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Convoys, conspiracies and conservative grudges are fueling the battle at the Texas border

The row over Governor Greg Abbott’s border actions has gained national attention, writes Graig Graziosi

Friday 02 February 2024 22:54 GMT
Rudy Martinez, of San Antonio, sets up his flags for sale at the Take Our Border Back Convoy in Dripping Springs, Texas, on Thursday
Rudy Martinez, of San Antonio, sets up his flags for sale at the Take Our Border Back Convoy in Dripping Springs, Texas, on Thursday (AP)

A convoy filled with self-described peaceful protesters departed Virginia this week, bound for the US-Mexico border. Its final destination is Eagle Pass, Texas, where National Guard troops mobilised by Governor Greg Abbott have been attempting to take enforcement of the US-Mexico border out of the hands of the federal government.

The row centres around claims from Mr Abbott, as well as other conservatives, that more needs to be done to toughen the border on the Rio Grande and halt illegal immigration into the United States. Despite a Supreme Court order, state officials have been facing off with Border Patrol in order to prevent the Biden administration from cutting down razor wire along the fencing.

Dozens of Republican governors and former president Donald Trump voiced their support for Mr Abbott's refusal to comply with the federal government. Social media and right-wing media outlets predictably lit up with commenters comparing the situation to the US Civil War – with some excited by the prospect.

The "Take Our Border Back" convoy – a small group of conservatives travelling to Eagle Pass to rally in support of Mr Abbott – is just one of several protests planned against immigration and the Biden administration in general.

Experts fear the convoy will likely serve as a lightning rod for right-wing gangs, militants, and white supremacists.

“Data we collected tells us emphatically that the standoff between Texas and the federal government has become a magnet for far-right vigilantism,” Devin Burghart, the executive director for the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, said ata press conference on Thursday, according to Wired.

He said the convoy was made up of largely the same kinds of individuals that joined the crowd at the Capitol riot.

“From the convoy steering committee on down, the protest comprises many of the same dangerous elements as the January 6 insurrection: militia members, election deniers, QAnon conspiracists, Covid deniers, and other hardcore far-righters,” he said.

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin speaks to ‘Take Our Border Back’ convoy members in Dripping Springs, Texas (screengrab/KVUE)

Proud Boys gang members, neo-Nazis, and other militant anti-government groups have been vocal in their support of Mr Abbott, and have not been coy in their calls for violence at the border.

A member of the South Texas Proud Boys told his Telegram followers to "grab your guns," while members of the neo-Nazi Aryan Network called for "resistance' by white men, saying "to hell with the United States of America."

For Mr Abbott and other Republicans, illegal immigration has served as a convenient — though often misrepresented — cudgel to use against Joe Biden's presidency.

The conservative insistence that migrants are flowing over the border unchecked came to a head last month when Mr Abbott used National Guard troops to take over a park in Eagle Pass, Texas, where US Border Patrol agents formerly processed migrants crossing the Rio Grande into the city.

The National Guardsmen — part of Mr Abbott's troubled "Operation Lone Star" — have been laying down concertina wire to entangle migrants and discourage crossing. They also erected a barrier in the nearby Rio Grande, which critics have said is ineffective and poses a threat both to the life of migrants trying to cross the river and to the environment.

The federal government has maintained that immigration enforcement is solely its responsibility, and that Texas has overstepped by physically stopping US agents from conducting enforcement at the border.

Immigration Texas (© 2024 Sam Owens / San Antonio Express-News)

Mr Abbott has refused to pull out of the 47-acre Shelby Park, justifying his use of National Guard troops by insisting that Texas is being "invaded," according to the Texas Tribune. Not only is the state facing invasion, Mr Abbott argues, but that invasion is being aided by policies enacted by the Biden administration.

Federal judges have largely struck down Mr Abbott's arguments, with one calling the claims "breathtaking".

Not unlike the truck convoy mobilised in 2022 by conservatives protesting coronavirus rules, the border convoy has seen its share of hiccups on its journey to Texas.

A group of 19 vehicles set out from Virginia earlier this week, and several immediately lost their way. Reports suggest infighting and paranoia between some members of the convoy, with a convicted pedophile apparently joining their ranks.

The convoy did manage to draw a sizable group of supporters at a brewery event on Thursday, including a Christian nationalist pastor who told supporters to draw "a blood line around Texas, around America."

While the conflict at the border is ostensibly about immigration, it is difficult to ignore the broader issues looming over the standoff. Texas has long been home to extreme right-wing secessionists who want to see the Lone Star state stand alone. Mr Abbott's conflict with the federal government have only encouraged those calling for a break.

Daniel Miller, a leader of the the state's secessionist movement, called Mr Abbott's actions validating.

Trump claims he will send Texas ‘reinforcements’ to deal with border control

"It validates and confirms the position we've had all along, which is that if Texas ever wants to truly secure its border … the only way we’re going to do it is as an independent and self-governing nation,” Mr Miller said, according to the Texas Tribune.

For some far-right, conservatives, illegal immigration is viewed as a vehicle used by Democrats to fill the nation with voters that will back them in elections.

“Everyone in power, from the White House, to the hedge fund managers, to the Supreme Court of the United States has decided to destroy the country by allowing it to be invaded,” former Fox News host Tucker Carlson wrote last week on X/Twitter. “That leaves the population to defend itself. Where are the men of Texas? Why aren’t they protecting their state and the nation?”

While conservatives converge on Eagle Pass to air out their varied grievances with the Biden administration, the city's residents are left playing host to a conflict some see as little more than political theatre.

A city official speaking to NBC News on condition of anonymity said that Mr Abbott's National Guardsmen and Florida state troops sent to assist him by Governor Ron DeSantis damaged the irrigation system on the park's public golf course by parking their vehicles on the course.

Juanita Martinez, an Eagle Pass resident and the chair of the county’s Democratic party, found herself unable to access Shelby Park because the Texas National Guard — directed by Mr Abbott — had closed the park in the interest of “safety and security.”

“It’s a big scam, it’s political propaganda,” she said. “What is our message to Abbott? Get the hell out of Maverick County and get the hell out of our park. We don’t need you here.”

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