QUEMADO, Texas — Trump 2024 flags flew alongside Christian flags as a throng of people converged on a rural Texas ranch to denounce the president and the people who have crossed into the United States from the nearby Rio Grande.
Many of those who arrived at the border town of Quemado on Friday for the “Take Our Border Back” rally said they were convening as Christians who stand against lawlessness and were doing so peacefully. The musical performers, vendors, political signs and colorful clothing on the rally grounds contrasted with the razor wire, camouflage uniforms and weaponry stationed 20 miles south at the section of border in Eagle Pass.
The group arrived at about 8 p.m. Friday local time and merged onto a two-lane rural road, creating a long queue of mostly personal or rented cars and recreational vehicles.
They were led by a man on horseback waving the Christian flag — a white banner with a blue square and red cross in its upper left corner — three commercial trucks and a few buses, inching one by one through the only open entrance onto the grounds.
The convoy was first billed as 700,000 trucks that would head from Virginia to three points on the border, but that didn’t materialize.
However, people joined along the way in Texas, driving passenger cars, recreational vehicles and trucks towing campers. When they arrived on Texas’ border, organizers said the convoy numbered around 200. NBC News was unable to independently verify that number, but observed at least 100 vehicles.
Dorothy Richards, 67, a retiree from New Braunfels, had attended a leg of the convoy’s rally in Dripping Springs, Texas, near Austin, but arrived before the convoy. The Take Our Border Back organizers held their Dripping Springs event at a whiskey distillery, where Richards said free mugs of beer were handed out.
She carried a Texas flag Friday, but then swapped that out for a sign supporting Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in his face-off with President Joe Biden over immigration. “Biden had his chance,” she said.
“Governor Abbott & TX NG [National Guard] SECURE THE BORDER,” Richards’ sign read.
The Biden administration and Abbott have clashed over enforcement of immigration laws as Abbott has been sending immigrants allowed to await hearings in the U.S. to Democratic-led cities and has been operating his own border enforcement. Abbott is using the Texas National Guard and state police to apprehend people crossing into the United States illegally and to erect razor wire along the border. Border Patrol agents have said some of the actions are keeping them from doing their jobs.
Richards said the clash over immigration could bring civil war, but she saw it as necessary. “What are we going to do? Should we stand back and let it [illegal immigration] happen?” she asked.
The event could have easily been a Trump rally with flags, MAGA hats and even a cardboard Trump. Some took it further with a hearse with “Trump 2024” on the front door and “collecting Democrat votes one dead stiff at a time” written in all-capital letters on the rear.
Alma Arredondo-Lynch, 67, of Concan, Texas, wore a rhinestone “Women For Trump” brooch and wide-brimmed hat as she walked the ranch’s grounds. Friday evening’s rain and lightning had been pushed aside by a bright sun and warm temperatures on Saturday.
“I believe that if we don’t have a border, we don’t have sovereignty. And if we don’t have sovereignty, we aren’t going to have civility,” she said. Drug cartels own and operate the border, she said.
Like several others, she said she was not against people coming to the border, but said they should arrive legally.
The rally was largely calm with the exception of some clashes with a handful of demonstrators who said they belong to the group Street Preachers. They began protesting late Friday with a bullhorn, but were forced by the convoy and rally organizers to move across the street. They held anti-LGBTQ and Islamophobic signs.
The organizers used their own bullhorn to separate themselves from the protesters and to tell rallygoers they didn’t agree with the protesters’ views.
But some rallygoers didn’t distance themselves from anti-immigration rhetoric used by Abbott, Trump and others, which has raised alarms. Trump has said immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country." Abbott drew some backlash when he said that the state was not shooting people who cross the border illegally because then Biden would charge state officials with “murder.”
Abbott was planning to host several Republican governors in Eagle Pass on Sunday for a news conference on immigration and the border.
Asked about Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, Scotty Clay of Alpena, Arkansas, who would not give his age, said, “Trump sometimes stirs the pot ... just to get the rouse out of the media.”
“We are at war within our own country. It’s on our southern border,” he said.
Doug Pagitt, a pastor and the executive director of Vote Common Good, was at the ranch and in Eagle Pass over the weekend, too, to counter the claims that conservative and far-right groups constitute the “army of God” — as rally organizers have described themselves — and to support faith leaders who do not agree with them or Abbott.
“When we hear people like this trucker brigade say that they are the army of God and they’re espousing things that sound like Christian nationalist ideas, that puts a target on places like Eagle Pass,” Pagitt said, referring to what he said was the belief that Christianity is the default religion for the nation and is what makes the U.S. great.
“A lot of people are here to say that the governor shouldn’t listen to federal law. That sounds a little bit like an insurrection,” he said.
The convoy may be peaceful, he said, but attracts other groups that want to cause violence. He said he and other faith leaders were advised by Eagle Pass police against holding an outdoor hot dog cook-off and a prayer walk at Shelby Park on Sunday because the police could not guarantee their safety.
Standing across from the ranch entrance Friday afternoon, onlooker Marco Castillo, 29, of Eagle Pass, said the rallygoers should have been in the area in December, when crossings were more numerous.
“What is all of this for? For show,” he said, adding that he’d seen Dr. Phil’s helicopter in the skies. “Show.”
He sees no need for Abbott’s enforcement operation, dubbed Operation Lone Star, to be in Eagle Pass, “because look what they brought,” he said.