Gun-toting border militia terrifies smugglers — who turn out to be bat-counting biologists
A group of heavily-armed militia surrounded and confronted a group of people near the U.S.-Mexico border who they thought were illegal migrants or smugglers, but who turned out to be a group of conservationists conducting a wildlife population survey.
According to Tucson News Now, the standoff took place on the night of Aug. 23 in Gardner Canyon area near Sonoita, Arizona, where members of a small group of biologists were counting bats.
Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada told TNN that the militia men — who are civilian volunteers and not actual federal border patrol agents — were riding ATVs, wearing camouflage and brandishing weapons when they came upon the group of scientists.
“Obviously, they mistook them for smugglers or illegal entrants,” said Estrada. “They were armed. They put a spotlight on them.”
The group of conservationists filed a formal complaint with the sheriff’s department about the confrontation, which very well could have ended in violence.
Estrada said that one of the border militia apologized to the angry and frightened scientists, but they “weren’t having any of it.”
“Of course, they weren’t very receptive about the apology. They actually told them that’s something you should not be doing. There’s danger out there. There’s other groups of people in campsites,” he explained.
Gardner Canyon is a popular spot for camping and hiking and people are often there at night, said the biologists. The militia are needlessly putting people’s lives at risk, they said.
Estrada was careful to stipulate that the sheriff’s department did not invite the armed men to patrol the border and that law enforcement personnel consider them to be a nuisance.
“These people that are completely out of their environment. They really don’t know the area. They don’t know the terrain. They have little knowledge of the dynamics of the border. So it can be a real problem,” he said. “We really don’t want them here.”
Nonetheless, indignation among U.S. nativists and other conservatives about the recent influx of unaccompanied minors arriving at the border has sent new waves of self-appointed guardians to the U.S. border, often packing high-powered weapons. The militia group in this incident was composed of out-of-towners who live in Colorado.
“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,” explained Estrada. “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.”
As they rushed to confront the bat-counting scientists, the militiamen called Border Patrol agents to the area, pulling them off of areas that actually need surveillance, thereby compromising security efforts.
Estrada urged anyone who is confronted by volunteer border militia to report the matter to local authorities as soon as they are able.
The official U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency issued a statement about the incident that read, in part, “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,” the statement continued, “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.”
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[image of Sheriff Tony Estrada via screencap.jpg]