Iowa Boy Scouts get unwanted civics lesson

boy-scoutsThere has to be a better way to teach a civics lesson than pointing a gun at a child, according to Robert Hopper, Scout Executive, with the Mid-Iowa Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

The Scoutmaster, from Grimes, Iowa, Troop No. 111, unlike residents along the U.S. southern border, had little experience with border check points. Kids being kids, and Boy Scouts, being Boy Scouts, they were fascinated by the Border Patrol agents who stopped their car on their recent trip to Alaska.

As they were crossing the border from Canada into Alaska, one of the young Scouts snapped a picture of an agent. And for that simple act of admiration, he and his fellow scouts were held for four hours while agents searched their van and every member of their group.

“The agent immediately confiscated his camera, informed him he would be arrested, fined possibly $10,000, and (receive) 10 years in prison,” Jim Fox, Troop 111’s Scoutmaster, told KCCI.

They were not charged with a crime; they committed none. Taking a picture of a Border Patrol agent is not a crime.

The many tourists who travel through the multiple border check points all the along the southern border would be surprised to discover that Customs and Border Patrol does have an official policy that prohibits people from using cameras and video recording devices at CBP stations without prior approval.

It is a policy, not a law.

Fox says the agents’ reaction was extreme. The group said the federal agent patrolling the U.S./Canadian border pointed a loaded gun at one of the scouts and pulled his suitcase from the vehicle without authorization. The agents had ordered a full search of the vehicle and all of its occupants, according KCCI.

The Agency denies this.

Whether it is heightened fear permeating through the agency, as agents become overwhelmed by the increased threats to our security, or as agents receive less support for their efforts under the Obama administration, but Iowa Senator Grassley, said the incident is outrageous no matter whose version is correct.

The press reported that the Scouts were nonchalant about the invasion of privacy. Scouts say that Charles Vonderheid, the Council’s Director of Field Service comment that the invasion was a good civics lesson is a misrepresentation of the Scout’s position.

The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol released a statement to KCCI: “CBP’s review of this group’s inspection, including video footage review, indicates that our officer did not un-holster or handle his weapon as stated in the allegation. The review revealed nothing out of the ordinary. We have reached out to the Boy Scout troop for additional information in reference to the allegation. The video footage has been referred to CBP Internal Affairs for further review.”

In light of the secrecy that has enveloped DHS these days, few believe that any will ever know the results of that review.

Ken Stinson, a Scout Master in Iowa since 1977 spends much of his time in Tucson. Unlike his friends and fellows scouts in Iowa, he is familiar with the checkpoints which residents of Southern Arizona have become accustomed.

Stinson described Scoutmaster Fox as someone who has had a lot of experience taking kids on trips like the one the boys took to Alaska. “He is a very solid guy. One that I would want to have taking care of my sons and grandsons,” said Stinson.

“No matter where you go in the country, what you find is that scout leaders are extremely responsive and responsible. By and large, they’ve received extensive training, and most have gone various levels of training,” said Stinson. “When they are going to trip, such as one to Alaska, that scoutmaster assumes the role of the scouts’ father, maybe that is too strong a word, but I treat my scouts as if they are my kids. Then you return them to their parents. That is the way the system works. When they are in uniform, they are scouts and they are expected to act like scouts.”

According to Stinson, Scouts promise “To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight,” once a week for years, so it is really unlikely that the scouts under Fox’s care were anything but, “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent,” as the Scout Law dictates.

Knowing Fox, says Stinson, “he probably told the kids to have their passports ready and be respectful. Boys are boys, and I can see one of these kids pulling out a camera, thinking something like, ‘this is interesting’ or ‘this is cool’ and ‘I’m gonna take a picture to show everyone back home.”

“In places like Tucson, people are accustomed to what’s going on this part of your world. People from Iowa, Nebraska, and the central part of this country never ever experience anything like border checkpoints,” says Stinson. “I have had conversations with friends, and I explain to them what it’s like on the southern border and how people are frequently pulled over for inspections and people from the Midwest look at you and think that you’re putting them on. My wife explains how it is along the border to friends and they can’t quite believe it.”

“The rest of the country doesn’t understand what’s going on along the borders. I’ve been on the Alcan Border Station myself several times I know the routine. I’ve never had any issues so all of a sudden a group of Boy Scouts going through have this encounter. That is unacceptable.”

Stinson agrees with Hopper that scouts do not need that kind of civics lesson and is concerned about the training of agents. “Come on, you know pulling service pistol 11-year-old Boy Scout?” asks Stinson. Threatening with jail and fines? There are really two issues her; whether you can take pictures of federal officials, and the response of an agent towards a Boy Scout.”

“There are grey areas in the law about photos. There doesn’t seem to be an expectation of privacy. The real problem, I would suggest, is that the appropriate response by the agent would have been to take the Scoutmaster aside and say, ‘I have a problem with the way the kids are acting. The Scoutmaster would have handled the situation immediately,” assures Stinson. “He would’ve taken the kid aside and talked to them and assured the agent that they would be cooperative.”

When Boy Scout troops travel, they are required to have travel permits issued by their local council office. They cannot travel without it. The Scout Master has to apply for this permit and supply information such as: Where are you going? What is the purpose of the travel? How long will you be gone? How many miles is it? There is a limit to how many miles a Troop can travel each day. Where will you be staying?

Also, health records for each person are required. First Aid training is required. There are many more requirements to be met before a travel permit is granted. Everything is aimed at ensuring that each Boy Scout member is safe because risks to a scout are unacceptable. Everything is done to ensure a safe and educational trip. If nothing else, scouts are prepared and supplied for every contingency.

“Can you image,” asks Stinson, “Boy Scouts packed into vans and all their belongings have to be unloaded and inspected? There were no charges filed, and nothing was found.”

“The Boy Scout oath and law are something these kids repeat every week for years. Boys join to become leaders,” said Stinson. “They look at these Board Patrol officers, policemen, as role models. It is not hard to understand why they took out their camera and thought it would be neat to get a picture. There’s no way those kids could’ve ever present a threat to anyone.”

Iowa Senator Grassley has called for an inquiry into the matter.

In light of the fact that agents are speaking out about MS-13 members recruiting Unaccompanied Alien Children out of the Nogales Border station, while the Obama administration looks the other way, one can’t imagine the incredible pressures under which agents find themselves.

Given the stresses that the federal government has put on agents while cutting back automatic overtime, and the respect that kids like the scouts of Troop No. 111 feel for the agents, who protect our borders and nation’s sovereignty, there is little doubt who their common enemy is.