In trucks, vans and RVs, hundreds of people converged Saturday in southern Texas to rally against what they say is a migrant "invasion" and to demand tough new controls at the US border with Mexico.
Scrawled on the side of one of the vehicles reaching Quemado -- population 162 -- were the words "Join the God Fight."
The convoy gathered in the tiny town along the Rio Grande river, which forms the natural border between the United States and Mexico, as debate swirls again about how to address record high migrant crossings.
Hundreds of thousands of people from Central and South America, and beyond, have waded across the river in recent months in hopes of better lives in the United States.
But their huge numbers have become a galvanizing issue, especially ahead of the November presidential election, with Republicans in Congress blocking additional US aid to Ukraine and Israel over demands that President Joe Biden's administration does more to stop the flow.
In Quemado this weekend, conservative activists, including a group calling itself "We the People" -- the first words in the preamble to the US Constitution -- met to make their anger over immigration known, rallying under the slogan "Take our border back."
One of the event's organizers has called those massing here "God's Army," suggesting holy backing for their cause.
"Migration on the border is out of control," said 43-year-old Robyn Forzano, who was guarding the entrance to the Quemado ranch where protesters were meeting.
"We're being invaded and, you know, ultimately we have to be able to control what's happening," he told AFP, echoing Republican leaders and conservative media pundits in recent weeks.
Many arriving vehicles bore signs supporting former president Donald Trump, the Republican favorite in this fall's election, or blasting his likely opponent, incumbent Biden.
Biden campaigned in 2020 on restoring "humanity" to immigration -- ending controversial Trump-era policies that led to families being separated at the US-Mexico border.
But Republicans dismiss his term as a failure, pointing to data showing "migrant encounters" -- when a border agent picks up a migrant after they've entered the United States -- reaching a record high of 302,000 in December.
"We love legal immigrants in this country because they work hard to be here," said 39-year-old Adam Chavin, who works for an IT company and wore a T-shirt with Trump's image.
But he said "these illegals" were "keeping us from having jobs," an oft-repeated anti-immigrant claim.
Another activist held a sign that read: "Heaven has walls, hell has open borders."
- 'Disaster zone' -
"The people in Mexico, they are wonderful, beautiful people -- love them," Marty Bird, a 73-year-old Trump supporter, told AFP in the nearby town of Eagle Pass.
"But it seems like once they come here... they become militants. You know, they become angry. They do robbery, burglaries," he claimed, seemingly parroting a 2016 campaign remark by Trump in which he referred to Mexican migrants as "rapists" and criminals.
Eagle Pass, about 20 miles (30 kilometers) from Quemado, has become the epicenter of a prickly conflict between Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, and the Biden administration.
The federal government is suing Abbott for taking control of a park that includes an access ramp to the river, and for laying barbed wire along the riverbank.
In mid-January, the Biden administration complained that Texas national guardsmen had prevented federal border police from reaching the river to try to rescue three migrants who ultimately drowned.
Texas has rejected the accusation.
Biden has taken the case all the way to the US Supreme Court, which has authorized the border police to cut the barbed wire.
But a defiant Abbott has ordered more fencing to be erected and has garnered support from Republican governors around the country who have sent their own guardsmen or resources to the border.
Seizing on the issue, Republicans in the House of Representatives have launched impeachment proceedings against Biden's Homeland Security chief, with votes expected in the coming weeks.
"That river today is a disaster zone," Jessie Fuentes, who owns a kayak rental business near the Rio Grande, told journalists. "It is becoming a military base."
"Certain individuals or certain groups claiming to be an 'Army of God' are coming to our community to spread hate and to spread dissension.
"And I'm troubled by that, because this is not who we are," Fuentes said.