“Members of vigilante groups don’t have the same kind of training that law enforcement do: Training in de-escalation, training in civil rights violations,” she said, adding that militia members questioning child migrants “is really concerning, particularly because interacting with children requires special training. A child in government custody, a member of the public normally can’t interact with them, let alone ask deeply personal questions.”
Only law enforcement can legally detain migrants. In videos posted online, Patriots for America members can be seen stopping migrants. Hall said they ask migrants whether they have weapons to ensure they’re unarmed. He insists the militia doesn’t detain migrants, that they ask rather than tell migrants to stop and then alert law enforcement.
“We’re not a white supremacist group whatsoever and furthermore, we condemn any rhetoric of white supremacy or hate,” he said in response to the ACLU of Texas complaints.
Based in part on their videos, Patriots for America was designated an antigovernment organization by the Southern Poverty Law Center, said Freddy Cruz, an SPLC research analyst who tracks extremists.
“Patriots for America is an organization that has pretty openly claimed that there’s an invasion taking place at the border,” Cruz said. “But they also place the blame on federal, sometimes state, institutions… they claim the Biden administration is funneling in migrants so they can change the demographics of Texas and essentially get more blue voters. And it’s all based on wild conspiracy theories that we saw come out of the Trump years, where a lot of these groups believe that the election was rigged.”
Like other border militias, he said, Patriots for America films their interactions with migrants to fuel their narrative, providing little or no Spanish translation.
“It all plays into the propaganda that they’re engaged in producing because it helps bring in followers, but it also helps bring in donations,” he said.
What sets Patriots for America apart from other border militias, like those fueled by QAnon theories in Arizona that drew rebukes from migrant advocacy groups in recent weeks for confronting migrants, is how well-organized they’ve become under Hall, Cruz said, raising nearly $15,000 via a Christian crowdfunding site and aligning themselves with local government, including local sheriffs like Kinney County Sheriff Brad Coe.
“Why hasn’t the Department of Homeland Security done anything about it? Why hasn’t Border Patrol done anything about it?” Cruz said. “Sheriff’s departments seem to be either ignoring or don’t seem to be concerned with vigilantes essentially running around the border detaining and intercepting people.”
Hall denied the SPLC claim that his militia is antigovernment. “We’re anti-corrupt government,” he said.
Last fall, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) commanders told troopers to steer clear of the militia. But Hall said they have since met with a commander and improved their relationship.
“Militias working along the Texas border have been informed to contact the U.S. Border Patrol upon encountering illegal immigrants. If USBP is unable to respond, the militia can then contact the local sheriff’s office in south Texas for assistance. The sheriff’s office can request DPS assistance if needed, and DPS will aid as available,” DPS said in a statement.
As Hall was walking near the Rio Grande with fellow militia members last month, they ran into an off-duty Border Patrol agent.
“Minutemen or…” he asked, referring to armed groups that patrolled the border years ago. No, Hall told him, they’re a militia based in Texas.
“Even better,” the agent said.
He showed them a night-vision video on his cellphone. Filmed from the U.S. riverbank, he said the video showed a smuggler on the Mexican bank separating a woman from a group of migrants and raping her. The following week, the agent said, a 16-year-old migrant girl he detained told him she had been raped by the same smuggler. The agent, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak, said he alerted Mexican authorities, but the smuggler was never caught.