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National Guard Troops Deployed to Border Criticize Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star As ‘Political Theater’

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Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott has launched an unending array of stunts designed to politicize the border, not solve problems. For that, he’s faced withering – and valid criticism. But, some of the latest blistering criticism comes from an unlikely source: Texas National Guard troops deployed to the border by Abbott.

Not all the soldiers who were shipped to the border under Abbott’s multi-billion dollar (and counting) Operation Lone Star think it’s a good or effective idea, as reported by HuffPost. National Guard troops, some speaking under a pseudonym due to fear of retaliation, have called the taxpayer-funded operation “political theater,” dangerous to migrants, and ineffective in addressing border crossings. 

“If anything, I think it makes for better pictures for campaign ads,” Hunter Schuler, a former Texas Army National Guard medic, told HuffPost.

He hit the nail right on the head. The report cites a recent production at Shelby Park, where Abbott and more than a dozen GOP governors supportive of his escalation against the federal government posed in front of an armored vehicle to regurgitate white nationalist “invasion” conspiracy theories about immigrants and the border. One of these governors, Glenn Youngkin,  released several full-resolution campaign-style photos after a July 2023 visit, including multiple angles of the governor posing in a military-style aircraft with some wannabe Tom Cruise sunglasses. 

Perhaps they were to shield his eyes from the blinding reality that his stunt was destined to turn up nothing. Youngkin claimed that Virginia’s deployment to the border – which cost taxpayers anywhere from $2 million to $3.1 million, according to differing reports – would combat the fentanyl crisis “devastating Virginia families and communities.” But the deployment turned up zip. Perhaps that was because fentanyl is overwhelmingly trafficked through ports of entry by US citizens. But Youngkin’s stunt was never a serious policy solution; it was a continuation of the kind of racial animus he harvested during his 2021 race. A moderate, he is not.

Abbott’s operation has had “these elaborate demonstrations with riot gear and riot shields, and helicopters, and fast boats on the river,” Schuler continued to HuffPost. ”It seems like it’s meant to be a show of force, but it is doing absolutely nothing to stem the tide of migrants.” 

Soldiers also expressed concern about the miles of dangerous razor wiring that has often resulted in severe injuries. “Migrants seeking asylum in the United States ‘are moving fast’ when they encounter the ‘c-wire’ after crossing the Rio Grande into Texas, said Alex, who is being identified by a pseudonym because they’re worried about retaliation from superiors,” the report continued. “Especially when people are just wading through the water, and their skin is wet, it just slices right though,” he told HuffPost. 

Alex said that he saw the razor wiring injuring one migrant so severely that fat was “hanging out.” The razor wiring also makes it difficult for soldiers to carry out rescues. While soldiers have been given life rings to throw to migrants who are in crisis, John, another soldier speaking to HuffPost under a pseudonym, said the wiring impedes their efforts.

“I don’t know how we would use that half the time because the c-wire was in the way,” John said in the report. “There wasn’t really a good way to get down to the bank [without] getting cut up. And the rope would get caught up in the wire. I don’t know how they wanted us to use that.”

The Rio Grande has already been a death trap for desperate migrants. “On Sept. 1 last year, 13 migrants drowned there,” MSNBC reported in July. “Earlier in 2022, authorities had recovered 12 bodies from the river in a single day.” In addition to the concertina wiring, Texas also illegally installed floating saw blade barriers that an Austin judge later called a “threat to human life.” Not only did the court rule against the floating saw blade barrier, but it also found that Texas “did not present any credible evidence that the buoy barrier as installed has significantly curtailed illegal immigration across the Rio Grande River.”

“I definitely don’t believe in the mission,” John continued to HuffPost. “I don’t think that it really was about stopping migration. I think it was just putting on a show.”

This is not the first time soldiers deployed to the border have spoken out in frustration over Abbott’s operation. “Deplorable conditions, unclear mission: Texas National Guard troops call Abbott’s rushed border operation a disaster,” The Texas Tribune and Military Times said in a joint report back in 2022. One part-time senior noncommissioned officer who did not want to give his name out of fear of retaliation said he dreaded getting pulled into the border scheme because he feared it would hurt his small business. Unfortunately, his fear was realized.

“A few days after being told he’d likely sit the deployment out, the NCO was ordered to report within 72 hours, he said. If he didn’t, his commanders told him, the state would issue an arrest warrant,” the report said. He was forced to cancel $60,000 in contracts, and saw all his workers quit. “After ‘three weeks of sitting on my ass with zero task or purpose,’ he was sent home.” 

Abbott’s seizure of Shelby Park, once a community space that hosted quinceañeras, barbeques, and flea markets, has also infuriated residents, who’ve similarly complained that the park has been converted into a “military-style staging ground” that’s being used “as a backdrop for political theater.”

“You are creating a fiction and using our community’s resources to do it,” Eagle Pass residents and members of the Eagle Pass Border Coalition wrote in a letter to Abbott. “You are telling a dangerous and misleading story about us, about the border, and our safe community. Crime statistics show that border communities are safer on average than most other cities in Texas and America. In doing so, you are inviting in the very danger that you claim to be protecting us against.”