A secret Facebook group of Border Patrol officers triggers another investigation into law enforcement’s disgraceful behavior on social media. Here, we follow up on our post published on June 3, which led to seventy officers being fired for racist, biased or prejudicial comments.
On Monday, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) opened an investigation into racist and vulgar social media posts made by its serving and retired agents on a secret Facebook group.
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection was made aware of disturbing social media activity hosted on a private Facebook group that may include a number of CBP employees,” said Matthew Klein, assistant commissioner of CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility.
CBP had informed the investigators with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General which typically takes the first look at allegations of serious misconduct within the CBP, and initiated an inquiry.
The secret three-year-old Facebook group, which means it’s an invite-only page, called “I’m 10-15” with some 9,500 members shocked everyone with its gallery of offensive images making fun of migrant deaths, racist and misogynistic comments including an illustration of Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez being sexually assaulted by President Donald Trump. The page’s existence came to light on the day the Congresswoman was planned to visit a CBP facility as part of a congressional troupe — the page also showed thread where agents were planning to sabotage this visit.
“I’m 10-15” Facebook group, was first revealed in a post by ProPublica which showed a meme using hateful language against CNN anchor Anderson Cooper’s sexual orientation along with other anti-gay comments targeting other known gay personalities including soccer player Megan Rapinoe. One particular post, which makes fun of a migrant father and daughter who had, apparently, drowned while trying to make the crossing caused an even greater uproar. Some have alleged the bodies in the post are cleaned and arranged after the pair had died.
Another thread, under a video, made fun of a man carrying his child through the river in a plastic bag.
One commenter wrote, “At least it’s already in a trash bag.” While another said, “Sous-vide? Lol,” alluding to the cooking technique.
“We take all the posts that were put out today very seriously,” said US Border Patrol Chief of Operations Brian Hastings while talking to CNN. He continued, “These do not represent the thoughts of the men and women of the US Border Patrol. Each one of these allegations will be thoroughly investigated.”
The group’s posts were also condemned by Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost.
“These posts are completely inappropriate and contrary to the honor and integrity I see — and expect — from our agents day in and day out,” she said in a statement. “Any employees found to have violated our standards of conduct will be held accountable.”
Apart from the horrid conduct of Border Patrol agents on the group, the manner of its disclosure has incensed many. It’s obvious from multiple comments and posts that agents were cognizant of this behavior’s impropriety, and knew it was unacceptable as government servants. Yet, as of this publication, no one has come forward to say there was an internal investigation already underway or if anyone at the department was aware in any way.
Bennie Thompson, Dem. Mississippi who chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security, the agency with jurisdiction over Border Patrol said, “This Facebook group is beyond sexist and racist — it is truly abhorrent and shameful, and there is no excuse for this depraved behavior,” he continued further to echo Provost and Hastings, “The agents found to be responsible for these vile comments should no longer have the privilege of representing the United States of America in uniform.”
While many have taken to social media to express their outrage and revulsion. One of the targets of the offensive posts, Ocasio-Cortez, responded several times on Twitter.
The National Border Patrol Council, a union representing CBP employees issued a statement stating that a Facebook group is “not representative of our employees and does a great disservice to all Border Patrol agents, the overwhelming majority of whom perform their duties admirably.” It further adds, “[the reporting] cited a handful of people who posted inappropriate content out of 9,500 members of the Facebook group, not all of whom are active agents.”
“The problems with the 10-15 page have been going on for years,” said one current Border Patrol agent who asked to remain anonymous. “No one has done anything about it.”
Former Border Patrol agent Jenn Budd said that language like “floaters” was commonly used to refer to the bodies of drowned migrants, as in an aforementioned AP photo of a father and daughter who died crossing the Rio Grande. Budd said this was “normal, everyday terminology” within the CBP culture.
Budd was of the view that CBP will protect its own people and seemed skeptical of any meaningful investigation being carried out.
“When they sit there and say, ‘We’re not going to tolerate this,’” Budd said, “they are, I’m just going to say it, lying.”
Civil rights groups have warned Facebook for hateful comments and posts in secrets groups. But Facebook maintains that its rules prohibit hateful speech in secret groups. Facebook says its standards apply just as much in private groups as public posts, prohibiting most slurs and threats based on national origin, sex, race, and immigration status. But hateful posts by the dozens in a secret group for current and former Border Patrol agents did not raise any flags at Facebook’s content moderation? In fact, it raises questions if the company is policing disturbing violent posts as such made outside of public view at all.
Heidi Beirich, the director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said she’d been pressing Facebook to pursue secret groups like 10-15 and hidden hate speech for years. Facebook, she said, “can use their AI or their people to identify these groups, and with the horrible language in there, they should have been finding these people.”
Some members of the Facebook group predicted there would be trouble if the posts ever became public. “A bunch of people gonna regret comments they write on 10-15 if it shows up in court,” wrote one member in a post obtained by ProPublica.
“You understand this page is full of Agents, right?” replied another member, apparently suggesting that no one would expose the offensive comments of their fellow Border Patrol employees.
It’d seem this agent underestimated the power of human conscience. Perhaps, it’s just my cynicism taking a backseat just long enough to me believe in a ‘conscience’, and that it may eventually wake us up to help us deal with the grotesque reality of being so hateful. How do they live with themselves, filled with all the hatred, and more importantly, how can we allow such people to be our guardians — again and again?