Hatewatch

Los Zetas Still Not Seizing Laredo Ranches

There’s an old jest in the news business: Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. Some anti-illegal immigrant zealots in the blogosphere are taking the joke to heart. Two-and-a-half weeks after reporting with no factual basis that members of a dangerous Mexican drug gang had seized two Americans’ ranches near Laredo, Texas, the bloggers still insist their fairy tale is true.

As Hatewatch reported earlier, Pennsylvania anti-immigration blogger Dan Amato wrote last month that members of Los Zetas — Mexican gunmen involved in the international drug trade and other crimes — had taken control of the ranches. When skeptics questioned the story, Amato said that he got the tip from San Diego Minutemen leader Jeff Schwilk, who in turn learned of it from his fellow San Diego anti-immigration enthusiast, Kimberly Dvorak of Examiner.com.

The potential “act of war,” in Dvorak’s words, produced no actions by the U.S. government to protect its citizens. There were no arrests. And those residents of the two ranches forced to flee? One would think they’d be doing interviews with every news organization around — or at least with those savvy sleuths, Amato, Schwilk and Dvorak. Alas, they remain mute and unidentified. Rather than be embarrassed by this, Amato and friends insist they’ve been proved right. The proof: A supposed police blotter reproduction Dvorak claims to have obtained reporting the incident.

The blotter item states that a local, unnamed ranch owner called the sheriff’s office to say that Los Zetas had taken over his ranch. It also says that the sheriff’s SWAT team went to the area. A real reporter might have questioned why the blotter referred to the “Laredo Sheriff’s Office.” Laredo is a city in Webb County, so it’s actually the Webb County Sheriff’s Office.

That detail aside, the events described in the purported blotter entry aren’t at odds with facts acknowledged by authorities. The sheriff’s office did in fact receive a tip about two ranches being seized by Mexican gang members. The office did send personnel to investigate. The Laredo Police Department also was advised of the tip and was on standby if needed, says Investigator Joe Baeza of that department.

After talking to the ranch owners and other residents at the site of the supposed Mexican invasion, authorities concluded there was nothing to the tip. That didn’t satisfy the anti-immigration bloggers. “They’re accusing the local authorities of being elusive, of there being a media blackout,” Baeza says incredulously. “I don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Now Amato is calling the so-called incident at the ranches “LaredoGate” on his “Digger’s Realm” blogsite, claiming there was media incompetence and a political cover-up. He offers a variety of theories as to the latter — without a scintilla of proof, of course. His five-part “exclusive” on the supposed ranches takeover is a mix of wild conjecture and complaining about individuals and organizations that have attacked his credibility, including the Southern Poverty Law Center.

For her part, Kimberly Dvorak wrote on her own blog Tuesday that the purported copy of a police blotter “proves that the alleged incident did in fact happen,” when it actually only shows that law enforcement checked into a report of an incident.

“I’ve been trying to appeal to people’s common sense,” Investigator Baeza says. “There would be no reason a cartel would take a stand on rural property.” There are many local and federal law enforcement agencies in the region because of its proximity to the Mexican border, he noted. “There are a million other venues available to [Los Zetas] that are less resistant. They’re not interested in being in your face about it like in Mexico.”

Still, the yarn has appeared on various websites, including that of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations, as well as other anti-immigration forums. Baeza says he even got a phone call from a well-meaning U.S. Marine in Virginia who offered to come to Texas with his buddies to help rid the area of the Mexican gang takeover of ranches.

“It’s beyond tiring,” Baeza says.

What’s more, it may not end any time soon. Now that she claims to have proven there was a scary Mexican invasion, Dvorak is calling on local media to track down the events that followed. This, while complaining in the same blog post of a “media blackout.”