Armed militia faces off with bat-counting biologists at US-Mexico border
Heavily armed members of an American militia patrolling the southwestern US border confronted a group of people in Arizona on Friday, believing them to be drug smugglers or illegal immigrants. They were, in fact, biologists researching bats.
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A small group of conservationists were working in the Gardner Canyon area near Sonoita, Arizona late on August 23. They were conducting a wildlife survey of bats in an area close to where people camp, hike, and hunt, Tucson News Now reported.
As the three biologists walked back to their campsite that night, a group of men shined a spotlight on them. The men had arrived on all-terrain vehicles, heavily armed and wearing camouflage. They began shouting at the scientists in Spanish, and identified themselves as a militia group protecting the US-Mexico border, Nogales International reported. The scientists identified themselves and continued to walk to their campsite “while seeking cover,” according to the deputy’s report.
But the militiamen followed the three back to their campsite, and again approached them.
"Obviously, they mistook them for smugglers or illegal entrants," Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada told TNN. "They were armed. They put a spotlight on them."
The armed group is believed to have come from Colorado. Their self-assigned task was that of patrolling the border due to an influx of children and families crossing into the country illegally.
Upon confronting the scientists, the militia called the US Customs and Border Control. Agents arrived at the scene to discover the bat-counting biologists.
Some politicians and sheriff’s departments in border areas have welcomed help from militias. At the beginning of August, state Rep. Doug Miller, a Texas Republican, credited the militias with deterring immigrants and cartel members. He also praised the 1,000 National Guard troops that Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) activated in July to join the state’s Department of Public Safety in an effort to combat human smuggling across the country’s southern border.
But Estrada disagreed with Miller’s assessment, and said the groups are not welcome in Santa Cruz County.
"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."
"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 added. "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."
The federal government has also come out against the addition of militias along the border.
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“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,” the agency said in a statement to TNN regarding the incident. “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,” the statement continued. “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."
One militia member apologized to the conservationists at the campsite, who were not placated, according to the sheriff. The group later filed a police report, describing the encounter as “aggressive,” but added that they weren’t directly threatened by the group, according to Nogales International.
"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," Estrada said.
Neither the Border Patrol nor Sheriff’s Office provided details about the militiamen, other than their alleged Colorado origin. The researchers were not identified, although Sesame Street’s Count von Count was not believed to be among the three bat-counting biologists.