"On State Website, Calls for Vigilante Justice" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Texans advocating extreme solutions to secure the border — including land mines and booby traps on Texas farmland along the Rio Grande — have a new forum to share their views: a website operated by the Texas Department of Agriculture.
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples launched protectyourtexasborder.com last week to allow ranchers and farmers living on or close to the border to share stories, pictures and videos that document their daily struggles with drug cartels and undocumented immigrants. Staples said the purpose of the site, which can be accessed from the agriculture department’s web page, is to give the producers of the nation's food and livestock a portal to pressure the federal government to pay closer attention to their security.
But they're not just sharing their stories. A message board where site visitors can register, log in and post their proposed solutions includes calls to violence.
User jcarrott suggests: “The most well known fighters of our Revolutionary war were not trained, they used hide and shot tactics that would work great today… If we — Americans — start shooting the bad guys, they will get the message!"
2$Bill offers methods like "watch groups, community patrols, land mines, tiger traps and roving packs of rabid [weasels]."
BTKKilla is more succinct, advising: “Killem all!!!! They are destroying or great country.”
Agriculture Department spokesman Bryan Black said the message board is there to “offer transparent, open debate and positive suggestions." But he acknowledged that hateful language and talk of vigilante justice is unacceptable, and said the department is working to delete those posts. Black pointed to a site disclaimer noting that comments from readers are “in no way intended to represent the views of the Texas Department of Agriculture, Commissioner Staples or TDA staff.”
But some federal lawmakers are still uneasy. U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, called the site nothing more than a propaganda campaign that contradicts what crime statistics reflect about the Texas border. "The website leaves the impression that Texas border communities are dangerous, when, in fact, cities such as El Paso, McAllen, and Brownsville are safer than most other cities in Texas, including Austin,” he said. “Our state is facing a $27 billion budget crisis, and our state leaders are wasting scarce tax dollars to support a platform that portrays rural Texas like rural Afghanistan.”
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, whose district encompasses a huge swath of South Texas from Laredo to the Rio Grande Valley, said Republicans in Texas should take their concerns to Republicans in Washington. The current budget proposed by the GOP-controlled U.S. Congress eliminates $350 million in funding for border security, fencing, infrastructure and technology, he said, and cuts roughly 870 positions. “I am not going to deny that" the border needs to be secured, he said, "but to paint it the way they are painting it, they are painting one extreme position."
The website isn't all comments. It includes such features as a night-vision video of a police chase that ends when a car plunges into the river, and an interview with a Texas Ranger, Arthur Barrera, who backs up the claims that the region is under siege. “Tractor operators are being accosted by these guys, threatening them,” he says in the video. “They fear for their lives, they have family. We are in a war and I am not going to sugarcoat it by any means. We are in a war, and it is what it is.”
In a separate video clip, former farmer Joe Aguilar explains why he decided to leave his life's work. “When you see Mexican soldiers on your side of the border, on your property, twice, I think that’s when I called it [quits],” he says. “It’s not a good feeling, I mean, if you’ve been doing something all your life, and you have to change from there. Now I am behind a desk. My hands are so slick, and I am not used to that.”
A spokesman from Grupo Savant, a security and intelligence consulting firm based in Washington, D.C., said the threats to farmers and ranchers are real, but that they're not being directly targeted. They're at risk simply because of their proximity to the border. “The threat comes from smugglers and crossers that operate on both sides of the border as they bring their drugs or human cargoes across to the U.S.,” the agency said in a statement. Grupo Savant recommends that farmers and ranchers "be armed for self-defense purposes, especially if living or working on the actual border.”
Staples likens the cartels to terrorists. In a statement on the site, he suggests that the federal government has sent thousands of troops to foreign lands for the war on terror while not doing enough to address the "growing threat here at home." According to Staples’ office, Texas’ border counties produce a combined 1,200 million pounds of grapefruit, oranges, cabbage, onions, potatoes, cantaloupes, honeydew melons and watermelons a year. They are also responsible for more than 332,000 head of cattle that produce about 250 million pounds of beef annually.
Black, the Agriculture Department spokesman, said the safety of American citizens on their own land is not something up for debate. “The federal government has a duty to protect its citizens and secure the United States border, and in Texas, that duty is not adequately being fulfilled,” he said.
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