Why Grown-Ups Shouldn’t Play Army Soldier

Ah, Arizona!

I think back when I was a little kid, I did what little kids did—played war ’til I didn’t want to play no more. Hey, and that’s when love stepped in, changed everything again.

Styx

The problem with playing Army soldier is that playing Army soldier is a child’s game. Or, for some people, it is apparently an act of patriotism, because nothing says, “America!” like threatening a bunch of scientists because you’re too stupid to konw what is actually going on while you tromp around in the dark, looking for someone to threaten, pretending you’re some sort of soldier.

Or maybe we just call it responsible gun ownership. After all, what’s the point of owning a gun if you don’t have anyone to threaten?

Three scientists who were studying bats in a cave near the U.S.-Mexico border in southern Arizona were confronted by heavily armed militiamen who mistook them for illegal border-crossers or smugglers . . . .

. . . . The Arizona researchers reportedly told a sheriff’s deputy they were walking back to their campsite on Aug. 23 when a group of men who later identified themselves as a militia group shone a spotlight and started shouting at them in Spanish, the Nogales International reported.

Juan Gastelum’s report for Buzzfeed notes that this is but the latest in a string of incidents in which “patriotic” zealots playing soldier along the border have mucked things up, including one incident in which militia members passed themselves off as Texas police.

Christopher Sherman of Associated Press offers more details on that incident, including recollection of an Arizona situation in which an Arizona Minuteman pointed his rifle at a sheriff’s deputy, believing him a drug runner. That situation was so unnerving that even Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio offered a warning about the “chaos” that may come with “private citizens dressed just like our deputies taking the law into their own hands”.

And while the controversial sheriff might have seemed caught up in his own tough talk when he suggested such situations might end up with “some dead militia out there”, this is one time we ought to take Sheriff Swagger at his word. Associated Press reported last month on an incident near Brownsville, Texas:

A Border Patrol agent pursuing a group of immigrants in a wooded area near the Texas-Mexico border on Friday fired several shots at an armed man who later identified himself as a militia member.

Border Patrol spokesman Omar Zamora said agents had been chasing a group of immigrants east of Brownsville Friday afternoon when an agent saw a man holding a gun near the Rio Grande.

The agent fired four shots, but did not hit the man. The man then dropped his gun and identified himself as a member of a militia. Zamora said no other details were immediately available.

And while that situation resolved without an arrest, it doesn’t really matter if you’re on private property or not when law enforcement in pursuit of suspects come across a man “wearing camouflage and carrying a long arm”.

Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio said, “We really don’t need the militia here.” The sentiment was also echoed after the scientists were accosted, with Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada explaining, “We really don’t want them here.” Additionally, as Barbara Grijalva reported:

It can be a problem for them. It can be a problem for the people, just like in this particular case. Things could have gone terribly wrong,” Estrada says. “They really don’t accomplish anything. They really don’t. With about 1,000 Border Patrol Agents here in Santa Cruz County, a little group of any militiamen are not going to make any difference at all. As a matter of fact, they’re going to get in the way and they could get hurt. Or they could hurt somebody else.”

It seems, before the militiamen realized what was going on, they had called Border Patrol agents who then traveled across the area, merely to encounter people studying bats.

In response to our request for comment, U.S. Customs and Border Protection sent us a written statement regarding the incident:

“On August 23, at approximately 10 p.m., Tucson Sector agents received a phone call from a member of a militia group reporting suspicious activity in the area of Sonoita, Arizona. Sonoita station agents responded and encountered a small group of biologists studying bats.

CBP does not endorse or support any private group or organization to take border security matters into their own hands as it could have disastrous personal and public safety consequences. CBP strongly encourages concerned citizens to call the U.S. Border Patrol and/or local law enforcement authorities if they witness or suspect illegal activity.

Securing our nation’s borders can be dangerous. Interdicting narcotics and deterring and apprehending individuals illegally entering the United States requires highly-trained, law enforcement personnel. In all cases, individuals should not attempt to detain, provide transportation or any other assistance to migrants that may be viewed as furtherance of illegal entry. Detaining or assisting an undocumented migrant could result in prosecution.”

Sheriff Estrada says anyone who is confronted by border militiamen should call local authorities and report it.

The Land of the Free? Well, people are always grumbling about that. The Home of the Brave? I don’t know, depends on who you ask, and what they call brave.

____________________

Gastelum, Juan E. “Shotgun-Wielding Militiamen Mistake Bat Researchers For Illegal Border Crossers”. Buzzfeed. 2 September 2014.

Sherman, Christopher. “Militias complicate situation on Texas border”. Yahoo! News. 18 August 2014.

Associated Press. “Border Patrol Agent Fires at Armed Militia Member”. NBC Dallas-Fort Worth. 30 August 2014.

Grijalva, Barbara. “Armed border militia confronts conservationists counting bats”. Tuscon News Now. 2 September 2014.

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