“Ask them where did they find the kids if they’re not with their parents?” he said to militia member Shawn Tredway, who was acting as his translator.
The Nicaraguan woman, Jania Barantes, 40, tried to explain what had happened as militia members distributed water and snacks. Barrantes said the girl was Honduran. She and her 12-year-old sister had traveled to the border without adults, then joined the rest of the migrants at a smuggler’s house before crossing the river. The girls were headed to join their grandparents in Los Angeles.
“So they’re smuggling these kids?” Hall said.
Patriots for America is a conservative, Christian militia trying to stop human trafficking and drug cartels on the border. Based in North Texas, they’ve been patrolling in monthly weeklong rotations, consolidating support among law enforcement in South Texas.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas maintains Patriots for America is a racist group that has been patrolling without adequate training, detaining, questioning and intimidating migrants, who often assume they are law enforcement. In two complaints this year, most recently last month, the ACLU of Texas called on the Justice Department to investigate.
“The state National Guard’s willingness to work with and alongside a virulently white-supremacist group that built its reputation through protesting Black Lives Matter and the removal of a Confederate statue is particularly alarming,” the latest complaint said.
The militia initially faced some resistance from state troopers and local lawmakers. But they have since expanded their rotations to three border counties, and plan to deploy even more members this month in case the Biden administration lifts a pandemic rule, Title 42, allowing migrants to claim asylum and enter the U.S. Last month, a judge temporarily blocked the administration from lifting the rule as planned May 23. If they did, officials estimate potentially 18,000 migrants could arrive at the border daily, mostly in South Texas.
Hall, 40, is a father of five who attended Bible college and volunteered as a missionary in Kenya, Uganda and Jamaica. He worked in finance and as a car salesman before founding Patriots for America to help protect conservative protesters in 2015. They patrolled at Black Lives Matter protests, including when North Texas lawmakers considered removing a Confederate statue. But Hall insists the militia is not racist.
“We’re number one a faith-based organization. We’re Christ-centered,” Hall said while riding down to the Rio Grande to patrol last month.
“Whether you’re white, Black, Mexican or whatever, as long as you’re a Constitutionalist and you believe in our Constitution — you believe in our founding fathers and the foundation that this country was set upon — and you’ll defend that Constitution, that’s what we see,” he said. “… We’re a peaceful organization. Granted, if someone tries to hurt us, we’re going to defend our lives. But we hope to God that we’re never in that situation where we’re forced to do so.”
Like other members of the militia, Hall is a Donald Trump supporter frustrated by Biden, whom he considers incompetent.
“Their plan is to flood our nation with illegal immigrants in hopes that they vote in 2024. And that’s how they’re going to hold on to power,” he said.
He’s also frustrated by Republicans like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, faulting his Operation Lone Star deployment of more than 10,000 state law enforcement and National Guard troops to the border at an annual cost of $2 billion. During a patrol, Hall pointed to shipping containers state forces had placed along the riverbank and the state-funded 10-foot-tall chain link border fence.
“It’s not stopping anything,” Hall said.
Militia members patrol the river at various times of day, scrambling down the banks to trace migrant trails through bamboo-thick stands of Carrizo cane. They carry night vision binoculars, radios, wear ear pieces, use code names and law enforcement jargon when communicating with one another. They refer to National Guard as “NG,” Border Patrol as “BP” and “IAs,” which stands for “illegal aliens” — their term for migrants.
One night last month, they tried to stop a migrant they’d spotted crossing the river illegally.
“Dark clothes. I looked right at his face,” Hall said as he shined his flashlight into thick brush between the river and the state fence along the river strung with concertina wire.
“He had already crossed the river. I went down there and saw where his tracks had come up,” said Tredway.
They gave up and returned to their vehicles.
“God, that guy’s fast,” Hall said. “Like a gazelle.”