At the Border, a Blending of Politics and Religion

Last Saturday, a crowd of several hundred people gathered in a grassy field near the bank of the Rio Grande in Quemado, Texas, for a rally in support of the state’s defiant stance on immigration.

The event, which was held by the protest group Take Our Border Back, marked the final stop of a dayslong convoy of conservative Americans who, in a procession of cars, trucks and mobile homes, made their way to Quemado to demonstrate their frustration over what they see as the federal government’s failure to enforce immigration laws at the border.

A response to the intensifying confrontation over border security and immigration between the Biden administration and the Texas governor, Greg Abbott, the event featured an unexpected blend of political anger and religious ardor.

It began around 11 a.m., with evangelical sermons, music and speeches. There were mentions of Jan. 6, 2021, of Donald Trump, and of multiple right-wing conspiracy theories, but the central message being repeated again and again was about the need to stave off an “invasion” of illegal immigration and prevent a civil war. The crowd included young children, teenagers and even some older folks, though a majority appeared to be around 50 or 60. Some were dressed in paramilitary fatigues, while others sported American flag T-shirts and pro-Trump merchandise. In all, the scene looked something like a MAGA version of Burning Man.

I was particularly struck by the overt and impassioned religious displays, which set this event apart from other MAGA rallies I have attended. Prayer sessions were boisterous and frequently ended with people getting riled into a feverish state, chanting and invoking the Holy Spirit. A few people were baptized in what appeared to be cattle troughs.

Still, others seemed to be there for more plainly political reasons — in support of stricter immigration policies and in support of Mr. Trump. One man I spoke with from Bemidji, Minn., mentioned that he had taken part in another trucker convoy back in 2020. He’d come to Quemado in search of a similar sense of political unity.

Finally, around 9 p.m., people began clearing out. After the last baptism, I walked to my car. The road that runs alongside the U.S.-Mexico border — which earlier in the day had been crowded bumper to bumper — was dark and empty

The following day, Governor Abbott and 13 other governors held a news conference in the nearby Eagle Pass, where, standing beside a group of Texas National Guard troops and Humvees, Governor Abbot reaffirmed, “We are all fighting for a safer, more secure border and country.”

Mark Peterson is a photographer based in New York and a member of Redux Pictures.

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