Tresspassers Will Be Prosecuted

Ranch Rescue's Jack Foote swears he just wants to mend fences. Is pseudomilitary secrecy, right-wing rhetoric and an armed vigilante militia the best way?

According to its Web site, Ranch Rescue launched Operation Merlin in Webb County, Texas, in late February. Foote refuses to disclose specific information to any but card-carrying Ranch Rescue members, who have signed an application form affirming that they "agree to hold in confidence and to not disclose to anyone outside of Ranch Rescue any information regarding Ranch Rescue organized efforts prior to their start dates." Further missions for spring, summer and fall are in the planning stages.

Protests are likely. Houston-based Mexicans in Action has already issued a press release decrying the "illegal harassment by some radical groups and ranchers, in the Texas and Arizona borders." The League of United Latin American Citizens denounced "proposed vigilante activity by a North Texas volunteers group."

"Liars and fools of the very worst kind," Foote would say.

"Private property first, foremost, and always. Everything else is not even a close second."
"Private property first, foremost, and always. Everything else is not even a close second."
"Private property first, foremost, and always. Everything else is not even a close second."
Greg Houston
"Private property first, foremost, and always. Everything else is not even a close second."

It's Ranch Rescue's veneer of legitimacy that most scares Joe Berra, staff attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund in Dallas. "Ranch Rescue purports to be a … kind of aboveboard-type organization, which is of more concern, because it really is feeding a very harsh anti-immigrant sentiment."

You can see the flames being fanned on a poll linked to Ranch Rescue's Web site.

"Has illegal immigration into the USA contributed to an increase in property crime in your area?" Foote asks. The posted responses define the split.

"Most property crimes," one writes, "are committed by bankers -- like those S&L scams that busted the taxpayers."

"Greaser hunting on the border with a H&K PSG-1 is a wonderful family activity," writes another. "If it ain't White, It ain't right!!!!!!!"

Foote rightly points out that he has no control over comments posted to the external poll site, Pollit.com, and that anyone could have left such vitriol, for any reason, including subterfuge.

Foote says he has no patience for that kind of rhetoric. He doesn't agree with it, he doesn't support it, and Ranch Rescue wants nothing to do with it. Foote says he screens would-be members for racist sorts and denies membership to applicants with obvious racial axes to grind. He's been called a bleeding-heart liberal from the far right, he says, and a sponsor of heartless cruelty by the far left.

Meanwhile, the influx continues. Border county district attorneys, already overwhelmed by the flood of federal drug cases resultant of the continuing war on drugs, are hesitant to prosecute mere trespassing cases, further inflaming the ire of citizens on the U.S. side.

On the legislative front, Texas Senator Phil Gramm and four colleagues (the "Grammnesty Five") have introduced a proposal that would decriminalize thousands of Mexican immigrants as temporary "guest workers," and no one is particularly happy with that idea.

Proyecto Libertad's Selzer, a proponent of absolute amnesty and open borders, says Gramm's plan is born of pure economic motivation, and a desire to stabilize a cheap and exploitable semipermanent labor underclass for the support of U.S. industry.

Foote sees Gramm's proposal as a continuation of the similarly constructed federal Bracero program that operated in the United States for two decades after World War II. Amnesty, he says, will do nothing to stem the flow of illegal immigrants into the States, nothing to address the pummeling that border property rights are taking.

Both sides point out that Gramm's wife, Dr. Wendy L. Gramm, a former chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, was elected in April to the board of directors of the Iowa Beef Packers association, "the world's leading producer of high quality fresh beef and pork," and reputedly one of the country's largest employers of illegal labor. Do the math.

So, Jack Foote sits at his computer in Arlington, a Web designer and gentleman rancher, looking for company and finding it amongst fellow landowners with the relative leisure to spend their days cruising the Internet, defining enemies.

And finally, two days before deadline, Jack Foote provides the name and phone number of a second Ranch Rescue volunteer. His name is Mark Wallace, 72 years old, retired, a resident of Austin. Wallace was told about Ranch Rescue by a friend, and though he won't be going on any missions himself -- too old -- he figures his 60 years in Texas have gained him enough friends that he can steer some interested folks Ranch Rescue's way.

Wallace has been passing the word via phone and Internet for two months now, but he can't quantify what effect his efforts have had.

"I get these people to sign these applications, either sign the application and give it to me and I mail it to Jack, or they'll take it home and fill it out and they'll mail it to Jack. And I seldom if ever know what the end result is."

Still, he figures the movement is growing, and estimates there may be as many as 20 volunteers show up for Operation Merlin, which, he lets drop, is scheduled for sometime in February. Let the record show that 20 volunteers is the same estimate that Roger Barnett made for Operation Raven, back in October.

"I describe myself as an activist," Wallace says. "I'm a patriotic guy who longs for the good old days in this country when things were noticeably better than they are now, and I just hate to see this sort of thing happening."

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