Over the span of several weeks I lived with and photographed a group known as ‘The Patriots,’ a heavily armed group of private citizens who patrolled areas along the U.S.-Mexico border with the intention of preventing immigrants from crossing the Rio Grande River from Mexico into the U.S.
‘Patriot’ group members from across the United States convened on roughly 20 acres of private land outside of Brownsville, Texas. They established ‘Camp Lone Star,’ their main base, in the spring of 2014. Camp Lone Star was located in a run down farmhouse 25 meters from the U.S.-Mexico border fence. They patrolled day and night, sometimes alongside Border Patrol agents, attempting to hunt immigrants through the thick brush surrounding the river. The men at Camp Lone Star armed themselves with AR-15 and AK-47 assault rifles, along with a plethora of other military grade equipment. Their camouflage fatigues were the same used by the U.S. military. The group divided itself into ‘fire teams’ and ‘squads,’ imitating the combat unit structure in the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. Their flack jackets were meticulously modeled after special operations groups’ gear, despite the fact that most had never served in the military. Many of them had purchased night vision devices and infrared optics. Velcro patches adorned their gear, espousing phrases like ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ and ‘ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ,’ a Greek phrase that translates to “Come and Take It”. ‘ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ’ is also the motto of the U.S. Special Operations Command Central.
In late August, Camp Lone Star began to fall apart. Border Patrol agents opened fire on two Patriots. Agents were unaware of the Patriots presence, and mistook them for cartel members. Over time, divisions and power struggles surfaced within the group. Two members were arrested. One, who was not legally allowed to carry a firearm due to a prior felony conviction, left a handgun on the bathroom floor of a local gas station. The other was arrested for filing a false police report in an attempt to retrieve the weapon. Kevin Massey, the self described commander of Camp Lone Star, was arrested by federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. In addition to the firearms seized by the ATF, court documents show he was also found to be in possession of homemade improvised explosive devices. During my time at Camp Lone Star, Kevin Massey repeatedly displayed these explosives to me, and informed me his plan was to attach them to remote control toy boats, which he would then drive into immigrants attempting to cross the Rio Grande. He is currently serving 41 months in federal prison.