Sunday, July 30, 2017
Searching for Meaning
Back to Basics
By Stephen L. Wilmeth
Thursday was historical.
A number of us got to spend part of the day with Secretary of Interior, Ryan Zinke. He was in town reviewing national monuments created since 1996 and greater than 100,000 acres. At issue is the authority that presidents have unilaterally used to set aside 839,284,590 acres since Teddy Roosevelt started the process over one hundred years ago.
The authority is the Antiquities Act of 1906 which gave presidents, at (their) discretion, the right to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated on the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States.
The Secretary didn’t disappoint. He came sweeping into the room in the same manner he entered a room of Navy SEALS under his command. You got the immediate impression shaking his hand and looking him in the eye that he had seen many things that were much more intimidating than facing a room full of citizens who had great concern regarding their duties, responsibilities, and investments on federal, state, and private lands embedded in the designation he was reviewing that day, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.
At the conclusion, we had indeed engaged our Secretary of Interior. For the record, it was exceedingly encouraging meeting a leader who was actually looking for answers rather than justifying decisions already made and posturing for political outcomes that met a single agenda that had been espoused since 2003. For eleven years we have faced that assault, and we never came close to any meaning that made sense when more than 1,000,000 acres of our landscape was swept into the void of the great unknown without a single substantive word of congressional debate.
My opportunity came in the national security aspects posed by the monument. We were sitting across the table from the Secretary. Next to me was one of the great national border security minds of our times. Next to him was a seasoned Border Patrol agent. We were informed and expected to speak openly. What we said will remain in confidence, but we each had a particular subject. I must admit that much of the technical remarks was couched in Border Patrol speak, but the key point that I wanted to make was as old as it was pertinent to the day’s discussion. The issue was American citizens on our border have been the first responders long before that term was invented, and even longer before there was a U.S. Border Patrol.
The first border patrol was not mandated by government. Rather, it was common citizenry.
Following the Mexican American War, the United States left the citizenry on the Texas frontier and border defenseless. Cross border violence was unchanged from pre-statehood. In response, Texans took the matter into their own hands, but their success was mixed. The state addressed the danger with its own frontier and border patrol, the Texas Rangers. Funding was an issue for years, but the effectiveness of the Ranger effort was revolutionary. One of the characteristics of early recruiting was enlisting local candidates. Locals would defend their lands, their families, and their communities relentlessly.
The Rangers reputation grew with such flamboyance, that when Teddy Roosevelt hired 75 “inspectors” to patrol American borders, he demanded that they not adopt those “swashbuckling” Texas ways. Indeed, the Ranger early tactics were never politically correct, but what they got done with a force of small numbers was incredibly effective. Their reputation was independence, but one could argue that the conditions of Texas induced an air of independence in every aspect of life.
By the onset of the Mexican Revolution and the subsequent beginning of World War I, the reputation of independence so worried President Woodrow Wilson that he was concerned they would start a border conflict and hasten the United State’s involvement in the war if they encountered German spies or sympathizers on the Mexican border.
The seeds were being sewn for a national border patrol.
Two major national events hastened the official protection of our borders. The first was not just the Mexican Revolution commencing in 1910, but the American invasion by Pancho Villa at Columbus, New Mexico in 1916. Unhappy with the United States for supporting his rival and new enemy, Pancho set out to teach the big neighbor to the north a lesson. He was many things, but he wasn’t a fool. He chose to strike at the hard scrabble border town of Columbus and its small detachment of the 13th Cavalry rather than face vested Texas residents and their Ranger force. Early in the morning of March 9, he attacked leaving 19 American dead.
A firestorm erupted. Within days, National Guard troops were mustered for border defense. The rest is history as General Pershing with his soon to be famous staff officer, George Patton, gave chase to Pancho and his Villistas.
Prohibition was the second and conclusive factor in the creation of the Border Patrol. Alcoholic libations that couldn’t be produced legally in the United States flowed across the border in market corridors in torrential waves. Joe Kennedy and his colleagues made fortunes in the smuggling of illegal booze into the country.
With the passage of the Labor Appropriations Act in 1924, the U.S. Border Patrol was finally created and American borders were conditionally protected after a century and a half of constitutional delay.
Back to Basics
The same illicit market corridors that existed since the time of Texas statehood exist today. The difference is they are now drug and human bondage routes rather than whiskey and human bondage routes. They have been modified and moved to fit modern conditions, but the scope and the value of the modern smuggling corridors dwarf those of early times. They are as dangerous as they ever were and are defended with ferocity.
The most dangerous of the current corridors exist in Arizona and extreme southwestern New Mexico. Each has a common set of characteristics. In fact, there are eight defined features. Feature number five reveals that every one of the major corridors have managed or designated wilderness sanctuaries embedded within the routes. Smugglers have safe havens. Feature number six is the fact that resident American ranchers have been greatly reduced or completely eliminated from corridor lands. The eyes and the ears of the most basic first responders are gone. There are no vested respondents to alert and compliment the Border Patrol. Feature number eight shows that smuggling corridors are all managed by federal land management agencies with legislative and or regulatory power to reduce and control non-cartel access. That includes the Border Patrol and local law enforcement.
The review of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument reveals the designation has seven of the eight characteristics plus looming additions. None of the other corridors have significant urban influences, but this one does. None of the other monuments have ultramodern east west railroad corridors forming administrative boundaries and where, at any time, multiple super unit trains are parked stationary waiting for east west priority clearance, but this one does. None of the others have east west electrical, natural gas, and fiber optics transmission lines paralleling or embedded in the footprint, but this one does. None of the others have a key southern tier FAA radar site embedded in the footprint, but this one does. None of the others have forced all railroad traffic directly through urban centers because the viable alternatives are now prohibited by monument designation, but this one does. None of the others have geographic free pass zones that allow ingress into the United States not to one major east west highway, but a net work of east west and north south routes, but this one does.
Finally, none of the others have the restrictive grazing language that ushers in the eighth characteristic with its eventual elimination of the resident eyes and ears which compliment the Border Patrol, but this one does.
Every one of those characteristics except the arrival of the most dangerous and nearby urban influences was communicated to the New Mexico senators who so relentlessly pushed the designation. Nothing altered their insistence that it be created, but what they have fostered looms arguably as the most dangerous national security zone along the entire southern border. That is a legacy that arises into night and day juxtaposition to the swashbuckling intentions of the old Texas Rangers.
What we saw Thursday, though, was a Secretary of Interior who understands a field of battle with all compounding dangers thereof. His eyes suggested to us that his preference has always been the active front lines.
In the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, he has found those front lines.
Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “When the Secretary shares the characteristics with General Kelly, he needs to add a number nine which include the complexity of key infrastructure features … enough said.”