A heavily armed militia group joined Texas police who were providing security during a peaceful protest at a public event for Gov. Greg Abbott.
The Republican governor met Saturday morning with supporters at a McAllen barbecue restaurant a day after announcing his re-election campaign, and his appearance drew a handful of civil rights groups protesting Abbott’s immigration policies, reported the Rio Grande Guardian.
Those groups, including La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), were protesting a bill Abbott signed in May requiring local law enforcement to comply with federal immigration authorities and allow police to ask for the immigration status of individuals they detain, and impose misdemeanor penalties for local officials who don’t cooperate.
The protests also drew the attention of the Texas State Militia, a private group that has patrolled the state’s border with Mexico.
Militia members wore camouflage fatigues and openly carried military-style rifles, as they stood by with McAllen police observing the peaceful protest.
The Guardian reported that militia members spoke casually to the protesters, but one of the demonstrators said their presence was alarming.
“There really was no need for semi-automatic weapons and the Texas Militia,” said Danny Diaz, a community organizer for LUPE and a school counselor. “It was just teachers, students, children, immigrants and people who care for human rights outside his event peacefully protesting. I guess he thinks (Abbott) needs this type of security in this ‘third world country’ that he so refers the (Rio Grande Valley) as. This type of intimidation tactic was way out of line.”
A man who identified himself as the commander of the militia’s Beaumont unit told the Houston Chronicle in August 2015 that group members swear an oath to “protect and defend the constitution against all enemies, domestic or abroad.”
The commander, who declined to give his name, told the newspaper that militia members perform community service and provide disaster aid and firearms training.
The Texas State Militia has dozens of units around the state, and most members come from military and law enforcement backgrounds and all must undergo a background check, the commander said.
“There are many different organization, ours is just one of them. There are certain fringe groups that we don’t associate with,” he told the Chronicle. “We want to take the stigma off of militias. We’re not terrorists; we’re not a racial group.”
The Texas State Militia is a private organization, unlike the Texas State Guard directed by Abbott in April 2015 to monitor the military’s Jade Helm 15 training operation that provoked fears of a federal takeover under President Barack Obama.