The U.S. Military Is Monitoring Interfaith Group Opposed to Child Separation, Leaked Document Reveals

The document also contains details on anti-ICE protests and protests by “anti border-wall extremists.”

Members of interfaith group Heartland for Human Justice gather at the entrance to Fort Sill in Lawton, Okla., on Aug. 1, 2019. Photo: Kayla Steinberg/The Jewish Light

U.S. military forces deployed to the southern border are monitoring domestic protesters, including anti-border wall groups, according to an internal Pentagon document obtained exclusively by The Young Turks and The Intercept. The military, the document reveals, has focused particular attention on an interfaith group peacefully protesting the Trump administration’s child separation policy.

The document includes what’s called a “threat estimate,” an assessment detailing the risk of perceived border threats. Among those threats are protests by members of religious groups against “the detention of families and children,” as well as anti-ICE protests and protests by “anti border-wall extremists.”

Asked why they were monitoring an interfaith group, Defense Department spokesperson John Cornelio replied, “DoD works closely to support Federal law enforcement agencies along the Southwest border. Law enforcement agencies share information regarding migrant caravans and protestors with DoD consistent with applicable laws and policies for DoD force protection purposes.”

Jake Laperruque, senior counsel for the Constitution Project at the Project on Government Oversight, said of the document: “The ‘threat estimates’ focused on protesters are highly disturbing. Cataloging individuals protesting government policy creates serious risk of abuse, and even without misconduct, monitoring protesters is likely to chill the exercise of First Amendment rights.”

“‘Make America Great Again’ shouldn’t mean returning to J. Edgar Hoover-style surveillance,” Laperruque wrote in an email.

The “Commander’s Update Briefing,” dated August 1, 2019, enumerates three “events of interest.”

The first event of interest is described as “anti-border wall extremists” who “made threats to law enforcement and border wall construction projects.”

“The extremists belong to a known anti-border wall group alleged to have direct action camps in the McAllen, TX area,” the document states. The group in reference appears to have been the Rio Bravo Action Camp, a training camp hosted by the Democratic Socialists of America’s Rio Grande Valley Chapter, the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas, along with several activist groups, according to its website. The action camp’s training appears to focus on nonviolent forms of resistance, including civil disobedience and street protests.

The threat estimate says of the second event of interest: “An identified group plans to protest the detention for families and children at Fort Sill. An identified religious group in St. Louis, MO, sponsors the group and is subsidizing travel expenses for protestors. The group is charging a 65.500-225.00 USD as a donation to ride a bus to Lawton.”

A number of religious groups based in St. Louis — about half of them Jewish — met in September to organize opposition to the mistreatment of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. This meeting gave rise to the creation of Heartland for Human Justice, an interfaith group that on August 1 — the same date as the “Commander’s Update Briefing” — went to protest Fort Sill, which had recently announced that it would detain about 1,400 migrant children.

The threat estimate regarding the religious-backed protest also includes notations for the number of individuals believed to be attending the demonstration, as well as changes to that number — possibly data culled from Facebook events, which collect such information.

“As of 1 Aug 19, 11(-1) individuals are attending and 18 (+1) are showing interest,” the threat estimate states. The “-1” and “+1” notations appear to refer to changes in the number of individuals attending or showing interest in the event.

Laperruque said of the data, “I don’t know why some of this information is needed – some of the activities (where protesters are coming from, sponsors, other activities outside the border, etc) have no connection to ensuring safe interactions. I can’t think of any reason for cataloging that information other than to monitor protesters activities more broadly, and potentially identify them.”

The third event of interest is a 10-day “Border Resistance Convergence event,” which, the report notes, “has been scheduled for El Paso, Texas. The Border Resistance Convergence social media event is promoting rhetoric calling for the end of migrant detention and the termination of the current immigration policy.”

While news media reports on the Border Resistance Convergence event appear limited to right-wing media outlets like The Blaze and Big League Politics, It’s Going Down, a left-wing group that describes itself as a “digital community center for anarchist, anti-fascist … movements” interviewed the organizers of the event in July. The event was supposed to have taken place from July 21 and September 1.

“This was solely a call for people to protest against what was happening in ICE facilities in El Paso. This had nothing to do with antifa or violent actions,” a representative for It’s Going Down told TYT and The Intercept.

In reference to the Border Resistance Convergence event, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued a stern warning: “You know, I was looking at a story recently … where Antifa is posting, you know they want to come down to El Paso and do a 10-day siege. Clear message to Antifa: Stay out of El Paso.”

It does not appear that the event ever took place. On September 3, right-wing media figure Andy Ngo tweeted that the event had been canceled, citing a website apparently created for the event.

The threat estimate echoes Patrick’s concerns about antifa, asking, “WHEN AND WHERE WILL PROTESTORS OR ANARCHISTS POSE A THREAT TO T10 FORCES IN THE JOA?”

However, the document also characterizes the threat of “protests/anarchists” as “LOW” in each of the border regions, which included California, Arizona, New Mexico/West Texas, and South Texas.

Even in the case of transnational criminal organizations/gangs, an accompanying assessment notes that a “MODERATE” threat level is “consistent with historic norms.”

The document also includes an assessment about the migrant caravan, which states that there is “no indication of caravan infiltration/exploitation” by transnational terrorists, homegrown violent extremists or foreign intelligence and security services. This contrasts with President Donald Trump’s assertion last year that there were terrorists among the caravan. Vice President Mike Pence has also said that it was “inconceivable that there are not people of Middle Eastern descent.”

This story was co-published with TYT Investigates.

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