SASABE, Ariz. — The 15 migrant children, weary and hungry, stumbled toward a gap in the rust-colored border wall that soars between Mexico and Arizona, nearing the end of their two-week trek north. Unexpectedly, a man in a cap emblazoned with a blackened American flag — traditionally, a message that “no quarter” will be given to the enemy — approached them and coaxed them to his campsite.
Soon, the girls and boys, who were from Guatemala, were sitting under a blue tent devouring hamburgers and sausages. Their host for the day in this remote part of the Arizona desert, Jason Frank, an enthusiastic follower of the QAnon movement, distributed “Let’s Go Brandon” T-shirts featuring an image of President Biden. Giggling and confused, the children changed into the shirts and posed for a group photo. Later, they formed a prayer circle with Mr. Frank and the rest of his team before the Border Patrol showed up.
Mr. Frank and his group, guns holstered on their hips, have been camping out near Sasabe, Ariz., as a self-appointed border force with the stated aim of protecting the thousands of migrant children who have been arriving from the evils of sex trafficking — a favorite QAnon theme.
They are the latest in what over the years has developed into a cottage industry of dozens of armed civilians who have packed camouflage gear, tents and binoculars and deployed along the southern border.
Mr. Frank, a QAnon influencer whose Facebook page in recent months has shown him pictured with such conservative celebrities as Donald J. Trump Jr., Michael Flynn and Sidney Powell, has fashioned his team into a new style of border enforcers, motivated not so much by halting immigration as by guarding the country from other perceived threats — in this case, an unfounded conspiracy theory that migrant children are being funneled into pedophilia rings.
“They are being trafficked, sex trafficked. That’s the No. 1 trade,” Mr. Frank, 44, said as he name-dropped from his list of purported conspirators, starting with the late Jeffrey Epstein. “The money, that’s where it’s at now,” he said.
The federal government has long had concerns that the hundreds of thousands of migrant children who have made their way alone across the border over nearly a decade could be vulnerable to criminal exploitation, and it has put into place an intensive vetting effort to ensure that the young immigrants share legitimate connections with the relatives or family friends who come forward to take them.
But minors …….