By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
The average number of sons of bitches, a Spanish friend of mine used to say in Catholic acceptance of human imperfection, is just about the same no matter where you go. Most wetbacks Hispanically share his opinion, and exemplify it too. By no means are they a uniformly delightful category of our species, for you can easily find among them individuals who are morose, lazy, conniving, murderous, quarrelsome, drunken, thieving, or otherwise quite human. Coming from a hard-scrabble old-style rural background, within the framework of their Indian-Latin ways they tend like the vanishing Somervellian cedar folk to be what they are all the way and to hell with bland dull sameness. By and large, though, the bulk of objectionablemojados -- wetted ones -- seem to gravitate toward urban places, where there may be more scope for their propensities. Those who reach us on the land are most often simple tough peasant villagers used to hard labor and austere living, and willing to work for a time in woman-less exile for wages which, though usually scrawny by gringo standards, can add up to a wad of cash to carry home to wife and children, or to parents, or to the affable whores and hawklike con men awaiting their return in Mexican border towns.
-- "Helpers," John Graves, 1973
Jack Foote shows up for lunch at the Applebee's restaurant in Arlington just off the I-30 feeder west of Dallas wearing jeans, a pager clipped to his belt and a khaki camouflage vest over a long-sleeved shirt. He's a white man, handsome, in good shape, a shade over six feet tall, with close-cropped brown hair and a mild, slightly pinched voice that sounds, over the phone or on the radio, as if it might feel more at home in the mouth of a 60-year-old small-town city councilman. He orders the lime tortilla chicken, hold the tortilla (his wife, he explains, is on the Atkins Diet; "Do you know any man who's not on his wife's diet?") and begins describing, with impeccable manners, unflagging patriotism and the outward trappings of logic, a world in which the sky -- the proud, blue, American sky -- is falling.
The rhetoric is familiar to anyone tuned in to the short-wave frequencies of right-wing radio, or even, increasingly, to network news spots from the American West. Eight years of Hillary Klinton's "tin-plated socialist dictatorship" have led the country to the brink of a One World Order in which America's sovereignty and the American citizens' birthright are being sold wholesale to shadowy global elites, somebody or something both unelected by and unrepresentative of We the People. United Nations "biospheres" are reservations for unaccountable foreign interests. Bill Clinton's late-term establishment of new National Monuments is a thinly veiled federal land grab, one more policy designed to steer the remaining American frontier's pioneer spirit off the wholesome land and into the cities, where populations are more efficiently surveilled, more easily controlled. The Mexican-American border is leaking like a sieve, diluting the American character, and the Ford Foundation wants it that way.
He describes himself as "a member of the gun culture, no apologies."
He is also a "total creationist, but that's another story entirely."
So. Focus: Jack Foote has agreed to meet at Applebee's to discuss Ranch Rescue, of which organization he is the spokesman, Webmaster, volunteer coordinator and guy who answers the phone. He is reluctant in these roles, he says, because he is a busy man, designing Web sites for a living and trying, with his wife, to ramp up their fledgling Percheron operation in Arlington, Top Notch Ranch, into a going concern. Also, Jack Foote says, because Ranch Rescue is not about Jack Foote, who is personally without ambition in this regard, and neither is it solely composed of Jack Foote. Ranch Rescue was birthed by five or six citizens who met, and communicated, over the Internet. There are maybe 20 to 30 dues-paying members, he says, maybe another 200 "volunteers."
What Ranch Rescue is about, Foote insists, is property rights. Private property rights. The kind of private property rights that have historically served as the "cornerstone" of "our great nation." The kind that place "stewardship" of the land in the able hands of individuals who must remain free to use it, to whatever end, without restriction, and preferably without advice, in whatever way they see fit, for only so has the full glory of American achievement and culture been attained, and only so shall America, as we know it, continue to prosper.
The kind of property rights that are trampled when, say, millions of illegal Mexican immigrants cut fences or pull them down, discard empty water jugs, steal livestock, accost landowning citizens and/or tear up water lines on the privately owned border land that they cross on their forays into the United States.
Criminal trespass, legally speaking. Misdemeanor. Usually trumped by the higher crime of crossing the border in the first place.
Ranch Rescue proposes to organize private citizens into volunteer missions to aid and assist border ranchers from Arizona to Texas. They will attempt to go, Foote says, when and where they are called, upon invitation only, to act as private guests in accordance with the laws of the nation, its states, counties and municipalities, and further within the submissive strictures of the guest/host relationship.
"A show of solidarity," Foote says, with "that brotherhood, if you will, of folks who make their living from the land."
If that means rebuilding fences, so be it. If it means repairing busted water lines, there you go. If it means serving, by mere presence, as a de facto deterrent to potential trespassers, that's gravy. And if it means helping a rancher detain a group of trespassing immigrants until the Border Patrol arrives, they'll be ready for that, too.
If Ranch Rescue members choose, and if they are dues-paying, and if they sign affidavits as to the personal legality of doing so, they may carry weapons on missions.
Dues-paying members also get an embroidered mission patch to wear on their required khaki uniforms.
It is a carefully stated condition of the interview that Jack Foote will not reveal any information that might hinder the cause of his mission, or that might put his life, the health of his family, or the safety of Ranch Rescue volunteers at risk. Some people don't like what they're up to, he says. There have been threats.
On these grounds, for two months he does not provide names or contacts for a single Ranch Rescue member or volunteer. And he will not provide his own full legal name.
Jack Foote says that he functions as the sole identifiable public face of Ranch Rescue not by choice but by default. Because no one else would. Because he was "elected" by the other members.
If that's true, Ranch Rescue's silent co-founders voted well, because Jack Foote talks a pretty good game.
We utterly reject the concept of "rights of groups." The only rights that exist are the rights of individual private citizens, as granted to each of us by God and as guaranteed by the Constitution of these United States and by the constitutions of each of the respective sovereign states that comprise this great nation.
Wecompletely reject and oppose Socialism inall of its forms, for Socialism's central objective is the abolition of all private property rights for individual citizens.
Wecompletely reject and opposeall Environmentalist measures, proposals and agendas for the same reason. Private property first, foremost, and always. Everything else is not even a close second. -- Home page, www.ranchrescue.com, as of January 30
Granted: The border is out of any semblance of control. Hundreds of thousands of undocumented Mexican citizens cross the line every year, looking for work or avoiding it, temporarily or aiming for permanence, muling drugs or supporting families. Some drown. Some are apprehended by the Border Patrol and summarily bused back to Mexico. Some are busted for major crimes. Some live quietly next door and send their children to school with yours.
Ten years ago a majority of illegal immigrants entered the United States through the conduits formed by the larger border-town pairings -- San Diego/Tijuana, El Paso/Juarez, Brownsville/Matamoros, Del Rio/ Ciudad Acuna -- either landing a short ride home or disappearing into the crowds.
Since the mid-1990s, increased Border Patrol presence in urban areas has pushed migration routes into the hinterlands. This policy got more than a few results. Urban border dwellers feel less threatened, and their towns received a continuing infusion of the economic lifeblood that accrues to outposts of large federal agencies. Crossers are compelled to avoid towns in an otherwise sparsely populated, largely arid landscape wherein the basic survival of a hunted man on foot is a question as immediate and as fundamental as the source of his next drink of water.
Mojados have always succumbed to the Rio Grande. Now they as often succumb to mountain hypothermia and desert dehydration. An estimated 300 die yearly.
The increased risks of crossing have turned it from a mostly solo endeavor to one undertaken, for safety, in groups. Such clumping was part of the policy goal in the first place, large groups of Mexicans on open ground being easier to spot and catch than isolated Mexican citizens walking the streets of towns where most everyone's skin, legally or otherwise, is brown.
The clumping also introduced economics of scale to the business of human smuggling, which in turn has attracted the attention of those already best set up to smuggle illegal cargo from Mexico into the United States. These tend, not surprisingly, to be importers of marijuana and cocaine, thus expanding the U.S. operations of organized crime, and squaring its practitioners dead center between illegal immigrants and U.S. law enforcement, placing all parties at increased risk in the process.
For all the things that contemporary border policy and enforcement have accomplished, there is one that it glaringly has not. It has not made much net difference in the numbers of Mexican citizens who illegally cross the border into the United States.
It has redirected the flow, across rural private property lines demarcating the sprawling cattle ranches and the 50-acre retirement ranchettes along a border that is, there on the ground, practically speaking, as abstract as the lines on an old plat map, and as real as a night in jail.
Roger Barnett, a working rancher/ propane merchant near Douglas, Arizona, has become a poster boy for property rights supporters and anti-immigrant activists. He's appeared everywhere from the Douglas Daily Dispatch to ABC News, made famous for claiming to have detained -- over the course of a two-year period, with the help of his brother Donald -- more than 2,000 criminal trespassers on his property.
An October 2000 "Officer Safety Bulletin" from the Department of Justice contains the appraisal that "The Barnetts, usually armed with pistols and assault rifles, have captured more than 1,000 illegal alien trespassers, holding them against their will until U.S. Border Patrol Agents arrive to take custody of them."
This in Cochise County, where, according to a June 2000 report in the Arizona Daily Star, the eight months prior had seen 32 incidents of American citizens personally detaining trespassers, while the Mexican consulate documented 25 armed detentions by county residents in a year.
Foote, perhaps impatient for an invitation, called Barnett that millennial summer and asked if Ranch Rescue could come on down to the 22,000-acre Cross Rail Ranch and help out. Barnett suggested Foote write his congressman instead.
But by October 2000, Barnett had changed his mind. Foote announced "Operation Raven" (in reference to the keyword "Nevermore"). The DOJ got wind of Foote's plan and circulated a bulletin, "American Anti-Immigrant Groups Rally to the Southwest Border," naming Ranch Rescue first on its list of eight potential affiliates -- everyone from the Concerned Citizens of Cochise County to the Klan to the National Organization for European American Rights to the Foundation for Optimal Planetary Survival.
Ranch Rescue protested its inclusion. The DOJ issued a mumbling apology for "mistakenly implying an affiliation between legitimate organizations concerned about the effects of illegal immigration with anti-immigrant or racial supremacy hate groups."
Ranch Rescue traveled to Douglas. A late October Sunday edition of Douglas's Daily Dispatch gave away the story in its headline: "Ranch Rescue pitches tents, repairs fence, goes home."
Foote says he had 20 volunteers representing six states, that they stayed about a week, fixed some fences and were largely waylaid by rainstorms.
"They repaired fence," Barnett says. "We had the inclement weather and everything, it was bad, so they couldn't do that much, but then they did quite a bit for when they were here. Three or four of the days were just sitting around doing nothing, getting rained on, and that's about it.
"I think they're sincere, they want to help out and everything. They can see what this country's turning into with all these illegals coming across.
"I feel that we might have a better chance now that we don't have this Clinton in office anymore .I think Bush is going to -- there's gonna be something happen there, I do believe. They need to stop it 100 percent. They need to stop them people from coming to the United States, from every country like that. If they keep letting it happen, our country's not gonna be no better off than their country are, than Mexico is. After ten, 20, 30 years of this illegal immigration, this country's gonna be down in the dumps. It's gonna bring it to its knees. Nobody's gonna be making no money, everybody's gonna be working for pennies and everything, it'll be just like they are in Mexico right now."
And on Ranch Rescue: "They were real good. They were super, I thought."
I email Leitha and tell her to look at my web page .She reads it and calls immediately, admitting to harboring him .I tell her that if she can make him happy, (he was a very unhappy person) that I was happy for them. OK, the story should end here, but it doesn't. I told the parties that I had heard of his so called demise, that he was alive and well in Houston .If he ever wants to talk to any of his friends again, he'll have to contact us and apologize, and even then it won't be the same Recent Update! Torreis still at Leitha's. We know this because he emailed his resume to an associate of mine (not knowing that I know this person) and his address was in Houston, and it gave a phone number! I called the number. Leitha answered. I hung up. I would like to talk to him again, and if he ever does call, I will remove this embarrassing page from the web. -- From Michael Alessio's Web site, "Where in the world is Torre Foote?"
Jack Foote will not provide his full legal name -- security reasons -- but he does deny that he is Torre John Foote. "Sorry," he writes, "no. Someone else has been trying this same guessing game with me. He is still sending me names to 'try on,' but so far no cigar. Please stop guessing, as I have already gotten tired of this from someone else. If I were running for public office, sure, but we are only trying to repair ranch fence, for Pete's sake."
Here are some of the reasons to think that he is lying.
Judging by public records from 1998, one Leitha Renea Mullens and one Torre John Foote for some time that year lived together at 15554 FM 529 Road No. 157 in Houston. Later voting records document Leitha Foote, same D/O/B, at the same address. If you call Ranch Rescue volunteer coordinator Jack Foote at the number listed on his Web site, he will answer, "Top Notch Ranch." Top Notch Ranch, according to its Web site, is operated by Leitha Foote. Jack, of course, is a natural switch from John. Torre John Foote's date of birth was August 30, 1957. In June 2000, Jack Foote told the Arizona Daily Star he was 42, as he would be if he were born in August '57. Torre John's friends think he's gone underground in Texas with a woman named Leitha.
Perhaps he has. Michael Alessio's site obligingly links to an explanatory farewell e-mail that Torre John sent to his co-workers at a company called Scopus Technology in the fall of 1996:
Yes, it's true, I will be leaving Scopus as of 31 October 96. Many different stories as to "Why" have floated around, so let me set the record (and the office gossip) straight:
1. Yes, I met a woman and fell in love.
2. Yes, she is young and beautiful.
3. Yes, she has money.
4. No, #3 is not the reason for #1, but it certainly doesn't hurt.
5. Yes, she has offered to make me comfortable in a manner to which I should soon become accustomed. (Read: "I can retire")
6. No, I doubt that I will stop working completely, but I will wait until after our 2-week trip to Cancun before looking for work again.
7. I am moving with her to Phoenix, though she has another home in Texas that we may visit.
8. Yes, we are planning to get married. (She surprised the hell out of me when she proposed to me last weekend.)
I hope this clears up any confusion
Houston Presse-mails to Michael Alessio went unreturned. These could be coincidences.
What Jack Foote will say is that he is in his early forties, that he grew up in the South, that he lived for a time in California (where Torre John Foote is documented as having lived) and that he is originally from Tennessee (" the Volunteer state, so I have a birthright and heritage of volunteerism"). Foote told the Arizona Daily Starthat he was a retired U.S. Army infantry captain with four years active duty in the mid-1980s and ten years in the reserves, including a call to active duty during Desert Storm. He tells the Press he was a light infantry officer for 14 years with three years active, working in logistics and personnel, computer support and battle simulation. At one point, discussing Kuwait, he makes reference to "when I got back from that," but later says that he was in Georgia "waiting for the plane" when the end of that conflict was announced. Without a legal name, none of this information is verifiable by the U.S Armed Forces.
"It's not about personality," he says. "I'm not seeking fame. I don't want to be famous. I don't want to create a cult of personality surrounding myself. I'm not ever going to run for public office. This is about these people that are living through this nightmare down on the border. It's not about any one individual."
As to the chances of the Press speaking to other members of Ranch Rescue, Foote is frank: "Quite honestly, Brad, they don't like who you work for. They weren't too terribly happy to find out that I even talked to you. I was kind of taken aback by the response that I got. I'm a pretty fairly middle-of-the-road reasonable person, so I'll talk to just about anybody, but you've got to understand that these folks don't take very kindly to -- how shall I put this delicately? -- alternative lifestyles. So they weren't too happy to hear that I was talking to the Houston Press, and they definitely are not going to want to talk to you."
I don't care if you're black or white or Hispanic. But get one thing straight. If you're from Mexico and you're claiming an indigenous Indian past, that is the ultimate slavery. The cultures down there, quintessentially put a new height on evil, ok? Let's just be clear about that .I'm tired of Mexican food restaurants with the murals of an Aztec cutting a white person's heart out on the side. That irritates me and gets me really mad. And I want you to understand that the bankers, the Ford Foundation, funded and created this liberation theology being hyped, out of control already, and this is just 2001, folks. Wait 'til ten years from now! Wait 'tilfour years from now when we probably get Hillary Clinton as the next president. The guns, the property, it's all going.-- Alex Jones, on the Alex Jones radio show, January 3, 2000
Another media outlet that Foote doesn't mind talking to -- and one that is perhaps more in line with Ranch Rescue's philosophical underpinnings -- is the Alex Jones radio show, broadcast from Austin. Jones has interviewed Foote twice, in late December and early January, and according to Foote, the response has been tremendous, with calls coming in from all over the country offering help, swelling, at least theoretically, both dues-paying membership and the ranks of "volunteers." It was after Foote's first appearance on the show that members of the once-secessionist Republic of Texas contacted Foote about the possibility of joining forces for future missions to the Texas borderlands.
"There had been no affiliation between their group and ours at all prior to my interview on the Alex Jones radio show in early January," Foote writes in response to a question. "During and after that show, I was contacted by several members of the Republic of Texas Provisional Government. We talked about combining their planned rescue mission to the Texas border area ranches with ours, as a joint rescue effort. Right now, however, talking about it is as far as we have gotten. We will be meeting with some of their group again this weekend, but time is short. It appears that while their private property views and ours are compatible, a joint effort is so far unlikely to happen due to the time remaining. The Republic of Texas' desire to see private property rights upheld is certainly a parallel to that of Ranch Rescue. Beyond that, our goals diverge."
On the radio with Jones, Foote hews tightly to his property rights angle, and steers away from Jones's anti-immigrant bluster. He is unfailingly polite to the host, addressing him almost compulsively as "sir."
Jones and Foote both are fond of reiterating that theirs are not racially motivated attitudes. When someone accuses them of racist motivation, they say, they know they're dealing with an idiot who has run out of logical arguments. Detractors, they think, tar them based not on facts, but through ignorance and association.
Ranch Rescue's Web site provides the most thorough picture of Ranch Rescue's worldview, though for some reason its contents have not been much discussed in the media coverage that followed Foote's November 2000 announcement of a second planned rescue mission -- Operation Eagle -- to an undisclosed Kinney County ranch.
Some excerpts from Ranch Rescue's mission statement:
"Socialists, Environmentalists, and the 'Politically Correct' are, in every case, liars and fools of the very worst kind, and as such they deserve no serious consideration by any intelligent citizen of our great nation."
"We are not obligated in any way to other private citizens or groups, nor to any foreign national, government, entity, or representative. Specifically we are not obligated in any way to cater to the wishes of anyone in Mexico, nor the wishes of anyone from the United Nations. Neither is any other sovereign citizen within these United States."
"We are private citizens who recognize that America became a prosperous nation due to the sanctity of private property acquired, owned, utilized and held by individual citizens and not by government entities or so-called 'activist' groups."
"We stand together and we say to our governments: 'Either you keep these criminals off of our private property, or we will.' "
An extensive list of linked media clips carries Foote's excited summaries of border action:
"Illegal alien tries to run over Border Patrol agent with stolen truck, eats lead instead."
"Miami Vice-style shootout, chase, and arrest in Cochise County."
"Ranchers along the border concur: 'It's an invasion!' "
A link to "books" touts a recommended reading list. James L. Hirsen's The Coming Collision purports to detail the United Nations' pursuit of "expanded, supranational powers for itself, powers that are intended to displace both traditional American sovereignty and individual liberties."
John Ross's Unintended Consequences is an 861-page historical novel about the U.S. government's assault on the "gun culture." The back flap identifies the author as an investment broker and financial adviser who "fires upwards of 20,000 rounds of ammunition a year ." The cover photo features a black-clad federal agent shoving a rifle at the throat of a large-breasted and largely unclad Lady Liberty against a burning backdrop of the United States Constitution. The book is unreadable. I tried.
Texe Marrs's Big Sister Is Watching You proposes to expose "Hillary Clinton and the White House Feminists Who Now Control America -- And Tell the President What to Do" in chapters titled "The Fourth Reich of the FemiNazis," "Who Wears the Pants?" "Hillary: On the Killing of Babies" and "Eleanor Roosevelt: Communist, Lesbian, Radical Feminist."
The Camp of the Saints is French author Jean Raspail's novel of an immigrant invasion of southern France by unwashed third-world refugees. In Raspail's introduction, the author writes, "I am a novelist. I have no system nor ideology to propose or defend. It just seems to me that we are facing a unique alternative: either learn the resigned courage of being poor or find again the inflexible courage to be rich. In both cases, so-called Christian charity will prove itself powerless. The times will be cruel."
The reading list also suggests The Communist Manifesto (included on "know your enemy" grounds).
Ranch Rescue's "Clothing and Equipment" page explains that "One of the objectives of Ranch Rescue is to make a very visible statement about the failure of government policies in effectively dealing with the issues that create massive criminal trespass problems for private landowners. As such, we do not want to 'blend in' in any way, we instead want to stand out as much as possible."
Thus the following items of clothing and equipment, in "khaki tan," are mandatory for Ranch Rescue volunteers: hats, lace-up boots, heavy-duty work gloves, safety orange vests, and cotton ripstop jackets and pants. Volunteers are also responsible for acquiring a full-color patch representing the flag of that volunteer's home state, which must be worn, at all times, above the left breast pocket of the shirt. Ranch Rescue mission patches "are to be affixed to the khaki tan work shirt centered on the left sleeve, approximately 1/2 inch below the shoulder seam," and Ranch Rescue mission patches from prior missions "may be worn centered on the right sleeve for the most recent previous mission, and the right front breast and right front pocket of the khaki tan work shirt for other previous missions."
If Ranch Rescue sounds like it might be nothing more than an overheated Boy Scout campover, or the fantasist plannings of a military man who never saw action outside of a battle simulator, maybe that's because, just maybe, it is.
I've got mixed feelings about these fellas, you know? Some people say, well, we got a Christmas tree sitting on this side of the river with packages under it and all lit up, and it's hard to keep the kids out from under the Christmas tree. And they have a hard life, we know that. That's not right or wrong, you know, that's afact of life. That they're just trying to survive. They really don't bother me. Most of 'em being this close to the border, they don't like to be seen anyway. They're movin' on. They're movin' on. -- Del Rio-area rancher/ veterinarian, who wishes to remain anonymous, on illegal border crossers
"Sure," says Nathan Selzer, an immigrants' rights activist with Proyecto Libertad in Harlingen. "They're gonna go down and fix fences. First of all, I don't believe it. It's much more, well, it's racially motivated on one level. Also on a class level, a lot more than we are sometimes willing to admit. We're definitely aware of the vigilantism, is really what we'd classify it as .If it really came down to a mission to go help repair property damage, honestly, we'd care less. I don't believe it. I don't buy it. There have been shootings. Ultimately there are kidnappings out in Arizona. There has been violence."
None of the violence Selzer speaks of has been attributed to Ranch Rescue's inaugural and so far sole mission to Roger Barnett's Arizona ranch, but it is violence that has been steadily increasing in the past two years in the very border areas into which Foote plans to march his armed, uniformed, undeputized -- and from the sound of things, angry -- volunteers.
Operation Eagle was originally scheduled for spring 2001 in Kinney County, less than a year after a private landowner shot and killed an immigrant there. U.S attorneys, with aid from the Mexican government, are prosecuting the case in federal court. To Jack Foote, the import of these facts lies in the Mexican government's support of the prosecution. More evidence, he says, of the erosion of American sovereignty, and of purposeful U.S. policy -- like NAFTA, which he calls the "North American Freeloaders and Thieves Agreement" -- designed to keep the border permeable, and to callously abandon the voter-insignificant legal population of the borderlands to a degree of lawlessness that would be unacceptable in an influence-packed city like Houston, or Dallas.
Operation Eagle was eventually canceled, Ranch Rescue's Web site reports, because the unidentified host "has been intimidated by the County Attorney and threatened by the Mexican government if they invite anyone to help them protect their homes and their private property."
Bunk, says Kinney County Attorney Tully Shahan. He doesn't know any rancher who's invited them, says he's had no contact with any landowners about Ranch Rescue, or with Ranch Rescue itself, and claims to not know much about the organization beyond what a reporter has just told him.
Del Rio Sector Border Patrol Chief Paul Berg is a bit more familiar with Ranch Rescue, and he doesn't want it around. He can't support the idea of private citizens taking the law into their own hands, for one thing. For another, his guess is that the presence of armed citizens operating under the color of private property privacy, in areas where tensions are already piqued, would prove a hindrance to his work, and no help at all.
In the summer and again in the fall of '99, a Val Verde County citizen allegedly opened fire on trespassers, wounding one, killing another. The shooter's trial is scheduled for next month. Sam Blackwood, 75, himself a recent immigrant from Arkansas to a 50-acre retirement ranch near Brackettville, allegedly shot and wounded one of two illegals confronted on his property. No trial date has been set. In April 2000, an illegal immigrant reported to the Edwards County sheriff in Rockport that he had been shot -- an allegation that is still under investigation. In late January of this year, in Zavala County, a ranch owner allegedly tried to detain a small group of trespassers. Two ran. One caught a bullet. The shooter has been charged.
Neither are illegals blameless, and Ranch Rescue's Web site chronicles the news, including, among a smattering of drug smuggler run-ins with Border Patrol agents, this headline from the January 20 Arizona Daily Dispatch: "Border Patrol fires on mob of rock-throwing trespassers." No injuries were reported. The Web site's summary of the article reads, "Gang of illegal aliens gets a taste of hot lead."
"This was a mob," writes Foote, who wasn't there, "behaving like assholes, and they subsequently got a TASTE of hot lead, not a bullet in the chest, which, in my personal view, each of them almost certainly deserved for putting the life of that BP officer in immediate jeopardy. Rocks are deadly weapons when thrown at a human being. If you doubt that, stand 50 feet away and have someone throw rocks at you until you gain a deeper appreciation."
No one's throwing rocks at South Texas rancher Ray Hutto, but if anyone can claim to appreciate the trials of border life, he can.
"I been there always. I'm 80 years old, and hell I was born here."
Hutto's ranch is near Del Rio, and he says it receives a "good amount" of illegal traffic.
"I been here all these years, and you know I never really have had any trouble with the wets. Oh, we've had 'em steal, yeah, but all these Del Rio ones steal too. They're worse than these wets. They come out here and case these damn ranches and then drive up here when you're gone and steal everything you got."
As to Ranch Rescue, Hutto says, "More I think about it, we don't need them kinda people in there. And Border Patrol, they're doing a damn good job, and that's their job anyway. And these other people, I'm not interested, I don't think. Especially if they wasn't from around here, and carrying guns."Immigrants are messengers to the quote developed world that humankind will not accept global injustice, in this sense: people cannot meet their needs where they're at. One of our historic responses to that has been to migrate. We do it all the time, simply moving from city to city, no? It's worldwide. It's a similar dynamic all around the world. You've got countries that have accumulated wealth, many times taking it from other countries, and now members of those other countries are moving to the countries of wealth . Instead we treat it as a black and white issue where they're breaking the law, they're criminals, they should be treated as criminals, and as soon as they've opened up that door, it allows all sorts of things to happen. It becomes ok that we have 300 people a year dying on our border. All of a sudden that becomes part of a normalcy .We are, in a lot of ways, we're helping to insure that the flow of immigration continues and increases. Mexico is the perfect example. [With] NAFTA a lot of smaller folks, subsistence farmers, were forced out. As bigger corporations bought up land, which again we supported all of a sudden they can't afford to buy the same food they used to raise, so then they migrate. Well, we've created the conditions, in a lot of ways with our own politic, for that to happen .They're not coming across the river to spite the United States. They're coming out of other needs .-- Nathan Selzer, of immigrant rights group Proyecto Libertad in Harlingen
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.
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."
The good old days. It's a fantasy common to conservative mind-sets, and not a few liberal ones as well. It is in fact almost eerie, the commonalties of the far-right and far-left wings of American public political discourse -- the travesty of NAFTA, the shadowy unaccountability of global/corporate elites, fundamental distrust of government -- though both sides arrive at their fears from opposite ideological poles.
Along the border, the schism begins to take on the profile of civil war, with ideologues on both sides calcifying their positions, those positions increasingly clothed in the garments of battle.
Maybe Jack Foote, a self-appointed general in the conflict, is just a fearful isolationist who talks a good game, a lonely militarist with too much time on his hands and an extremism born, inexplicably, of privilege.
Or maybe Jack Foote is right, and the United States is in the painful, awkward, conflicted process of accepting a permeable border, just like Jack Foote fears, and stepping inevitably closer to the brink of learning how to live with the apparently uncomfortable presence of the world outside its fence.