The scrubbing began quickly. At 10:55 a.m., ProPublica published a story reporting the existence of a secret, invitation-only Facebook group for current and former Border Patrol agents that featured vulgar, violent, and misogynistic content directed at migrants and lawmakers.
A little over two hours later, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security, called for active-duty agents responsible for the posts to lose their jobs. Minutes after that, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency that oversees the Border Patrol, said in a tweet that the inspector general’s office at the Department of Homeland Security was “immediately informed” of the “disturbing social media activity,” and an internal investigation has been launched.
Back in the “I’m 10-15” Facebook group, evidence that might inform such an investigation was quickly disappearing. The name of the group — radio lingo Border Patrol agents use when they take a migrant into custody — was changed to “America First X 2,” and the group was archived.
But the archived group, the version that investigators might examine, was not the same one that existed prior to the ProPublica article.
The meme that group member Thomas Hendricks shared of President Donald Trump forcing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to perform oral sex was gone — though ProPublica’s tipster managed to grab that one. Investigators would not, however, see that Carrizo Springs resident Hector Garcia Jr. had posted something similar, sharing a meme of the congresswoman performing oral sex through a detention center fence in a mock Porn Hub preview (“Lucky Illegal Immigrant Glory Hole Special”). Similarly, investigators would not find the post from user Jorge Nunez: a video of a Trump impersonator grabbing the crotch of a woman in a red, white, and blue bikini, in which Nunez wrote, “Grab her right in the pussy…MAGA!!”
Hendricks deleted his account soon after the ProPublica story broke. Garcia and Nunez did not respond to requests for comment.
Anybody trying to look further into “I’m 10-15” after reading the ProPublica article would never see the Washington Post article that a poster named Bobby Matthews shared about asylum officers raising concerns about the administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy. Matthews wrote “Fucking liberal traitors” and “more lies from the tonks” — using Border Patrol slang for migrants, referring to the sound a flashlight makes when it connects with a migrant’s skull — to which Nelson Pou III, the Del Rio, Texas-based lead singer of the band Semper Acerbus, replied, “Fuck the whole country of Honduras.”
Matthews did not respond to a request for comment. Pou declined to comment.
And investigators would never see the posts that came right after the ProPublica story was published, in which they talked about “the rat” in their midst, and Mike Herrero accused ProPublica of trying to “do away with the First amendment.”
“The media is really the enemy because they know better and just feed the dissonance,” he wrote.
These are just a handful of examples of posts from the days before, and shortly after, the ProPublica story went live. The Intercept gained full access to the invitation-only Border Patrol group weeks ago and, for more than a month has collected and archived hundreds of posts that show that the content shared with ProPublica was no aberration. In fact, the Border Patrol group was a hotbed for the kind of right-wing memes and anti-immigrant hate common in some corners of the internet. The only difference is that the group — which had nearly 10,000 members at the time it was exposed and has since dwindled to a little over 4,000 — was meant to be used by current and former federal law enforcement personnel.
“Where Old Patrol meets New Patrol,” the about section of the group read. “Post your pics. BP and AMO [Air and Marine Operations] related. Funny, serious and just work related. We are family, first and foremost. This is where the Green Line starts, with us. Start a chat or discussion, or use the group as a message board or Q and A session. We are here for each other. Remember you are never alone in this family.”
The Intercept messaged 28 Facebook users named in this article, whose accounts remained active in the immediate wake of the ProPublica article, and requested comment. Although Facebook prohibits the use of aliases, it is possible that members of the group used assumed names. The Intercept is publishing the names of individuals quoted in this story as displayed on the “I’m 10-15” group to accurately portray the contents of the postings.
Of the individuals contacted whose accounts were still active, only two responded, both declining to comment. Several of the members of the Facebook group cited in this story had previously posted photos of themselves on their profile pages in uniform, whether with the Border Patrol or other law enforcement agencies or military units, or openly listed their employment for the federal government on their profile. At least three identified themselves as retired.
On Wednesday morning, Kevin McAleenan, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security tweeted “that any employee found to have compromised the public’s trust in our law enforcement mission will be held accountable.” The Intercept shared the names and posts of 31 users with Customs and Border Protection and requested confirmation of whether these individuals were currently employed by the agency. In a statement to The Intercept, a spokesperson for CBP said the agency was reviewing screenshots from the group and that some of the individuals appeared to be active duty employees of the agency.
“The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is investigating information provided to the agency regarding postings to a private Facebook group,” the statement read. “CBP has been provided several screenshots of Facebook postings, with posting names visible. OPR has been working to determine if these posting Facebook identities are connected to current CBP employees. Several of the names in the screenshots do appear to match names of current CBP employees. Additionally, there are postings attributed to accounts bearing common names, that appear to match to multiple CBP employees. CBP is fully investigating these postings and will hold accountable any CBP employee who is found to have engaged in misconduct.”
On Wednesday, Politico reported that CBP officials and Border Patrol leadership knew about the secret group for up to three years, with one former DHS official stating that CBP’s public affairs office monitored the “I’m 10-15” group “as a source of intelligence” to see “what people are talking about.”
Posts on the “I’m 10-15” group routinely fantasized about violent or deadly action that could be taken against migrants.
Just a few weeks before the deaths of a father and his daughter while crossing the Rio Grande captured national attention, the Border Patrol Facebook group was filled with posts about alligator sightings in the river. “Medieval solutions to a modern problem,” Israel Valentin wrote. “Let’s stock the river with gators,” suggested John Tedford, who lists himself as a retired Border Patrol agent. “This needs to be crowd funded,” added Riley Glöck, whose recent postings indicate that he operates helicopters for the federal government. “Can the river ecosystem support sharks?”
Sierra Mowery contributed a meme featuring Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg.
“Is this kid still alive?” asked Mark Ponch, whose Facebook profile indicates that he works in the El Paso sector. “Figure by now he’d have committed suicide already.”
“He hasn’t made Hillary mad yet,” Mowery replied. Reached by phone, Mowery told The Intercept she and her colleagues were not authorized to speak to the press.
On the topic of dead children, Eric Castillo separately posted a video of a large, child-sized portion of meat being wrapped in foil and then roasted over an open flame. The foil resembles the mylar blankets that unaccompanied children are given in Border Patrol custody.
“Little tonk blanket ideas!” Castillo wrote.
Castillo’s account appears to be deleted, though his posts appeared elsewhere in recent months, including a heated comment section about whether Border Patrol agents can use lethal force against migrants who throw rocks — the president previously encouraged them to do so.
When a member of the group raised the point that “’I was just following orders’ hasn’t been an effective defense in about 72 years,” Bob Wilkinson, who lists his former occupation as Border Patrol supervisor and his current occupation as a U.S. government contractor, replied, “Are you a PA or a fucking snowflake.” Wilkinson went on to write that while he had “never killed anyone,” he had “used my share of force.”
“The fact that the President recognizes rocks as deadly weapons is a good thing,” he wrote.
At that point, Castillo joined the conversation, lamenting about missing an opportunity to shoot a migrant while on the job. “Bro im gonna go home alive to my family and stop the threat!!” he wrote. “See it how you will. Ive been rocked before and missed my chance to pop a round before due to me falling to avoid the rock.. Fucker ran back to the river..But I learned for next time.. Don’t be a freaking debbie downer bro..”
Wilkinson described a similar experience, writing to Castillo, “as I was drawing my trainee who was on my right grabbed my arm and screwed up my draw. They were both lucky that day.”
“BRO NEXT TIME ITS ON,” Castillo wrote back.
In what could be of interest to investigators down the line, several members of the Border Patrol group shared photos of documents that included identifying information of migrants in Border Patrol custody.
It began with Angel Avilez, whose personal page suggests a recent posting at the Border Patrol’s Carrizo Springs station, sharing a meme that read, “YOU KNOW WHAT? I’M JUST GOING TO SAY IT […] HONDURANS HAVE THE STUPIDEST NAMES EVER.” The post generated more than 100 comments.
Members shared Central American names that they considered stupid. Multiple users asserted that “Guats” — Guatemalans — also have names equally worthy of ridicule. Before long, group members, including Gabriel Gonzalez, Zack Smith, Anthony Ramos, Rick Mora Jr., and Michael Scherer, were sharing photos of documents — including what appears to be intake forms — that showed migrants’ names. Christian Macias added photos of government IDs belonging to five different individuals to the comment thread.
“Non of these ignorant people can spell or write but somehow they think they deserve to be let in,” wrote Jose Ortiz, whose profile picture is a gold badge that reads “Inspector 211 S.F. Police.”
Seething anger at asylum seekers and migrants in general was the common thread in the “I’m 10-15″ group. On May 31, a user shared an image of the U.S. embassy in Honduras on fire. “Easy enough to do the same thing to all their asylum paperwork…” Gamel Lechner commented. When a member of the group later asked where a friend could drop off food and supplies for people in detention in Los Angeles, he was met with dozens of trolling replies.
“They are like wild animals, stop feeding them and they wont hang around and shit on the street,” wrote Richard Tyler Jr. — Tyler’s Facebook profile identified him as a former trainer for the Border Patrol, a former sheriff’s deputy, and a former sergeant in the U.S. Army.
In late May, user Waldemar Ortiz shared a meme that said “HUNGARY LOCKS ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS IN SHIPPING CONTAINERS TO STOP ILLEGAL BORDER CROSSINGS.”
“Can we apply this here?” Ortiz wrote.
Ortiz’s personal Facebook page indicates that he previously served in the U.S. Marine Corps and now serves in the U.S. Army. In 2018, he captioned a photo in his Marine Corps uniform with the hashtags “fuckmuslims” and “fuckislam.” He has since posted dozens of right wing memes, including one suggesting that Rep. Ilhan Omar is a terrorist.
Some of the members of the Border Patrol group appeared to deeply hate the populations they are mandated to work with.
On May 24, Adam Matott, whose personal page includes photos of himself in a Border Patrol uniform and t-shirt, posted, “The excitement of leaving McAllen really sinks in … when the flight is full of OR tonks.”
The post sparked a conversation. Jess Cabe, who listed himself as a retired Border Patrol agent, wrote, “Wait til they start following you at the next airport to get you to help them find their connection, they’re waving that paperwork in your face like it’s the winning lottery ticket.”
“One of them asked my partner if she had the right gate,” Matott replied. “New fucking low point in my career.”
“Mine too,” Cabe replied. “I actually lost it in the airport and told him to get the fuck away from me loud enough to have other passengers leave the gate area.”
Matott replied, “At our gate a family unit came and sat near us. So we swiftly stood up, and relocated our seats.”
“Should have grabbed it and ripped it up. Fuck them,” added Mike Kotwicki, who deleted his account before The Intercept could message him.
“Way too many cameras and witnesses,” Cabe wrote.
The conversation about migrants on airplanes continued in another thread.
“The wife flew out last week said people were pissed cus it smelled like shit,” Jesus E. Nunez wrote.
JD Lopez, whose personal page includes photos of himself in a CBP helicopter crew uniform, replied: “Smells like detention.”
Commentary on current events made up a significant chunk of the content on the “I’m 10-15” group.
In recent weeks, that translated into an uptick in outrage over the number of children and families entering Border Patrol custody and, in particular, hate directed at Rep. Ocasio-Cortez. In addition to the sexually violent posts, members of the group created numerous memes out of photos of Ocasio-Cortez during a 2018 visit to a border detention center. Group member Brian Fawcett, who lists his current location as Laredo, Texas, and previously posted a photo in his Border Patrol uniform on his personal page, shared one such image. It included Ocasio-Cortez accompanied by Pepe the Frog, the internet meme synonymous with white nationalist internet culture.
Recently, when it was announced that Ocasio-Cortez would be making another visit to detention centers along the border, the Facebook group reacted in typical fashion. Chad Wamsley posted a comment that said “AOC” and included a drawing of a man defecating into a woman’s anus.
“Poop in her to show dominance,” the drawing said. Wamsley listed his occupation as United States Border Patrol agent. Justin Blue Ortiz, who lists his employer as the Department of Homeland Security and his residence as El Paso, Texas, suggested a “station wide bang in because the stress of their visit is too much.”