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How Antigovernment Extremists and QAnon took over the Southern Border

In Sasabe, Arizona, along the U.S.-Mexico border, far-right Christian nationalists and QAnon adherents have steadily visited the area trying to detain migrants to stop a supposed migrant invasion.

Jason Frank
Jason Frank drives near the border wall in Sasabe, Arizona. (Photo by Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times)

Jason Frank is one of the individuals linked to the Facebook vigilante group operating under the name “Border Angels.” Individuals associated with the group, which co-opted its name from a different organization based in San Diego, California, have established a following on social media platforms such as Facebook and Telegram to help disseminate QAnon conspiracy theories that target migrants, border patrol agents and humanitarian workers.

Frank’s group is made up of QAnon adherents who erroneously claim they are simply saving children from sex traffickers while also helping curtail cartel operations near the border wall in Sasabe. Over the past two years, Sasabe has become a hotbed for far-right vigilante activity attracting extremists from across the country to engage in migrant detainments. The border militia group Veterans on Patrol (VOP) was the first to capitalize on the lack of oversight in the region by pushing out calls for “patriots” to join them in stopping the supposed “invasion” taking place on the Southern border.

In one instance earlier this year, Frank’s group allegedly chased two humanitarians who were doing work at the border. Jason Frank and his group declined to comment for this story.

A call to patriots

Michael “Lewis Arthur” Meyer founded Veterans on Patrol (VOP) in 2015. Meyer is a conspiracy theorist and vocal opponent of vaccinations who is obsessed with the idea of child sex camps, migrant invasions, corrupt Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents and Mexican drug cartels. In 2021, Hatewatch reported on Meyer’s “border coalition,” a network of far-right extremists that assembled in Three Points, Arizona, to track and apprehend migrants and hand them over to CBP agents.

Meyer’s border coalition embraced all factions of the far right, from white nationalists to conspiratorial vaccine opponents, QAnon adherents, militias and Jan. 6 insurrection participants. At its core, VOP mobilized around QAnon conspiracy theories, and over time, the group evolved to embrace new anti-immigrant and antigovernment ideas.

Although only a handful of VOP volunteers have appeared at the border in 2022, the group’s influence and activities throughout 2021 helped standardize common practices for conspiracy-fueled vigilante groups that would later follow in VOP’s footsteps. Similar to the VOP border operations, Frank and his followers have uploaded videos to YouTube and Facebook showing members stopping, interrogating and collecting the personal details of migrants.

This most recent wave of border vigilantes has reportedly adopted the widespread practice of collecting the personal details of intercepted migrants as well as the details of their U.S.-based relatives in a move to reinforce their savior fantasies of tracking pedophiles and identifying drug trafficking rings, drawing on conspiracies that are rooted in the early days of the QAnon movement.

As of early August, Frank and his followers appear to have retreated from Sasabe, although much of the group’s content and disinformation is still shared online. As the publication The Paper reported in June, Frank has never been shy about his past activities near the border, telling the conspiracy-fueled QAnon podcast “Red Pill 78”: “First off, we grab them, we pray for them, we love on them. In that process of having them here, we have them call their sponsors. And we start that intel, that research. Once we get that information, sometimes we trick them. We tell them we’re sending a care package. We get the address and we tear it up, man.”

Veterans on Patrol was the first border vigilante group to collect the personal details of migrants near the Arizona border with the intent to track migrant children who were placed in the care of U.S.-based sponsors. Meyer’s team carried out the data collection under the guise of running background checks on the children’s sponsors. Both VOP and Frank’s organization push the QAnon belief that the government sends unaccompanied migrant children to the homes of U.S.-based pedophiles and human traffickers. It is unclear how many migrants have interacted with these border vigilantes. Under Meyer, VOP adopted the practice of drafting Spanish questionnaires that were handed out to migrants to facilitate the data collection process. A review of both Meyer’s and Frank’s videos shows neither vigilante leader is able to clearly understand the Spanish language spoken by the large majority of migrants.

During VOP’s time on the border, the group sent out numerous calls to action, with much of their activity dying down only after Meyer abandoned his border operations in the wake of an arrest warrant issued in his name. The warrant was issued after Meyer repeatedly vandalized humanitarian water stations owned and operated by the faith-based humanitarian group Humane Borders. Humane Borders has long been a target of VOP harassment campaigns, with Meyer brazenly documenting and sharing his misdeeds on Telegram.

On the VOP Telegram channel, members reshared baseless accusations alleging humanitarian organizations work for Mexican drug cartels and human traffickers. As a result, Meyer has repeatedly published the private details of humanitarian volunteers and encouraged his followers to harass individuals linked to humanitarian organizations.

Border vigilantes associated with Frank’s group also picked up on this same practice, using Facebook to share images, addresses and license plate numbers of humanitarian workers linked to the group Tucson Samaritans. On their website, the Samaritans describe their organization as a group that provides “emergency medical assistance, food and water to people crossing the Sonoran Desert.”

The Tucson Samaritans are a registered 501(c)3 mission of the Southside Presbyterian Church. Just as VOP targeted Humane Borders for providing humanitarian aid to migrants, Frank and his followers harassed Tucson Samaritans. On Facebook, the Border Angels page has previously targeted Tucson Samaritan volunteers, in one instance even identifying women linked to the group and asking Border Angels’ followers to “tear their asses up.”

Dora Luz Rodriguez and Gail Kocourek
Dora Luz Rodriguez (left) and Gail Kocourek pose at Casa de la Esperanza in Sasabe, Sonora, which they opened so people can wait while applying for asylum in the United States. (Photo courtesy Gail Kocourek)

One Border Angels supporter later commented on the post: “I just saved their names. Will get a shovel in a minute.” A winking emoji and a pickaxe emoji accompanied the supporter’s comment. In a separate incident, Adam Bostick, a Border Angels follower, publicly lambasted two humanitarians, Jane Storey and Gail Kocourek, on his Facebook page.

“Gail and Jane we have been watching and gathering the evidence of you and your charity being set up by the cartel to get drugs in the country. I am accusing you ladies of being drug mules. The evidence is there and it is being handed over to the right people. Better get out now possibly before you have to spend the rest of your lifes [sic] behind bars,” read his post.

In an interview with Hatewatch, Gail Kocourek, who has been with Tucson Samaritans for about a decade and handles education and media for the organization, says she’s had encounters with militia groups over the years but when it came to Frank’s group, “These guys, it was totally different.”

The chase

In late April, Kocourek recounted an incident in which she was giving a film crew a tour of the border when Jason Frank and Zach Moushon, a QAnon conspiracy theorist, began to harass her group. Kocourek said that in an effort to deescalate the situation she and her party left the area only to have the two men scream: “Illegal alien! Illegal alien!”

That day, Kocourek had traveled to Mexico with the documentary crew so they could film her work with the Mexico-based humanitarian organization Casa de la Esperanza. Kocourek believes Frank and Moushon were accusing her of trafficking migrants because some of the film crew was of Latin descent.

Kocourek said that as she tried to leave the area in her Kia Soul, Frank and Moushon used their truck to follow her in what she describes as a high-speed chase in the Arizona desert. In an effort to get some help from authorities, Kocourek said she dialed 911 and notified the operator that border vigilantes were chasing her. A few minutes later, border patrol stopped both vehicles.

To her dismay, when authorities did arrive, Kocourek alleges the border patrol agent appeared to side with the border vigilantes, pressing her on why she had crossed over into Mexico, something she does on a regular basis as part of her humanitarian work. The agent then informed her that someone had called 911 and reported seeing a woman in a Kia Soul illegally picking up migrants. Frank later stated he was the individual who called the authorities to report Kocourek’s group. In phone records reviewed by Hatewatch, Kocourek appears to have called 911 at 6:15 p.m. on April 25.

“I told him [the officer] I made a 911 call too and he didn’t seem to care. He never got my side of the story. He kept laughing the whole time and never did take my report,” Kocourek said as she recounted that day.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not return Hatewatch’s call requesting a comment on this incident.

As the event unfolded, Kocourek’s group filmed it. In a video reviewed by Hatewatch, her frustration becomes apparent as the border patrol agent informs Frank and Moushon they are free to go. After pressing the border patrol agent as to why the two men, who identified as QAnon adherents, were set free, the agent’s only response is “I’m not familiar with QAnon.” As the video comes to an end, Kocourek appears stunned by his response, saying, “How could you not know what QAnon is?”

Later when Kocourek tried to file a report with the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, the department told her to contact the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, which is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Because the event took place in such close proximity to the refuge, Border Patrol put the onus on the wildlife refuge to take down an official statement.

Kocourek said she called the wildlife refuge at least four times but was unable to reach anyone.

When asked how the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge typically handles cases like Kocourek’s, Beth Ullenberg, deputy assistant regional director for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, gave Hatewatch an 800 number and said, “For incidents that take place on refuge lands, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has a reporting and documentation process for suspected, investigatory and violation documentation for crimes committed within the authority, scope and jurisdiction of the agency.”

A history of harassment

The chase in the desert isn’t the only time that border vigilantes have harassed humanitarian workers in Arizona. Laurie Jurs and Barbara Lemmon, two other volunteers with Tucson Samaritans, have expressed similar frustrations in dealing with the wave of QAnon extremists that have coalesced near the border wall. Lemmon said members of Meyer’s VOP group have harassed humanitarian groups and shared posts online doxing volunteers. She stressed that extremists have continuously pushed the idea that they are “saving the children” near openings in the border wall. For Jurs, her primary concern was with the migrant children. She wondered if Frank and his group have legal ground to collect the personal details of intercepted unaccompanied migrant children.

Jane Storey, a retired schoolteacher turned humanitarian, shared similar concerns over the safety of unaccompanied children. Storey, who’s been acting as an independent humanitarian for about three and a half years, said she’s had a number of run-ins with border vigilantes, including Jan. 6 protester Shawna Martin (aka “Butterfly”), who have accused Storey of being a drug mule and of aiding and abetting Mexican cartels.

Jane Storey at border wall
Jane Storey is shown in a video by Veterans on Patrol where they claimed she was helping the cartel traffic children as she was leaving water by the border wall. “This woman (in the pink shirt) got in my face when I got out of my car. Border Patrol just happened to be driving by and I asked them to just witness what she was doing,” Storey said. (Screenshots courtesy Jane Storey)

In one instance, Storey alleged that a VOP volunteer tried to physically block her from leaving water bottles for migrants near the border wall. A video VOP volunteers uploaded to the VOP Telegram channel later confirmed this encounter. Storey said the woman, who wore a hat with the words “Outlaws Against Pedophiles,” accused her of leaving water for Mexican cartels. Storey alleges the VOP volunteer eventually became confrontational, to the point where this unidentified individual slapped a water bottle out of Storey’s hand.

A CBP agent also appears in the video but only observes the heated interaction between the two women. Storey said the negative experience with VOP occurred in winter 2021 and that soon after she also became a target of Frank and his followers.

In a phone interview with Martin of VOP, she confirmed she has previously accused humanitarians of aiding Mexican cartels. Martin is adamant that both Humane Borders and Tucson Samaritans provide aid to criminal networks trafficking children. “It’s way past Samaritans, if they want to give criminals and the cartels freaking water, fine. If you're calling to make sure that the criminals have what they need so they can beat and abuse and traffic children and bring drugs into our country, go ahead. I’m tired of fighting with them,” she said.

Martin went on to allege that the Arizona desert is where child rapes, satanic rituals and beheadings have taken place. When asked if there was evidence she could provide to back up these statements, Martin told Hatewatch, “I’m having trouble, just because of the fact there is so much, it’s overwhelming to come up precisely with something.”

In recounting her interactions with border vigilantes, Storey asserted she wasn’t letting the negative experiences faze her. “I’m doing this because I don’t think immigrants and refugees should suffer or die in the desert,” she said.

Storey says she has gotten into the habit of going out to do humanitarian water drops alone, against the wishes of her family and friends who are concerned for her safety. “We can’t back down. We have to stand up for what we believe in, and they’re just crazy. It’s crazy that people believe what they’re saying. I kind of look at it … we have to stand up for Black and Brown people.”

After her encounters with extremists at the border, Frank’s group began to disseminate images of Storey’s Facebook profile, as well her license plate number and address. Storey said she tried to report the activity to law enforcement, first calling and then reaching out through email, but has not gotten a response from the Pima County Sheriff’s Department. She later tried to inform the FBI but said the agency didn’t offer her much help and advised her to report the social media posts to Facebook and take the issue to her local sheriff’s department.

After more than three years of carrying out humanitarian work, Storey remains undeterred in her mission to provide water to migrants. She confirmed she’s had conversations with individuals who are familiar with her humanitarian missions, reassuring them it’s not the migrants that she fears, but the extremists who target them.

In interviews with humanitarians like Storey and workers from Tucson Samaritans and Humane Borders, the common theme among missionaries is the fear of being approached and having to engage with militia groups.

Storming the Capitol

The activity at the border isn’t the only example of Frank and some of his associates engaging in extremist activity. A review of online content reveals that some members have been associated with perilous far-right events, including the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection and the “Trump Train” vehicle convoy that almost ran the Biden-Harris campaign bus off the road in fall 2020.

Jason Frank and Zach Moushon are two of the members that appear to have ties to the Capitol insurrection. In a Facebook video recorded by Frank, a group of men gathered inside a room to show off what Frank refers to as “flags from the battlefield.”

As one member of the group unraveled the item, Frank celebrated the acquisition of the massive flag, telling one Facebook commentator: “Yeah Scarlett, the Congress Flag. You know we was up there.” It appears there were at least four individuals in the room, with Frank stating the group had at least three giant American flags in their possession.

On Jan. 10, four days after the insurrection, Zach Moushon, a QAnon adherent and later a border vigilante, uploaded a picture of an American flag to his Facebook page alleging he found the item. According to Moushon, supposed “far-left” groups were trampling on the flag and causing chaos in Washington, D.C. In the post, he accused left-leaning groups of infiltrating and agitating the MAGA crowd. Although there has never been any evidence to indicate far-left groups were part of the Capitol insurrection, Moushon doubled down on the idea, pinning the blame for the insurrection on such groups as antifa, Black Lives Matter and Redneck Revolt – a left-wing gun group.

Neither Frank or any of the individuals linked to his group from that day have been arrested or charged for the events of Jan 6.

Moushon’s Facebook profiles share out a steady stream of conspiracies that cover a wide range of topics including QAnon beliefs, pedophilia, chemtrails, Hunter Biden, Hilary Clinton, and anti-vaccine and anti-LGBTQ propaganda. He has established profiles on platforms such as Rumble, the right’s alternative to YouTube, and Truth Social, the platform pioneered by former President Donald Trump.

Although Moushon appears to have left the border, videos that remain on his Facebook profile offer a look into his time intercepting migrants in Sasabe. Additionally, links on his social media accounts continue to promote the Border Angels website, StayInTheLightStayInTheFight. Content on the site merges references to the Christian faith with wild QAnon conspiracy theories such as #pizzagate, adrenochrome harvesting, MK-Ultra and content promoting the idea of a “plandemic.”

Frank and Moushon's website, which shares the name of group’s Telegram channel, offers visitors a three-step program to become familiar with QAnon ideas. Online, the descriptions of Frank and Moushon provide insight into the fringe beliefs that fuel Border Angels’ activities. The QAnon beliefs infused with Christian Rights interpretations of Jesus, God and American exceptionalism create a narrative that the group is engaged in selfless advocacy work on behalf of citizens. In reality, they act on conspiracy theories that target innocent people who do not adhere to their antigovernment beliefs.

Jason Frank and the ‘Trump Train’

A close look at Jason Frank reveals several ties to a number of far-right events going back to the “Trump Train” incident of 2020 in which a group of Trump supporters tried to run the Biden campaign bus off the road in Texas.

In June 2021, four people working for the Biden campaign sued a number of “Trump Train” organizers alleging their bus was attacked by Trump supporters in “a politically-motivated conspiracy to disrupt the [Biden] campaign and intimidate its supporters.”

Although Frank was not a defendant in the case and there is no evidence he physically participated in that encounter, the suit named him as one of the leaders of the New Braunfels “Trump Train” group. On Facebook, Frank had apparently encouraged his followers to “go get that Biden bus” and later took to Twitter to celebrate the actions of “Trump Train” agitators.

Other individuals that have been affiliated with the group include Adam Bostick, Joel Hayes Smith (aka Raj Habid), Jennifer Oko, Zach Moushon and Justin Andersch. In May, The New York Times also reported that Frank had involved his adolescent son in his vigilante work along the border.

On July 12, the Border Angels Telegram channel announced the death of Andersch, a small-time far-right provocateur based out of Nevada. Andersch gained notoriety after he ambushed and verbally attacked the Democratic governor of Nevada, Steve Sisolak, and his wife, Kathy Sisolak, outside a Las Vegas restaurant in February. In the video, Andersch is seen hurling antigovernment allegations and accusing the governor of being a “New World Order traitor piece of shit.” The video, which went viral, threw Andersch into the spotlight after he accosted and threatened Sisolak with the help of an accomplice. According to news reports, Andersch died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on July 10.

As of August 2022, most of the vigilante groups seem to have retreated from the border, with the exception of border vigilante Adam Bostick, who makes periodic visits to film content for his social media accounts. Although border operations appear to have calmed down, both Meyer and Frank still maintain presences online to solicit donations from their followers.

The conspiracy business

Buried under antigovernment and anti-immigrant narratives, border vigilantes have an incentive to keep peddling wild conspiracies as they plead for donations from their right-wing supporters. In the case of Frank, his group’s website links viewers to a number of external donation platforms where users can donate to help fund their QAnon-fueled activities. Of the three financial platforms linked on the group’s site, only Venmo and Cash App were active at the time of the writing. Unlike VOP, the site advertising Frank and Moushon’s work appears to accept monetary donations.

As for VOP, the group has a history of publicly trying to discourage their base from sending cash or checks, instead opting to ask their followers for specific items. These requests have included items such as batteries, cameras, drones, clothing and even ammunition. The self-imposed rule around turning down monetary donations seems to have changed earlier this year, when Meyer began to circulate a PayPal donation page where followers could support his missions. Although PayPal has publicly touted its efforts to deplatform extremists from its services, VOP has a donation page on one of the most popular and widely used monetary transaction sites on the internet.

When pressed about how the company typically handles accounts tied to extremists the company told Hatewatch they would review the account belonging to Michael “Lewis Arthur” Meyer and take appropriate action. As of early August 2022 the account remained active, facilitating at least some of the funding for Meyer’s extreme activities. PayPal did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

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