An unsecured M-4-style rifle that was found inside an unlocked Texas National Guard truck Monday, June 27, 2022. Photo courtesy of Marianna Wright.
When a Texas woman found an unsecured M4-style rifle inside an unlocked Texas National Guard truck Monday, June 27, she took matters into her own hands by, well, taking the weapon into her own hands.
“Today, I got my hands on a fully automatic weapon thanks to the stupid, irresponsible #TexasNationalGuard #OperationLonestar who left their vehicle running & unlocked with guns inside on the side of the road,” Marianna Wright tweeted Monday. Operation Lone Star is the long-term deployment of Texas National Guard troops to the US-Mexico border within the state. “Guess the truck could’ve been mine, too. #PublicSafety, #Texas Style.”
In a series of three tweets Monday, Wright chronicled finding what she described as a pickup truck used by the Texas National Guard left unattended and unlocked. She posted a picture of the front seat with what appears to be an M4-style rifle unsecured between the front seats.
Wright is the executive director of the National Butterfly Center, a 200-acre wildlife preserve in Mission, Texas, near McAllen whose property backs directly to the US-Mexico border. Wright told Coffee or Die Magazine Tuesday in an interview that Border Patrol and Texas National Guard commonly cross the center’s property without permission and appeared to be doing so Monday when she found the rifle.
The center’s trails, she said, are popular with civilians. Several bikers and joggers passed the truck as she waited for officials to arrive.
The unsecured rifle, Wright said, was in plain sight inside a blue truck with Oregon license plates, similar to rental vehicles commonly used by Guard members in McAllen. It also held both a military rucksack and life vests commonly issued to Guardsmen.
The truck, she said, was running and unlocked.
“All of this was documented in real time to a federal law enforcement agent.” Wright told Coffee or Die. “There was life vests and a rucksack. I did not pilfer or rummage, I just turned the vehicle off and secured the weapon as I communicated in real time with the Border Patrol” via text and pictures, she said.
She said she later saw Texas Guard members drive the vehicle away. The Texas National Guard did not immediately respond to questions from Coffee or Die about the incident.
“We’ve had militia (white supremacist, Oath Keepers, etc) show up from other states,” she wrote in a direct message to Coffee or Die. “So I had no way to positively ID whose vehicle — that’s why I reached out to closest federal LEO contact.”
Wright’s second tweet includes a picture of the same rifle in her office. A magazine is inserted in the weapon, though it’s unclear whether it is loaded.
“It had [a] loaded magazine, but I did not remove that or check the chamber,” Wright said.
In the name of #PublicSafety, I removed the weapon from the abandoned, unlocked vehicle on the side of the road & secured it in @NatButterflies where #Texas #NationalGuard was able to reclaim it. The idiots didn't even realize it was missing when they returned to the truck. #OLS pic.twitter.com/wMggvN2x9S
— Marianna Wright (@mtwrighter) June 27, 2022
A Border Patrol agent and a noncommissioned officer from the Texas Guard soon arrived at the Butterfly Center to collect the weapon. She also said a senior official with the Texas Department of Safety called her to apologize for the incident.
Wright also noted in her tweets that the truck’s driver appeared to have purposefully disabled the seat belts in the vehicle by fastening them before sitting down, thereby disengaging the audible seat belt alarm. Seat belt use has been mandatory in all Department of Defense vehicles and on all Department of Defense installations since at least the 1980s.
NOTE: The #Texas guard charged with "upholding & enforcing the law" won't even wear their seatbelts; rather the driver had it fastened behind him so he didn't have to be annoyed by the ding-ding-ding of the pesky alarm to #BuckleUp Also, he left his gun in an unlocked truck. #OLS pic.twitter.com/UyaqVIhnq3
— Marianna Wright (@mtwrighter) June 27, 2022
The Texas National Guard has had soldiers deployed to the US-Texas border since March of 2021 for Operation Lone Star, an initiative launched by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. The deployments, now in their 16th month, have drawn criticism for a lack of planning and equipment, cost to Texas taxpayers — estimated at about $2.5 million per week — unclear results, and a lack of clear mission. Morale has been found to be low among the deployed troops, who have had to leave jobs and family, even over holidays, for a deployment in which they have few legal or practical duties. Federal authorities are also looking into whether funding for the deployments was diverted from COVID-19 relief funds.
“They are bored as fuck sitting out here,” Wright said. “If they see any Border Patrol action, they try to get in on it.”
Wright speculated that the Guard member who left the rifle had driven to the property in hopes of joining a search or arrest by Border Patrol agents.
“Every one of these rentals, they are driving it like they stole it,” she said. “They have no regard for posted signs or the law. They don’t even wear their seatbelts, which is a Texas law.”
Wright said she has a son who is enlisted in the Navy and another who is in Army ROTC while in college, so she fully understands the gravity of an unsecured or missing weapon to a military member.
“I know it’s a big deal,” she said.
Losing possession of a weapon is one of the military’s gravest errors and is punishable by a wide range of outcomes, including loss of rank, loss of pay, and even jail for up to 10 years, along with nonjudicial punishments like Article 15s.
Wright and the Butterfly Center sued the federal government in 2017 when construction of a pair of so-called border walls began on the center’s property with, she said, no warning or proper environmental considerations. One was a federal project under the Department of Homeland Security, while a second was erected by a private group, led by former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon.
The 100-acre National Butterfly Center bills itself as “the premier location in the United States to experience the beauty of wild, free-flying butterflies” and “the best place in the United States to experience a safari of diverse and exciting wildlife populations, including hundreds of species of wild butterflies.”
The center is adjacent to a facility used by US Border Patrol for horse stables.
Matt White is a former senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine. He was a pararescueman in the Air Force and the Alaska Air National Guard for eight years and has more than a decade of experience in daily and magazine journalism.
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