficking networks in 2022.
With a never-ending list of priorities, VOP has successfully rebranded itself from an organization that was once centered on providing services to homeless veterans, to a QAnon-esque, Christian nationalist group of vigilantes detaining migrant children. The group, which shares some cult-like characteristics, operates on the notion that satanic forces have taken over the government and form online campaigns against anyone who speaks out against their activities. Their missions and messages undermine the real horrors of human trafficking that have unfortunately continued through the pandemic.
The 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report, a report that assesses emerging threats and changes in human trafficking trends drafted by the U.S. Department of State, highlighted the issue of extremists capitalizing on trafficking narratives to recruit members. The report synthesizes the threat of extremism peddling disinformation by saying:
Of further concern, experts have identified the strategic production and dissemination of false narratives about sex trafficking by white supremacists and other extremists, including violent extremists, in the United States as a means of recruiting new members. These groups have found success in exploiting the public’s concerns about child sex trafficking, using false information as a gateway to radicalize members. Thus, it is imperative to stop the spread of misinformation, including conspiracy theories, both to combat sex and labor trafficking and to prevent violent extremism and counter threats to U.S. national security.
It is easy to understand why individuals would see something online about human trafficking, especially when it involves children, and feel the need to share or act on the information. At first, it may not be apparent that acting on this information could have any harmful consequences. The recent scale of misinformation about human trafficking, however, distracts from the real crime, and may have long-lasting negative effects on efforts to combat it and to aid actual victims of human trafficking.
In his fascination with military practices, Meyer launched a series of what he calls “operations.” These border stunts take on military inspired names and have included:
#OperationYardBrawl, May 29, 2018 – The CMEX allegations and attempted occupation that sparked investigations into what Meyer calls the remains of a child-sex-camp in Tucson.
#OperationChildShield, 2018 – A joint operation with Oath Keepers in the aftermath of #backyardbrawl. The two groups were set to work together to track down human trafficking sites in Arizona.
#OperationDesertSweep – An initiative to pick up trash and leftover belongings that migrants have left in the Sonoran Desert.
#OperationStopItAll, 2021 – An initiative to intercept and detain migrants near the Arizona/Mexico border.
#OperationWaterBait, 2021 – Meyer’s scheme to set up fake humanitarian water stations to “bait” migrants into specific campsites with the intent to detain and hand over individuals to border patrol agents.
#OperationCode-17, 2021 – An effort that a post in the VOP Telegram room referred to as “Criminal tracking and obstruction operations through a program built utilizing cartel coyote and smuggled migrants’ smartphones.” Data collection includes names and phone numbers of contacts, hijacking social accounts, sharing personal media, and impersonating migrants.
#OperationFinalStand – A VOP initiative to engage in “child rescue and tracking” in Sasabe, Arizona.
#OperationGuardianAngel – Aug. 18, 2021, Meyer’s plan to personally travel across the country and visit the homes of children that VOP intercepted.
#OperationHeavensSnare, March 13, 2022 – VOP’s plan to intercept and collect personal information of migrant children so members and volunteers can later follow up and visit those children once they have been connected with U.S. sponsors.
#OperationPromisedLand – “Expansion of, and establishment of, off-grid properties where Christians and endangered children are provided sanctuary under the shadow of our almighty god.”