Jerry J. Pena-Ahuyon, a man with a very long dark beard, wearing sugnglasses and dark clothing, along with a digital SLR and homemade press badge around his neck.
Jerry J. Pena-Ahuyon in Quemado (Francesca D'Annunzio)

Right-Wing Bloggers Busted During Militia Border Tour

Near Eagle Pass, Texas officers arrested bloggers for drug possession after receiving information that someone in a caravan was pointing a gun at migrants, DPS report says.


The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) recently arrested two right-wing bloggers riding in a caravan near Eagle Pass after finding what law enforcement described as a plastic bag containing a “white powdery substance,” marijuana, and THC edibles in their Mercedes SUV,  which also reeked of cannabis, according to a police report obtained by the Texas Observer via a public records request. 

Celeste April Sparks and Jerry J. Pena-Ahuyon, who self-identify as “independent journalists,” told the Observer that they were stopped while giving a tour of the area to members of the United Patriot Party of North Carolina, described by police as a militia group, on January 20. Pena-Ahuyon, who goes by Pena, also had a Smith & Wesson gun, per the report. 

“We kind of led a little convoy. We let them follow us,” Sparks told the Observer by phone. 

Both Sparks and Pena-Ahuyon said that day was their first time meeting with the United Patriot Party of North Carolina. Both said they were unaware that the group was an armed militia and that they are not members.

At the time of their arrests, they had been traveling with militia members who had allegedly pointed guns at migrants, according to DPS. DPS troopers arrived to investigate reports from a Federal Bureau of Investigation surveillance plane that migrants were possibly being held at gunpoint, per the report. 

A woman in a black ball cap and black t-shirt with a homemade press pass in a lanyard holder. She's standing outside a ranch with people gathered behind her in a shade structure.
Celeste April Sparks at the Take Back Our Border rally in Quemado (Francesca D’Annunzio/Texas Observer)

Members of the United Patriot Party of North Carolina, who were out patrolling with Sparks and Pena, were not arrested that day, though one man with the group, Jeremy Allred, was stopped and had multiple guns in his possession, according to the DPS report. The report says Allred admitted to police that he “did brandish a rifle in the presence” of migrants.

According to DPS, Allred has a prior conviction for domestic assault. The report says that DPS officers were told that federal prosecutors “did not want to accept charges on Allred, but later advised they will now accept federal weapons charges on Allred if he is encountered again.”

The encounter with police did not deter Allred from taking to Facebook to post about his border activities. On January 21, Allred posted the first of multiple videos documenting his activities near Eagle Pass. The first features desert scenes and the Mission Impossible theme song. (Allred could not be reached for comment.)

Despite her and Pena-Ahuyon’s arrests for drug possession, Sparks said she travels to Eagle Pass and other places because of concerns about law and order. 

“You know, at the migrant center [in San Antonio] … there were people smoking marijuana, and the cops just kind of brushed them off and let them keep walking on. They don’t penalize them. If I were to do the same thing, I’d be locked up, or I’d get a fine or a charge or something,” she told the Observer on February 3 at the Take Back Our Border ranch rally in Quemadoexactly two weeks after DPS arrested her for possession of a controlled substance. 

“So if they would just teach them the same laws that we live under, then it would work—but they’re just being let in freely, with no control,” she continued. 

The police report provides more details of the duo’s January arrest: A Federal Bureau of Investigation surveillance plane observed armed members of a militia patrolling private property and became concerned about “migrants possibly being held at gunpoint.”

An FBI surveillance plane observed armed members of a militia patrolling private property and became concerned about “migrants possibly being held at gunpoint.”

Responding to the FBI’s call, DPS dispatched an officer. When a DPS sergeant arrived at the scene, the police report says several vehicles raced off—including the black Mercedes SUV in which Sparks, Pena, and a third person were riding. 

The officer made contact with several people, including the United Patriot Party of North Carolina militia president Greg Gibson, who, per the report, said that all participants had come to the border to “help stop illegal immigration.” 

Sparks denies breaking the law. In a video streamed on January 23 to a podcast on Rumble (a right-wing YouTube alternative), Sparks said that the baggie with the white powdery drug the officer found in the Mercedes SUV on January 20 was not hers: She picked it up while she was out reporting by the border that same day. The idea, she said, was to “get fingerprints or something of that sort” and understand “what’s going on between the border and our migrant center” in San Antonio. 

On the podcast, Sparks said she shared her version of events with the police officer: “I had just found that thing.” But, she added, “He didn’t want to hear it.”

On several occasions, Sparks has picked up small baggies with drugs while out filming, she said.

Lt. Christopher Olivarez, a spokesperson for DPS, said there are only two substances with a white and powdery appearance that could be related to the alleged possession of a schedule one controlled substance: cocaine and fentanyl. But the department’s analysis lab can take up to several months to complete testing, he said. At the time of an arrest, police cannot determine what a substance is based on its appearance alone.  

After the January 20 arrest, Sparks was taken to Maverick County jail and charged with possession of a controlled substance and released on a bail of $10,000. Pena was charged with possession of marijuana, possession of a controlled substance, and unlawful carrying of a weapon and released on a total bail of $9,000, according to DPS and a phone interview with an official at Maverick County Jail. Sparks’ and Pena-Ahuyon’s cases remain under review as of February 6. Officials from the Maverick County district attorney and county attorney offices said no charges had been filed in court. 

If prosecuted, both said they plan to contest the allegations. Pena-Ahuyon told the Observer he has a CBD business based in San Antonio and that all the marijuana-appearing substances found in the Mercedes SUV were CBD and hemp flower. However, he told police that the cookies found in his car contained THC, according to the DPS report.

Both Sparks and Pena-Ahuyon said they did not point guns at the migrants or see anyone else do so. 

But Sparks told the Observer that prior to her arrest, she heard some militia members make threatening remarks to a group of five migrants who were sitting on top of a hill. One of the migrants, Sparks said, was 13 years old and seemed “pretty traumatized” by members of the militia.

“At one point, I hear one guy say ‘What are we gonna do with them? Shoot them?’” Sparks said. Another commented about pushing the migrants off a ledge, she added. 

“Imagine coming from the other side … and now you cross across the river to be met up by five more people with guns strapped around them, acting as if almost like they’re cartel themselves,” she said about the armed militia members. “You know, it was very disheartening and dehumanizing.”

Sparks’ description of the scenario is similar to a video that Allred posted on Facebook, which shows five migrants on a hill near a ledge overlooking the Rio Grande. In a similar video uploaded to Instagram, Gibson is seen with the same group of five migrants. While facing them, he said “Y’all look sketchy as shit today.”

“Imagine coming from the other side … and now you cross across the river to be met up by five more people with guns strapped around them, acting as if almost like they’re cartel themselves.”

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The group’s motto, according to its home page, is: “By Ballot, by choice. By Bullet if forced. The Republic will be Restored.” United Patriot Party of North Carolina’s website claims they arrived in Eagle Pass from at least January 20 through January 28 for what it calls “Operation Hold the Line”—a reference to a 1990s military show-of-force operation in El Paso, which was meant to deter migrant crossings.

In a phone interview with the Observer, Gibson, the group’s president, insisted that no one with his group pointed a gun at migrants, and said he denounces violence. 

What really happened, he said, is that while watching people cross the river from a distance, a “gentleman” with his group “did use his rifle looking through his scope” in lieu of using binoculars. “It was not a good idea, but no he was not pointing the rifle at migrants.”

In January, federal firearms charges were filed in Tennessee against Paul Faye, a man who told undercover agents that he was planning to travel to Eagle Pass as a “sniper” to meet a militia group referred to as the “NC Patriot Party,” court documents show. The FBI and a Tennessee federal court official would not comment on whether the NC Patriot Party is also known as the United Patriot Party of North Carolina; online, the groups use the same logo. When asked about the logo, Gibson said it is “sort of a generic logo. I mean, it shows up across the internet.” 

A road sign along a rural road, pointing one way to Eagle Pass, Texas and the other to Quemado, Texas.
Right-wing bloggers Celeste April Sparks and Jerry J. Pena-Ahuyon took members of the United Patriot Party of North Carolina on a tour of the border near Eagle Pass. (Francesca D’Annunzio/Texas Observer)

In an initial phone call, Gibson said he had “absolutely nothing to do with” the Tennessee man who was arrested last month and did not know him. After this story published, he called back to apologize. “I did not mean to lie to you”, he said, adding that he did know Faye, but knew him by the name Gunny. Gibson said they spoke on the phone a few times, and that Faye never talked about committing violence against police or immigrants. 

“I did not get that vibe from the guy,” Gibson said. 

Initially, Gibson said his group is not the NC Patriot Party. In a phone call after this story published, Gibson said Faye must have been referring to his group—the United Patriot Party of North Carolina. 

After Gibson reached out to them, Pena said, he and Sparks agreed to voluntarily provide a tour in January. The tour, Sparks said, included Shelby Park, the Firefly immigration processing center in Maverick County, a pecan grove, and a private ranch they say they had access to as well as an unincorporated area near Eagle Pass where they said migrants had been crossing. 

In a video posted on social media, Gibson recounted what a federal agent told him in Eagle Pass: “If any of these illegals … say they even felt threatened, just felt threatened by me, then I would be arrested.” Then, he added, “You can’t back American patriots down when we believe we are defending and protecting our families. And now, you’ve started a fight that you are woefully underprepared for.”

The two bloggers met up with the group at the Microtel in Eagle Pass, Pena said, and then drove around together. Gibson even brought his 16-year-old daughter, both Sparks and Pena-Ahuyo said.

Sparks and Pena-Ahuyon said they go to the border to document “what’s really going on”; Pena describes himself as covering an “invasion.” 

But Sparks also does occasional security work. She later worked security at the Take Back Our Border rally near Eagle Pass on February 3, and has previously done what she described as armed “security missions.” 

When asked how she reconciles her role doing security and journalism, she said: “I don’t know, man. This world has changed us into different people. All I’m seeking is truth in my life and … it just didn’t seem like the media was taking seriously the overwhelming inhumane actions that were going on at our migrant center and down at the border.” 

“You know, somebody’s got to see this. The people got to see what they’re not showing us,” she added. Her work, she said, is “journalizing and protesting at the same time.”

The rustic entrance to the Cornerstone Children's Ranch in Quemado, Texas, site of the Take Back Our Border rally.
Both Celeste April Sparks and Jerry J. Pena-Ahuyon attended the Christian nationalist Take Back Our Border event in Quemado, where Sparks also served on the event’s volunteer security team. (Francesca D’Annunzio/Texas Observer)

Sparks, of San Antonio, and Pena-Ahuyon, of Cibolo, create videos and social media content for Beyond the Masks SA—a right-wing advocacy group that spreads conspiracy theories and has a following of around 1,000 on Instagram and 4,000 on Twitter. 

Both Sparks and Pena-Ahuyon also attended the Christian nationalist Take Back Our Border convoy rally at Cornerstone Children’s Ranch in Quemado on February 3. In addition to reporting on the convoy that she participated in, Sparks said that she served on the rally’s 22-person security team, where she assisted with “perimeter checks” and made sure infiltrators (like pedophiles and people who do “bad journalism”) were not granted entry. 

Beyond the Masks advertises itself as a media outlet reporting on the border and the San Antonio Migrant Resource Center but has also engaged in local political advocacy. “Once you figure out we are in a spiritual war, everything will make sense,” its Instagram biography reads. “It’s going to be biblical.”

Sparks and Pena portray themselves as journalists—despite actively participating in the causes that they’re covering, embedding with or working alongside groups like the convoy and the anti-immigrant militia United Patriot Party of North Carolina. 

After their arrests, Beyond the Masks posted on social media to solicit donations to pay legal fees. “Beyond the Masks was out documenting in Eagle Pass. Around 4 p.m., we were swatted with a false report,” the post read. “Please keep us in your prayers.”

“One of the norms of journalism is that journalists don’t participate in the things that they’re covering. They’re neutral; they’re observers.”

A week after his release from jail, Pena-Ahuyon was interviewed by One America News about his work as an “independent journalist” covering the “invasion” of the US-Mexico border, which he said is mostly his full-time gig—aside from his San Antonio-based CBD business. (In a call with the Observer, Pena said he had never filed an open records request and did not know how to obtain his own arrest report from DPS.)

Daxton “Chip” Stewart, a media law and ethics professor at Texas Christian University, said anybody can say they’re a journalist.

“The First Amendment’s for everybody,” he said. But, he added, “One of the norms of journalism is that journalists don’t participate in the things that they’re covering. They’re neutral; they’re observers.”

And those who spew disinformation online, or try to rile people up against targeted minorities, he said, “that’s dangerous and worrisome.” 

Update, February 8, 2024 2:15PM: This story has been updated with additional information obtained from a phone call with Greg Gibson after its initial publication.

Correction, February 9, 2024: In a previous version of this article, we misspelled the first name of Daxton “Chip” Stewart.