The leader of an armed militia mobilizing to deploy along the Southwest border has drawn criticism for a YouTube video in which he appears to advise members to confront and intimidate those caught crossing the border illegally.
"You see an illegal. You point your gun dead at him, right between his eyes, and you say, 'Get back across the border or you will be shot,'" Chris Davis says in the 21-minute video posted on his YouTube channel.
“We’re here to supplement and be where law enforcement is not and help them support the border,” Davis told the Los Angeles Times on Monday. “There’s nothing malicious, there’s no malicious intent — every person is vetted. We’re just here to serve freedom, liberty and national sovereignty.”
Texas is home to various militia groups, some of which patrol in tandem with law enforcement.
Davis, 37, described himself on Facebook as a truck driver who trained to be a police officer, and who served in the Army and as a volunteer firefighter. He said he belongs to two militias: Bowies Volunteer Militia based near San Antonio, and a group called the Winter Soldiers, who believe in a mission he explained in a video that was removed after the recent controversy: "This Is How We Take America Back."
Now Davis commands another militia, a fledgling group that formed after the spike in recent months of young Central American migrants crossing the border illegally. He and his militia members argue that the increase in border traffic has been accompanied by a boost in drug smuggling and other illicit activity.
The group, Operation Secure Our Border-Laredo Sector, is headed to Laredo soon. It includes self-described "Patriots," "Oathkeepers" and "Three Percenters," a reference to the 3% of colonists who took up arms against the king during the Revolutionary War.
Their following is growing through social media, blogs and a 24-hour “Patriot Hotline” that recruits and mobilizes volunteers.
Some border sheriffs — including those in Brooks and Hidalgo counties, the epicenter of the recent influx of Central American children — have rejected offers of help.
But Davis said he had contacted the FBI in Laredo and that local law enforcement “is well aware of what we’re doing.”
Brenda Medina, spokeswoman for the sheriff's office in Webb County, where Laredo is located, said the group had contacted her office but sheriff's officials have no plans to meet with them. A Laredo Police spokesman did not return calls from The Times on Monday.
Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, tracks "radical right" militias, anti-government groups such as those who clashed with police at Cliven Bundy's Nevada ranch in April.
Potok said Davis and his group were not on their radar.
“It is possible that people at the Bundy ranch are headed toward the Texas border now," Potok said, noting that militias have posted messages online urging members to deploy. "We don’t know if these calls to go to the border are going to get much response at all. It’s very unclear if this is just talk or actually developing.”
Potok noted there are militias that do not oppose the government, but rather work with law enforcement, like an armed neighborhood watch.
Among those who have joined Davis’ effort is Rick Light, who leads a militia in Rocksprings, about 100 miles north of the border. There, Light said, the Edwards Plateau Rangers have worked with the local Edwards County sheriff and county agencies for the last two years.
Light said Davis’ video is being misconstrued.
“I’ve never known Chris Davis to threaten anyone like that,” Light told The Times. “There’s a lot of hype and Commander Davis is kind of being targeted.”
Light said his group wants to be a “productive, professional militia that just assists our law enforcement.”
“This isn’t a 'go in guns blazing' operation. It’s pretty simple — it’s just eyes and ears, more people along the border who can give a report and if we see a problem, we’re going to call it in,” said Light, a ranch manager.
So far, the militias have more than a hundred volunteers to secure the border, he said.
“There’s a big interest throughout the United States to come and assist. This is what happens when our politicians ignore the letter of the law,” Light said.
On Saturday, Light traveled to Laredo to meet with Border Patrol agents and see some hot spots. This week, he hopes to meet with Laredo police and local sheriff’s officials.
Although Light is troubled by the Border Patrol shipping immigrants from the Rio Grande Valley to holding centers in California and other states, he said, the newly formed militia has no plans to interfere with them the way protesters did last week in Murrieta, Calif.
Light said his group also plans to avoid Hidalgo County.
“When a sheriff says they don’t need our services, we’ll respect that,” he said.
The group wants to work with law enforcement, he said, in part to avoid problems that arose this spring at Bundy’s ranch. There, armed militia members confronted and forced federal Bureau of Land Management officials to stop rounding up Bundy's cattle, which he had been grazing on federal land without paying required fees.
“There’s a lot of people that are quick to demonize us as these evil bad guys,” Light said of militia members. “I’m true to my calling as a patriot. I stand by the law. Militias are not anti-government. We’re pro-government. We’re just pro-constitutional government.”
Denice Freeman, a North Carolina spokeswoman for the Secure Our Border group, said they have been screening and training volunteers at a “command center” outside San Antonio where they will rotate troops down to the Laredo area and, later, farther along the Texas border.
She said the militia has “signed, notarized statements” from landowners allowing them to patrol their properties, mainly to combat drug smuggling.
“If we happen to run across someone crossing illegally, we are prepared to do a citizens arrest,” Freeman told The Times. “We are not going to respond violently. We will not fire unless fired upon.”