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Border Battle in Context: Border Calls to Action Are Dangerous to Migrants, Federal Agents and Communities

A recent call to action issued by the antigovernment group United Patriot Party of North Carolina (UPP NC) invited Americans to become border vigilantes alongside them in Eagle Pass, Texas. Such rhetoric has the potential to facilitate a violent attack on migrants and border patrol agents.

This dynamic is not new. The UPP NC event, called “Operation Hold the Line,” was a product of the anti-immigrant environment produced by the xenophobic posturing of hate groups and politicians, and the controversial impeachment of Alejandro Mayorkas, the first Latinx and immigrant to lead the Department of Homeland Security. UPP NC’s call to action was issued in January and invited people to “join fellow patriots as we do the work of closing our borders.” People were invited to meet UPP, camp and operate from a private property in Eagle Pass, Texas, from Jan. 20-28.

Eagle Pass has been the epicenter of a fight between the Biden administration’s federal homeland security and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has been attempting to assert state supremacy over the border.

Convoy truck
A semi-truck follows the “Take Our Border Back” convoy on Feb. 2, 2024, in Dripping Springs, Texas. (Photo by Michael Nigro/Sipa via AP Images)

The trip to Eagle Pass by UPP NC and their entourage ended earlier than expected due to some “pushback from the Feds,” according to UPP NC member Greg Gibson, who acts as the mouthpiece for the group. Although brief, their stint was extremely problematic, as reported by the Texas Observer.

The group was stopped by troopers from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) while on a trip to the border with local right-wing tour guides Celeste April Sparks and Jerry J. Pena-Ahuyon. DPS arrived amid concerns shared by an FBI surveillance plane that the group was allegedly holding migrants at gunpoint. One participant, Jeremy Allred, previously convicted of domestic assault, had multiple weapons in his possession and admitted to brandishing a firearm. Pena-Ahuyon, who was also armed, and Sparks were arrested for drug possession.

Dealing with this incident required use of law enforcement resources, while vigilantes patrolling the border created a potentially unsafe environment for migrants.

But the dangerous situation at the border could have been worse. Paul Faye of Cunningham, Tennessee, planned to answer UPP NC’s call to action and join them on their sojourn to the border. However, he was derailed by his arrest on Jan. 11 for possessing, selling or transferring an unregistered firearm. According to the criminal complaint against him, Faye intended to bring “explosive devices to the border without law enforcement detection” and “conduct acts of violence.”

Faye shared his antigovernment and anti-immigrant beliefs with undercover agents investigating him. Faye believed the federal government had plans to “take on its citizens” and let migrants into the country as part of a sinister conspiracy. “We are being invaded,” he said.

The exact details of Faye’s plan, beyond his intent to travel to Eagle Pass with UPP NC and bring explosives, are unknown, but the arrest of militia members Jonathan S. O’Dell and Bryan C. Perry in 2022 may shed some light on the possibilities. Faye’s charging document states that he communicated extensively with Perry and hoped to travel to the border with him and others to commit acts of violence.

Faye’s plan did not come to fruition, because O’Dell and Perry were arrested on Oct. 7, 2022, for planning a border massacre and were later indicted on 44 criminal counts. This included charges stemming from their attempts to shoot the law enforcement officers who took them into custody.

O’Dell and Perry were described in the indictment as men with grievances against the government who attempted to recruit members in 2021 and spent 2022 amassing firearms and body armor.

In September 2022, Perry announced on TikTok that he believed the border patrol was committing treason by “allowing” migrants into America. He announced the punishment for treason was death and declared that he was “ready to go to war against this government.” Perry said his group was “gonna go protect our country” and “shoot to kill.”

Around the same time, Perry told a recruit that the group would be going to the U.S.-Mexico border and shared details with another individual, explaining that they would be shooting people who crossed the border, along with “federal agents” who resisted them.

On Oct. 3, 2022, Perry shared on TikTok that the group would be there on Oct. 8, and that they were “taking their full kits” and “were going out huntin’.”

According to the indictment, Perry and O’Dell planned to recruit more people in Texas, head to Eagle Pass, and “go to war.” By the week of their trip, the men had stockpiled six firearms, over 1,000 rounds of ammunition, gas masks, body armor, ballistic helmets, handheld radios and an explosive mixture.

Both men were arrested by FBI agents on Oct. 7, 2022, but not without resistance. Perry and O’Dell are accused of shooting at FBI agents at least 11 times. As a result, they were charged with assault with a deadly weapon and attempted murder of FBI special agents. They were also charged with using a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence and damaging federal property for spraying a federal car with bullets. The cases are ongoing, with a joint criminal trial set for Oct. 21.

Perry and O’Dell’s arrests made them unable to travel to the border with Faye, who attempted to further his violent antigovernment, anti-immigrant agenda using UPP NC’s call to action as his new opportunity. Faye was in contact with at least one member of the group and planned to head down to the border with them and fulfill his plan.

The UPP NC’s call to action around the border isn’t the only time such a call by extremist groups has created conditions for violence. It has been happening for a quarter century or more.

In 2000, the border vigilante group Ranch Rescue put out a press release calling on extremists to “help ranchers on the Arizona / Mexico border cope with the damage to their property caused by thousands of criminal trespassers.” Casey James Nethercott answered this call to action, participating in operations with the group.

While patrolling a Texas ranch, Nethercott and another member, Henry Conner Jr., detained two migrants and assaulted one with a pistol. The men were charged with unlawful restraint and aggravated assault. The migrants would later file suit against Nethercott with the help of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Nethercott’s property was deeded to his victims, and Nethercott and John “Jack” Foote, Ranch Rescue’s leader, owed $1 million in judgments.

Nethercott was back at it four years later. While leading the Arizona Guard vigilante group armed volunteers to “help local ranchers and citizens defend property from illegal alien activity and drug running operations.” Nethercott threatened a shootout with border patrol that earned him an arrest warrant. During his arrest, Nethercott’s fellow member, neo-Nazi Kalen Robert Riddle, was shot at the scene, receiving a non-fatal injury.

In 2005, a border vigilante group called the Minuteman Project was started, and it began patrolling the border on April 1, 2005. Calls to attend the Project’s activities were highly promoted. Neo-Nazis helped dispense flyers, and one website labeled the Minuteman Project “a call for action on part of ALL ARYAN SOLDIERS.”

Shawna Forde
This June 12, 2009 photo shows Shawna Forde, center, escorted in Tucson, Arizona, by Pima County authorities. (AP Photo/Arizona Daily Star, Jamar Younger)

Shawna Forde was one of many who heeded the call to join the Project. In 2006, Forde began border watch operations with the group, organized rallies and made city council presentations. Minutemen Project leader Jim Gilchrist called Forde “a stoic struggler who has chosen to put country, community and a yearning for a civilized society ahead of avarice and self-glorifying ego.”

By 2009, Forde had started her own vigilante group, the Minutemen American Defense Group. She sought to fund her group by invading the home of Raul “Junior” Flores in Arivaca, Arizona, on May 30. Forde believed Flores was a drug trafficker. She planned to steal drugs and money she thought would be in his possession. During the invasion, Flores and his nine-year-old daughter Brisenia Flores were shot and killed. In 2011, Forde was sentenced to death for her crimes.

In 2018, United Constitutional Patriots (UCP) and other nativist and militia groups put out a call to action for Americans to join then on the southern border. In 2019, a UCP recruit they referred to as Wyatt was vetted by the group and cleared to be part of their border operations. But prior to joining them, during an Apr. 8, 2019, podcast, Wyatt made comments that got him uninvited by the group.

UCP’s leader, Johnny Horton Jr., aka Larry Hopkins, responded to Wyatt’s words on air, saying: “You are a loose cannon. We are not down there to create a war. We are not going to start an international incident that is worse.” Then Hopkins told the audience, “That guy is scary, so we'll leave it at that.”

Just two weeks later, on April 24, 2019, Armando Delgado Gonzales joined UCP on the border. While in their company, he is alleged to have observed migrants crossing the border, handed his handgun to a UCP member, run to his car to retrieve an assault rifle, and returned to the group. According to a report from the Sunland Park Police Department, he then asked, “Why are we just apprehending them and not lining them up and shooting them?” He also stated, “We have to go back to Hitler days and put them all in a gas chamber,” according to a UCP member who says he asked Gonzales to leave and reported him to authorities. Gonzales denied making the claims.

Faye’s plans for UPP’s “Hold the Line” operation could have endangered border patrol, migrants and community members. Members of the Take Our Border Back convoy made threats to a Texas migrant processing center that included burning it down and killing the migrants inside.

What is often framed by border vigilantes as nonviolent, “patriotic” or benign border activities have a clear history of creating violent, sometimes deadly, consequences.

Raul Flores Jr. and his daughter Brisenia Ylianna Flores
Raul Flores Jr. and his daughter, nine-year-old Brisenia Ylianna Flores, who were murdered during a home invasion in Arivaca, Arizona. The perpetrators were Shawna Forde, Jason Eugene Bush and Albert Gaxiola, all members of Forde's vigilante nativist group, Minutemen American Defense (MAD). (Family photo)

Victims of these extremist incidents pay the price along with communities that are left in fear and left to pick up the pieces.

As one juror shared after Shawna Forde’s sentencing, alluding to the Forde’s victims Junior and Brisenia Flores, “While Shawna Forde gets to delight in the picture of her brand new grandson, there’s another person in this equation who never will. There’s another person in this equation who’ll never get to wear her first pair of high heels or have her first kiss or go to prom or graduation. There’s a little girl in this equation whose father won't be able to walk her down the aisle.”

Photo illustration by SPLC

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