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Bill Parmley's dad was a sheriff, and his granddaddy was one, too, and one thing he learned early in life was the difference between right and wrong.
Now a month shy of 50, Parmley grew up in the small South Texas town of Sarco, back when it took hours to travel ten miles up the dirt road to the county seat. After going to college in Nacogdoches, where he earned a master's in geology, he moved back, planning to live there -- among the mesquite trees, longhorns and cacti--for the rest of his life.
But that was before undocumented migrants began destroying his land, he says, and before white vans loaded with people started speeding down the farm-to-market roads at all hours. He and other landowners found people in their barns or on their patios, refugees who had lost their way and given up. Livestock started to disappear, either eaten by migrants or let out by smugglers (who aren't the most conscientious when it comes to closing gates on their way through).
Parmley, who runs an oil-field company, knew local law enforcement was doing its best, but he also knew the problem was too big. He decided it was time to seek outside help.
He placed a call to Arizona in February and got in touch with Chris Simcox, one of the founders of the Minutemen, the group that patrolled the Arizona border in April, documenting illegal crossings and reporting offenders to the authorities. Once Simcox completed his mission there (and dealt with the explosion of media coverage), he came to Texas and helped Parmley start up the Texas Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, a group with similar goals.
That's when Bill Parmley, the activist, was born.
Two months ago, Parmley announced plans to patrol the Texas-Mexico border in October. "We are not racist," he said. "This is not a race issue. It is an issue of the law We do not care what color you are, who you are, but if you come into this country illegally, you are breaking federal law."
Adding his own twist to the Minuteman mission, Parmley, who became not only Goliad chapter president but president of one of the statewide Minuteman organizations, announced that operatives in Houston planned to film day laborers, undocumented workers given "sanctuary" by the city. "All we are doing is videotaping this type of violation of federal law," he said, "and in doing so we hope to remove federal funding from the city of Houston."
One month ago, he took a few visitors down to Goliad County to show them the damage done by undocumented migrants who had been using local ranches as makeshift rest stops, waiting for the next coyote to pick them up and haul them to Houston, Dallas and beyond.
He walked through the South Texas thicket, kicking piles of trash and watching out for rattlesnakes. "We found this by accident," he said, pointing to several dead patches of grass surrounded by pizza boxes, plastic bags and aluminum cans. "To wear that dirt down to the ground, shit, it takes a lot of people, man, a lot of traffic."
It was a humid day in South Texas. Huge thunderheads floated overhead, and each appearance of the mid-summer sun saturated the air with a dense stickiness. Parmley's black polo shirt bunched up near his belly, sweated into place. "It's nothing for us to walk out, when we're counting calves in our pastures, and to find 50 people standing out there," he said.
The problem's been going on for years, but it's become a lot worse over the last five or so, he said. "These coyoteshave no regard for the people they're trafficking," he said. "They will leave them out in the brush for a week, maybe not even come back and pick them up. And these people are hungry; they're starving. A lot of these people have not eaten in a week, ten days."
Parmley's not a talking head; he's a man who stares the immigration issue in the face almost every day of his life. And he claims more than a thousand people have contacted him about the Texas Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, folks from all over the state who want to pitch in and help out.
His group isn't the only one in Texas; several others have popped up, including the Texas Minutemen LLC, an organization based in Arlington that plans to patrol the border from Laredo to El Paso. But the Texas Minuteman Civil Defense Corps has received the most attention, due in part to being so closely aligned with the national organization, but mostly because of Parmley's resignation, which came less than a week after the South Texas walking tour.
Members of his local chapter are racist, he said. He accused them of trying to oust the local Hispanic sheriff, a friend of his. He couldn't take it anymore. He had to get out.
And just like that, Bill Parmley, the activist, died.
What was once a small group of anti-illegal immigration activists in Arizona has become a national movement: the Minutemen. The name conjures up images of men in long coats, muskets in hand, ready to fight in 60 seconds -- or at least that's what history tells us. The contemporary version, the one that's televised, shows us senior citizens in lawn chairs, binoculars and walkie-talkies in lap, just waiting for some action.