Bud Kennedy

August 5, 2014

Showdown in Van Horn? Sheriff calls border vigilantes’ claim made up

A convoy of armed militia volunteers continues on its way to San Antonio, Austin and maybe, eventually, the border.

First, the border hawks lied that the children coming to Texas are criminals or diseased.

Then, they lied about Catholic Charities being part of some “invasion.”

Now, they’re making up stories about Texas.

The moneygrubbing “border volunteers” on their way here to play soldier published a dramatic fund-raising pitch Monday about how Texas is a “war zone” and how they barely escaped cartel gunmen who supposedly surrounded the Van Horn Comfort Inn.

That didn’t ring true to folks in Van Horn.

For starters, there is no Van Horn Comfort Inn.

“If Mexican cartels had surrounded a hotel, we would have had a few phone calls,” Sheriff Oscar Carrillo said Tuesday, accusing conspiracy promoter Eric Odom and the Murrieta, Calif.-based Border Convoy group of making up the entire story.

Van Horn was sleepy that night. And every night.

“I don’t know whether they’re trying to get sympathy or what,” Carrillo said.

Here’s a hint: The story was plastered on conspiracy hobbyist websites around a giant ad saying “Donate Now!” and linking to Fundly.com.

The convoy vigilantes were mostly quiet on social media Tuesday, but promised to protest Thursday at the Texas Capitol and also this week in Olmos Park near San Antonio and at the U.S.-Mexico border near McAllen.

The convoy, promoted by the website Grassfire.com, left Friday from Murrieta, Calif., the city where protesters blocked buses of Central American children and families seeking legal asylum as refugees.

A second armed militia, Operation Secure Our Border, joined in Texas.

Carrillo confirmed that the sheriff’s office had one phone call from the convoy Monday morning about 5:30. A caller giving the name Pete Santilli reported “somebody following them,” Carrillo said, but could not give a description.

Santilli is a Utah-based online talk host and entertainer.

“Where I have a problem is with this group oversensationalizing events and claiming it’s dangerous to be here,” Carrillo said.

He checked with all the local hotel managers. Nobody even noticed a large group in town.

“When you make up incidents, that’s wrong,” he said.

Carrillo has been sheriff in Culberson County in far west Texas since 2000. He’s a co-founder of the Texas Sheriffs’ Border Coalition, which successfuly lobbied the state and federal government to support the underfunded local law enforcement agencies near the border.

West Texans have been particularly stung by conspiracy claims about child immigrants bringing crime, disease or societal breakdown along the border. Most of the children seeking refugee status came through the Rio Grande Valley, and that stream has slowed.

Last week, El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar wrote in The New York Times that the idea of an ongoing border crime crisis is a “myth” contrived for the fall elections.

“It's untrue and it’s hamful,” she said by phone.

“They use the same playbook over and over again, because it’s red meat for conservatives in the rest of the country. It looks real good to come down to Texas and fly helicopters or wave guns at the border. But it hurts us.”

Sheriff Carrillo had this farewell message for the convoy:

“Don’t go making things up about Texas just to get sympathy.”

Don’t mess with sheriffs.

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