U.S. Army and Border Patrol officials hosted an unusual event in the Sonoran Desert on Wednesday, inviting members of the press to watch as they blew up a portion of a national monument in support of the president’s ongoing effort to wall off the United States from Mexico.
Presented as a run-of-the mill construction project, the explosives detonated on the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in southern Arizona went off just as the chair of the Tohono O’odham Nation — a Native American tribe with deep historic and cultural ties to the area — offered testimony in Washington, D.C. regarding the Trump administration’s desecration of O’odham lands.
The Intercept was first to report on the use of explosives on Organ Pipe earlier this month, detailing how the blasting was the latest move in a controversial project that threatens to destroy a fragile desert ecosystem. Since then, the construction has come under withering criticism from Democratic lawmakers, as well as environmental and Indigenous rights advocates. In recent days, top officials in the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector have gone on a public relations blitz in response, tweeting “fact checks” and making videos to counter the bad press that comes with blasting sacred Native American sites on federally protected public lands.
Wednesday’s event was the most elaborate of those efforts, with journalists invited to a trailer in a dirt lot that has served as a base of operations for the Organ Pipe project.
Taped to the walls inside the space were Google Earth-style images of the border with colored demarcations charting different portions of wall expansion and replacement. Sitting in plain view was a set of Department of Homeland Security blueprints — labeled “Wall Standard Details” — that showed a wall topped with spikes (while President Donald Trump has described his desire for a spiked border wall, the existing wall in Arizona currently lacks spikes). When asked why the wall had spikes, a Border Patrol agent examined the document for a moment, told us all of our questions would be answered, and then took the documents into another room and shut the door. James O’Loughlin, a contractor with the Logistics Management Institute and project manager for Customs and Border Protection-Pentagon projects, later told me that “there is no current plan for spikes on the wall” nor are there current plans to paint the wall black, which the president has also expressed interest in.
This is an incredibly ecologically sensitive and beautiful area that would take hundreds of years to return to its previous state if nothing else happened. It’s a critical wildlife zone. It is home and sacred lands to the Tohono O’odham. All of this actually enhances the joy the fascists at CBP and in the Trump administration get from building the wall through the national monument. These are genuinely disgusting human beings. As always, the cruelty is the point.