The ‘God’s Army’ Convoy Was an Unholy Union of the Far Right

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Trump supporters attend a Take Our Border Back Convoy near the Mexico-US border in San Ysidro, California, on February 3, 2024. (DAVID SWANSON/AFP via Getty Images)

The “God’s Army” convoy rallied in three cities near the southern border this weekend, drawing a mix of Christian nationalists, MAGA influencers, Jan. 6 rioters, aspiring lawmakers, live streaming grifters, QAnon conspiracy theorists, and paramilitary groups.The stated purpose of the rallies—officially called the “Take Back Our Border” convoy— in Quemado, Texas, Yuma, Arizona, and San Ysidro, California, was to protest the Biden Administration’s handling of immigration across the U.S.-Mexico border. But the rhetoric at those events went well beyond gripes about immigration policy. Speeches were a soup of grievances, anti-government conspiracies, and dehumanizing language about migrants.Jan. 6 rioters were hailed as folk heroes: “I am a January 6 defendant, guns up,” declared speaker Ryan Zink, who served 60 days in jail for his crimes during the insurrection at the Capitol, and is now running for Congress. Attendees got an earful of apocalyptic rhetoric, and were repeatedly told that they were fighting a “spiritual battle” for the soul of America. Perhaps most notably, this weekend marked the biggest mobilization for the fringe right in years. “It took three venues to contain the breadth of far-right factions under the Take Our Border Back Convoy banner,” said Devin Burghart, president and executive director of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. “The convoy marks a return to the type of movement synergy that started in the lead-up to the insurrection.”

“The convoy marks a return to the type of movement synergy that started in the lead-up to the insurrection.”

Each event had its own particular flavor, noted Burghart. “The San Ysidro stage primarily featured anti-immigrant fear-mongering and anti-trans bigotry wrapped in a Christian nationalist package. Speakers in Yuma included militia leaders and calls for paramilitary mobilization at the border… in Texas, sovereign citizens, January 6th insurrectionists, and QAnon-style conspiracists dominated the program.”The largest gathering was at the Children’s Cornerstone Ranch in Quemado, about 20 miles from Eagle Pass, where the state of Texas and the Biden Administration have been locked in a standoff for several weeks. Last month, the Texas National Guard seized control of a park in Eagle Pass and surrounded it with razor wire, effectively blocking federal Border Patrol agents from accessing a key area for unauthorized border crossings. The Supreme Court ruled that the federal government, not Texas, had ultimate jurisdiction over border enforcement, and that Border Patrol could cut down the razor wire. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has since doubled down in his defiance on that ruling, and other GOP-led states have sided with him, sparking heated rhetoric about a showdown between states and the federal government. The rising tensions drove intense interest towards the convoy to the border, which had been organized about a month ealier. Many would-be participants expressed trepidation about joining, suggesting they were being lured into some sort of government “psy-op.”One of the convoy organizers, Robert Agee—who is affiliated with disgraced former General Mike Flynn’s “ReAwaken Tour” and is the founder of “Banners for Freedom,” which pays to erect billboards with Christian nationalist messages—at one point demanded in a speech in Quemado that all undercover law enforcement officers present “fully disclose their presence and purpose,” and said anyone who is “being paid or coerced to be here” must “leave the premises immediately or call me.” “You’ve been put on notice,” Agee said from the stage, which was plastered with giant printed disclaimers absolving organizers of any liabilities. Texas congressman Keith Self was among the speakers in Quemado.“In Joe Biden’s America, if you’re a MAGA Republican, you’re on the FBI watchlist,” Self told the crowd, which whooped and cheered. “BRING IT,” one person yelled. 

Speeches were a soup of grievances, anti-government conspiracies, and dehumanizing language about migrants.

“We are in a spiritual battle for the survival of our republic,” Self continued. “Our mission today is to save our Republic. You are the tip of the spear of a movement that is spreading across America.”“Texas is on the frontlines of this battle for freedom and state’s rights for their constitutional right to close the border if the federal government will not,” Self added. Another speaker was Mark McCloskey, who became a MAGA hero in June 2020, when he and his wife stood on their lawn in their gated community in St Louis and pointed guns at Black Lives Matter protesters. (They later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor offenses). In his speech, McCloskey claimed that the government and cartels were part of a conspiracy to traffic children. “These people are evil, they are pedophiles, they’re monsters, they run our government, they hate us, they think they know better than us,” said McCloskey. “This is all the culmination in their minds of a century-old progress towards a single-world socialist government.” “The forces out there that want to destroy our republic are not doing it because they’re stupid, they’re not doing it because they’re arrogant,” he said. “They’re doing it because they are genuinely the forces of evil. They hate our republic, they hate our freedom… They hate everything that we love, and they’re genuinely evil.”“As Christians we’re called to speak the truth and that’s something that, if you’re trying to control people, is very dangerous to those in power,” said Sheriff Brad Coe from Kinney County, Texas, about 50 miles from Eagle Pass. “There’s a reason why they make fun of calling yourselves God’s Army because it’s God’s Army being called to tell the truth. That means that your loyalty is to God, it’s to the Constitution.” Coe is a “Constitutional Sheriff,” meaning he ascribes to an ideology that views the sheriff, not the federal government, as having ultimate legal authority. The events at all three locations remained peaceful, even though a rag-tag group of known extremists, who’ve been involved in countless instances of political violence around Southern California, showed up to the event in San Ysidro. The event in Quemado had heavy emphasis on “spiritual revival”; participants got baptized, and the baptisms were broadcast on a X space. Attendees at all three rallies were repeatedly praised by speakers for overcoming “fears” about government entrapment, which has been a major dampener for right-wing mobilization since Jan. 6. Recent polling found that a quarter of Americans believe the “Fedsurrection” conspiracy, which baselessly claims that undercover federal agents led the riot at the Capitol. “We have to hold this ground because it is ours. They want us to be afraid, they wanted us to be afraid to come out here and gather again after January 6th, after the giant set up where they set up the American patriots to look bad,” bellowed Matt Baker, an anti-vaxxer who who became famous in local MAGA circles when he erupted at a San Diego COunty board meeting in 2021 over COVID-19 vaccine requirements. “Are you afraid?” Baker asked the crowd. “No!,” the crowd shouted back.“For three years, the American people have been afraid to stand up and come together to rally and have their voices,” Sheriff Brad Coe said in Quemado. “Today, they may try to hijack the operation like they did on January 6th, but you came anyway. Why? Because God has not given us the spirit of fear.” Devin Burghart, of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, thinks that this weekend’s events could be the start of a new period of mobilization for the far-right. “The convoy also signals to the movement that, for the first time since the insurrection, it’s safe for far-rightists to return to the street,” said Burghart. 

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