Before the rise of social media, Border Patrol agents gathered in parking lots after their shifts for “choir practice” — a chance to share what they saw that day and anything else on their minds. T.J. Bonner, who led the National Border Patrol Council during much of his 32-year career as an agent, recalled the defunct tradition while trying to explain a secret Facebook group for agents that included sexually explicit posts about Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and questions about the authenticity of a recent photo of a father and daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande, the Associated Press reports.
“That outlet faded away and was replaced by social media, where people thought they had a safe place they could vent and process,” said Bonner, whose career ended in 2010. “That would explain some of the callous comments. The vile stuff? There’s no excuse. I’m certainly not going to try to defend it.” Billed as “fun, serious and just work related,” the group boasts 9,500 members. “We are family, first and foremost,” it says, according to ProPublica, which reported its existence. A former agent in the group said members had to provide the administrator with their graduating class number from the Border Patrol Academy and have a current member vouch for them. The agent likened the forum to a bar where agents would gather after work and swap stories. A news story about a 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant who died in Border Patrol custody elicited a response from one member, “If he dies, he dies.” Another member posted a GIF of the “Sesame Street” character Elmo with the quote “Oh well.” The posts threaten to tarnish the Border Patrol’s image at one of the most challenging times in its 95-year history.