The Arizona-Mexico border fence near Naco, Ariz., March 29, 2013.
Samantha Sais/Reuters

Arizona incident highlights dangers of militiamen

Imagine you’re a scientist conducting research on public land in the United States. Then imagine armed men coming at you, shouting, because they’re not sure about your citizenship status.
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.
The militiamen – who are not law enforcement and have no more legal authority than any other citizen – were reportedly “riding ATVs, wearing camouflage and brandishing weapons when they came upon the group of scientists.”
 
In this case, the scientists made clear they were not smugglers or undocumented immigrants, and the initial confrontation ended. But the militiamen apparently approached the researchers again at their campsite, and as Juan Gastelum’s report noted, an “aggressive” argument ensued.
 
The CBS affiliate in Tucson talked to Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada said of the militiamen, “We really don’t want them here…. Things could have gone terribly wrong. 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.”
 
That last point, about the potential for someone getting hurt, seems especially noteworthy, because it seems like stories like these keep popping up.
 
My colleague Tricia McKinney recently flagged this AP report out of Texas from just last month,
On a recent moonlit night, Border Patrol agents began rounding up eight immigrants hiding in and around a canal near the Rio Grande. A state trooper soon arrived to help. Then out of the darkness emerged seven more armed men in fatigues.
 
Agents assumed the camouflaged crew that joined in pulling the immigrants from the canal’s milky green waters was a tactical unit from the Texas Department of Public Safety. Only later did they learn that the men belonged to the Texas Militia, a group that dresses like a SWAT team and carries weapons but has no law-enforcement training or authority of any kind.
 
The situation ended peacefully with the immigrants getting arrested and the Border Patrol advising the militia members “to properly and promptly” identify themselves anytime they encounter law-enforcement officers. But the episode was unsettling enough for the Border Patrol to circulate an “issue paper” warning other agents.
This report ran just 12 days later.
A border patrol agent fired several shots at an armed militia member while chasing a group of immigrants Friday near Brownsville, Texas.
 
Border Patrol Spokesman Omar Zamora told the Associated Press that agents were pursuing a group of immigrants when one agent spotted a man holding a gun near the Rio Grande. The agent fired four shots but did not hit the man, Zamora said. The man then dropped his weapon and identified himself as a militia member.
We’re talking about areas where local conditions can already be difficult. Somehow, it seems adding well-armed, untrained militia members to the mix is a bad idea.
 

Arizona, Militias and Texas

Arizona incident highlights dangers of militiamen