By Erin Sherbert
By Howard Cole
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Leif Haven
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Kate Conger
"Anyone armed?" asks Papa Bear.
Most hands go up.
"Be cool. If you have side arms, don't touch it unless you are certain that you're about to be killed," Papa Bear says, pointing to a kindly old woman. "Phoebe assisted in a capture after midnight. Thirteen were captured."
Phoebe smiles proudly.
"We spotted a few coming under the wire. We called the Border Patrol. It was great for us to know that actually we got to assist in a tactical maneuver, as opposed to hearing about how someone else did it," he adds. "Made my day. All of us were calm, cool, collected during the operation. But when it was over, you had that prize, that package of 13 captured; the adrenaline was flowing."
A young couple from San Diego are already bored. "There's sure a lot of standing around," one of them says.
Papa Bear explains, "I'm not against a guy coming over here trying to make a buck. I respect that. I respect any man who walks 50 miles through the desert to feed his family."
But Papa Bear's concerned about the dope smugglers, the human flesh smugglers, and, of course, the terrorists. "They found copies of the Quran and Arabic ID cards in the cleanup area," he says.
After the briefing, an old guy with a gray T-shirt tells Papa Bear, "I was in town today, and I almost wanted to catch some of the Mexicans who are already over here!"
"That's enough of that!" Papa Bear says, sharply shutting him down and, once the old guy is gone, adding, "You have to deal with fresh people every day, and some might be a little overzealous on how they want to protect America. And I have to calm them down and get them in line."
We're eight people in seven vehicles following a convoy of large trucks down a dusty dirt road, headed to the Naco Line (so named for the Arizona border town). The bumper sticker on the truck in front of me reads "Charlton Heston Is My President!"
"Are there a lot of rattlers out here?" the concerned grandmother of the bunch asks over the radio.
"Rattlesnakes aren't aggressive if you don't step on them," the Naco Line leader counsels. "They migrate around the corner, and they conceal themselves in the mountains." (I wonder: Is he referring to rattlesnakes or Mexicans?)
"Please move the radio away from your mouth when you talk into it," the Naco leader then advises the old lady. "Don't get stressed. Have fun."
The Naco Line is basically a barbed-wire fence along the border, torn open at numerous spots, in such a way that a blind toddler could crawl through. In fact, I'm shown the now-famous Hannity Hole, where Fox News poster boy Sean Hannity stepped through for his cameras.
"Historically, this is one of the highest traffic areas," the line supervisor says, pointing to a large span of desert and mountains in the distance. The wind embeds dust between my teeth.
What's the relationship between the Minutemen and the Border Patrol, I ask.
"Super-friendly. Last night they let me look through their night scopes," the supervisor says with a giddy smile, but quickly adds, "If you were to cross the border, the Mexican police would love to catch a Minuteman as a trophy. You won't get out of jail!"
And there's a last bit of advice before we're off on our own: "When you leave here, make sure you don't back over any migrants, 'cause they'll be right behind you."
The group doesn't dramatically jump into action like the A-Team.
"It's actually been kind of boring, because nobody has tried to cross since we've been here," says a Texas trucker who has his rig parked in front of his tent. "But I like camping, so this suits me."
"The big problem I have with it, they're dragging the U.S. down," a guy in an NRA hat shares.
"We're not getting a lot of action, but we're making a lot of new friends," someone from Michigan says. "We're going to make the ice cream run."
This is fun, I decide. It feels almost like illegal-immigration-spotting summer camp.
"I just love being here every minute," says a friendly guy named Ed who shares homemade deer sausage with us in his trailer. His sister is an immigration lawyer; he plans to bike across the country on his 60th birthday.
"If they ask leading questions," he says, explaining his method of dealing with the press, "I'll videotape them, ask where they're from."
He then continues his explanation in a way that almost sounds like a warning: "If you misconstrue me, we'll have a chat. We'll have a chat."
Ed, too, mentions that some Minuteman has found copies of the Quran and Arabic flight schedules. Then a Jeep pulls up and delivers a kindly old lady named Mary, a local rancher who brandishes a pistol on her hip.
"I'm like Teddy Roosevelt," Mary says. "I walk softly and carry a big stick!" She thanks the Minutemen for what they're doing, then makes small talk about jams and jellies.