Soldiers of Misfortune

Ranch Rescue’s paramilitary posse may have guns and camo gear to keep the border safe, but what they need is a good lawyer

In some ways it resembles the playbook of the Republic of Texas--strong anti-government sentiments, claims of "Socialist" media conspiracies, off-the-grid secret identities and the like--and that is no accident. In 2001, Foote posted a recruiting notice on the Internet for the Texas Reserve, a "public service branch of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Texas." In it, Foote wrote, "You don't need to be a [Republic of Texas] Citizen to join. But it sure feels good being a Citizen."

In September 1999, while he was living in Houston, Foote posted a message in a Y2K discussion group saying he was expecting computer failures to set off riots in the cities. "I'm getting out of Dodge," he vowed, placing himself on the survivalist fringe. "I will be in a rural area before the end of the year."

On his Web site today, Foote makes a point of saying his group operates "regardless of race, color, creed or religion," but in one of his early postings he was far less politic. In a 2000 Web discussion, he responded thusly to a man with a Hispanic name: "You and the vast majority of your fellow dog turds are ignorant, uneducated and desperate for a life in a decent nation because the one that you live in is nothing but a pile of dog shit, made up of millions of little dog turds like you. You stand around your entire lives, whining about how bad things are in your dog of a nation, waiting for the dog to stick its ass under our fence and shit each one of you into our back yards. Just be careful where the dog shits, pal, because sooner or later we will be there."

Betty Sutton and her husband, Joe, have no tolerance for illegal immigrants who use their Jim Hogg County ranch as a detour around a Border Patrol checkpoint. Above: Oliver Trevino, a Border Patrol officer, talks to Sutton about a group of border-crossers who recently jumped her fence.
Wendi Poole
Betty Sutton and her husband, Joe, have no tolerance for illegal immigrants who use their Jim Hogg County ranch as a detour around a Border Patrol checkpoint. Above: Oliver Trevino, a Border Patrol officer, talks to Sutton about a group of border-crossers who recently jumped her fence.
Top: Erasmo Alarcon, the Jim Hogg County sheriff who investigated the alleged assault on two Salvadorans by a Ranch Rescue patrol this spring, says the group does not respect law enforcement. Ranch Rescue members Casey Nethercott, bottom left, and Henry Mark Conner Jr., bottom right, were arrested in the case.
Wendi Poole
Top: Erasmo Alarcon, the Jim Hogg County sheriff who investigated the alleged assault on two Salvadorans by a Ranch Rescue patrol this spring, says the group does not respect law enforcement. Ranch Rescue members Casey Nethercott, bottom left, and Henry Mark Conner Jr., bottom right, were arrested in the case.

Although Foote declined to discuss his personal history, public records in Texas and California show he lived in Silicon Valley in the early and mid-1990s, frequently switching jobs in the IT industry, before moving to Texas in 1997--first to Houston, then Arlington, then to his present home, a small house on a rural road in Hamby, northeast of Abilene. In a résumé he posted on the Web in 1997, he listed extensive knowledge of computer programming and a long history of service in the Army Reserve, although he provided no unit names or other details. Over the years, he has used the names Jack Foote, John Foote and Torre John Foote, which he used to obtain a Texas non-driver identification card in 1998.

His given name, he says now, is John Torre Foote.

For at least the past four years, he has used postal drops as his address and put his phone service in something other than his own name. Records show he has two state tax liens pending against him in California courts.

Foote says he craves secrecy not because of debts or taxes but because "the drug dealers and alien smugglers don't like what we're doing. For my safety and my family's, I don't want them to know where I am."

If anything, the rise of Foote's group shows the power of the Internet as an organizing tool and the illusions it can help spin.

Early in 2000, when the Y2K riots failed to materialize, Foote began posting his opinions on immigration in several online discussion groups. On May 30, 2000, he announced in a Texas politics group that he was looking for volunteers to form an organization to help him aid a rancher in Cochise County, Arizona, named Roger Barnett, who had begun conducting his own illegal immigrant roundups and getting a lot of news coverage for his effort.

"I will go alone if need be and I will assist the ranchers in whatever way they need," Foote wrote. The same day he posted a message in a Texas gun newsgroup: "I am looking for an HK-93 [military-style rifle] and carrier assembly...hi-cap mags, 25-round, 40-round or any drum mags."

Foote addressed many of his online messages in those days from the "Top Notch Ranch" and would write things such as, "A borderless world has about as much appeal as shit soup. There will be no borderless world on my ranch."

His ranch must have been a virtual one, because property records in the Texas counties where Foote has lived show he has never held title to a teacup of Texas land--ranch, subdivision, suburban or otherwise. That is true, he conceded to the Dallas Observer when asked, although he said his wife does own and board a horse.

Foote's group may run under the motto "private property first, foremost and always," but personally, he's a renter.

Soon, though, there would be plenty of media calls to a man whom reporters sometimes mistakenly identify as "Texas rancher" Jack Foote. In late 2000, he picked Kinney County, south of Del Rio, as the site of his first Texas border mission. Six months earlier, a 23-year-old Mexican man was shot and killed after asking for water at a home, so it was a hot spot for media attention to border issues. Under considerable scrutiny from local police, Foote's group fixed fences on one man's ranch, buddied around with a Republic of Texas contingent that also made a showing for the week and made its debut in the national news.

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