The once-secret Facebook group where Border Patrol agents share hateful views and racist jokes about migrants has reached the stage for which all niche online communities strive.
It’s selling merch to fans.
Someone has been minting and selling a sarcastic and unofficial version of the “challenge coins” common to military and law enforcement agencies, with a design making light of the agency’s role in President Donald Trump’s family separation and indefinite detention policies for migrants.
The coin’s “heads” side is stamped with an image of an endless line of migrants walking under the blue-and-white flag of Honduras, and bears the inscriptions “THE NEW PATROL” and “KEEP THE CARAVANS COMING.” The reverse side of the coin, which was obtained by ProPublica, shows a Border Patrol agent feeding a bottle to an infant, another processing a young child’s fingerprints, and one of the USBP’s white-and-green transport vans. The words “PROCESSING,” “FEEDING,” “HOSPITAL,” and “TRANSPORT” appear around the edge of that “tails” side.
This isn't as inflammatory as the posts on the secret Facebook group, but in a way it's more revealing: it's a direct critique of the jobs agents have had to do over the last several months. https://t.co/PhvgYZU5wE
— Dara Lind (@DLind) July 12, 2019
Though it sports the official U.S. Border Patrol logo and employs the agency’s green-and-gold color scheme, the coin was not reviewed or approved by anyone in government, the investigative website reported. One unnamed official downplayed the coin as “something that somebody’s doing on their free time” and added that “a lot of the agents have little hobbies on the side.”
Trump administration policy changes on the handling of asylum-seekers, minors entering the U.S. with adults, and other migrants in the months or years between their arrival and their date to appear before an immigration judge have recast Border Patrol agents’ day-to-day responsibilities. The masses of children and families languishing in detention camps along the southern U.S. border for indefinite periods have reportedly been subject to traumatizing and unhygienic conditions and treatment at the hands of both Border Patrol and private contractor employees.
The coin, ProPublica’s Dara Lind notes, “appears to poke fun at the fact that many border agents are no longer out patrolling and instead are not caring for and processing migrants – including families and children.”
Multiple agency sources told Lind an order form for purchasing the coins has circulated on the recently-exposed “I’m 10-15” Facebook group, a sordid and vulgar web space that essentially functions as 4chan — an online hive best known for a community that spreads viral hate — for sworn United States border enforcement personnel.
The group’s name refers to the Border Patrol’s radio code for having undocumented people in custody.
Its members have cracked jokes about the deaths of migrants in U.S. custody, posted pornographic memes of prominent detention-camp critic Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and suggested “start[ing] a go fund me for one CTX agent brave enough to throw a 10-15 burrito at one of these bitches” in a comment on a story about Ocasio-Cortez and other women in Congress visiting the detention camps.
When an Associated Press photograph of a migrant father and daughter dead in the Rio Grande river went viral, one “I’m 10-15” member suggested it had been staged.
“Ok, I’m gonna go ahead and ask……have y’all ever seen floaters this clean. I’m not tryin to be an a$$ but I HAVE NEVER SEEN FLOATERS LIKE THIS, could this be another edited photo. We’ve all seen the dems and liberal parties do some pretty sick things….” the post read.
The exposure of the secret group, which was also first reported by ProPublica, has put a spotlight on the USBP’s agency culture. Close observers of immigration and border enforcement activity have long warned that Border Patrol had a toxically abrasive and macho culture.
Though officials and supporters have long been able to brush those anecdotal criticisms aside or portray them as mere gallows humor, the inhumanity and obscenity on display in “I’m 10-15” posts – which reporters at The Intercept archived as members tried frantically to delete content and cover their tracks – has cut off that easy, dismissive escape route.
And so it fell to recently-promoted USBP Chief Carla Provost to voice stern regret and a vague, bureaucratic vow to review the matter.
“These posts are completely inappropriate and contrary to the honor and integrity I see—and expect—from our agents day in and day out,” Provost said in an emailed press statement from USBP after the initial reports of her staff’s casual sexism, bigotry, and indifference to migrants dying in their care. “Any employees found to have violated our standards of conduct will be held accountable.”
The prompt statement implied that the Facebook group and its loathson postings were previously unknown to the USBP boss, without directly stating that claim. It turns out, however, that this is not the case: Provost had every opportunity to be aware of the way her agents – 95% of whom are men – were behaving in the digital shadows because Provost was a member of the group prior to her promotion to Chief, The Intercept reported Friday.
She is no longer a member, though the site did not specify if she is among the roughly 5,500 members who have quit the group since the exposé or if she had left prior to the news reports.
At least three other senior Border Patrol leaders were or remain members of the group. Men prominent in Border Patrol union organizations have also participated in this private shitposting factory, including one Arizona-based agent who is prominent in right-wing media circles and another who The Intercept notes “was among the first active-duty agency members to establish a relationship to then-candidate Trump in 2015.”
The agency is now subject to multiple investigations over its members’ web conduct. The “challenge coin” send-up of border agents’ responsibilities to children in their care which members were invited to purchase is downright high-brow, compared to what passed for humor in the bulk of the postings highlighted by reporters.
One such item – created and shared in June by 20-plus-year Border Patrol veteran and supervisor Thomas Hendricks, a pseudo-celebrity within the group whose months-long absence from posting there had become meme-fodder itself – depicts “a smirking Trump forcing Ocasio-Cortez’s face into his crotch,” The Intercept notes.