According to anonymously-sourced reports pushed by right-wing blogs last weekend, members of Mexico’s notorious Zetas drug gang crossed the border into Texas and, “in what could be deemed an act of war,” seized two ranches near the border town of Laredo. The situation was dire, wingers warned, but a government enforced media blackout kept knowledge of the raid from the general public.
No, not really.
Here’s the thing: the “raid” never happened.
The story originated with Jeff Schwilk, the founder of the anti-immigration San Diego Minutemen. In an interview with TPM, Schwilk said he has a friend who has a friend in the Laredo, Texas police department. According to Schwilk, the Laredo PD source contacted Schwilk’s friend late on July 23, saying “some big stuff was going down.”
“He was mad, he was upset” that the media was not covering the incident, Schwilk said. “They were waiting for the feds to come in.”
Schwilk, who calls his group “basically an intelligence center” and “a news source without a news outlet,” sent the tip to Dan Amato, also known as Digger, who blogged the news on his website, citing Schwilk, at 4:11 a.m. on July 24. Amato wrote:
The bloodbath continues along our southern border and now word is coming in that Los Zetas, the highly trained killers formerly with the Gulf Cartel, have crossed into the United States and taken over at least two ranches in the Laredo, Texas area. I am receiving word that the owners of the ranches have evacuated without being harmed. The source is law enforcement in the area.
Hours later, at 11:18 a.m., writing for examiner.com, Kimberly Dvorak “confirmed” the report with “two sources inside the Laredo Police Department.”
In what could be deemed an act of war against the sovereign borders of the United States, Mexican drug cartels have seized control of at least two American ranches inside the U.S. territory near Laredo, Texas.
But as local reports suggested and TPM confirmed, law enforcement in the area had no idea where the bogus story came from.
“Basically everyone was shrugging their shoulders,” Joe Baeza, an investigator and public affairs officer with the Laredo Police Department, told TPM. “There was no proof or evidence that was found.”
Baeza was puzzled by what any potential Zeta invaders would even want with the land they supposedly took over. The land is in “strategic proximity to nothing, when they have all sorts of availability of ways to get into the country beside the one piece of land.”
“The really strange part is that nobody believed the locals,” Baeza said. Dan Amato, Schwilk and others have decried a supposed media blackout, but Baeza pointed to a local paper and NBC affiliate, both of which had debunked the story.
And furthermore, the ranches where the raid supposedly took place aren’t even within the Laredo police department’s jurisdiction, so there is no reason to believe department personnel would have responded to an incident there.
The local law enforcement agency that would have responded if the Zetas had actually invaded is the Webb County sheriff’s office. They too, were baffled, if not outright frustrated, by the reports. The sheriff’s office’s public information officer Maru De La Paz told TPM the story was “nothing but a rumor” and “there is nothing of that sort happening.” And what about the source in the Laredo police department? “The Laredo police department has no jurisdiction” over the ranch land in question, she said.
So are the creators of the story backing down? No way. Amato has continued to blog the story, treating it as a cover-up. He hasn’t responded to TPM’s request for comment. Dvorak responded to our e-mail by saying: “I stand by my source and story and an update is forthcoming.” Schwilk said the report had been confirmed by “dozens of people,” but that “the government doesn’t want this stuff getting out.”
Others on the right, however, are disavowing the story. Michelle Malkin amended her original post with an update that reads: “Updated: No US ranch seizures, 51 bodies discovered in Monterrey,” while Bob Owens at Big Government is taking the Laredo police department at their word and says it “never happened.”
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com