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Bannon: Killing of BP Agent Brian Terry helped elect Trump

'Is anything more dramatic than the death of Brian Terry in that canyon?'

The 2010 murder of a Border Patrol agent in Southern Arizona helped solidify support for Donald Trump's presidential campaign in the Upper Midwest, political strategist Steve Bannon told a Tucson audience.

"Is anything more dramatic than the death of Brian Terry in that canyon?" he said, speaking at a Saturday night benefit for a foundation set up by the slain BP agent's family.

Bannon, who returned to his position as the head of the rightwing Breitbart news organization after being ousted from his post as chief White House strategist this summer, was given the "Brian Terry Courage in Journalism and Reporting Award" to recognize that outlet's reporting on the Fast and Furious probe of drug cartel straw buyers and gun-smuggling.

Terry was killed in a 2010 gunfight with cartel operatives south of Tucson, and a weapon linked to the scandal was found at the scene.

Trump "wouldn't be president of the United States if the incident that happened here... this is the..  Brian Terry will live in history as a historical figure," Bannon told about 300 people at the event. About 150 protesters gathered outside the grounds of the Marriott Starr Pass resort before the speech, and the Tucson Police Department deployed 124 officers at the event.

Terry, killed during a nighttime shootout in rugged terrain near Rio Rico, south of Tucson, on Dec. 14, 2010, "brought the attention of the American people, he put a human face on it, he put a hero's face on it, of what is exactly at risk on the southern border of our country," said Bannon.

In a speech lasting just under 20 minutes, the hardline nationalist touted his own role in Trump's victory, and said that "even on Billy Bush weekend (when Trump's recorded comments about grabbing women and kissing them were made public), we had a 100 percent metaphysical certitude he's going to win."

Of the possible paths to a Trump win in the Electoral College, "the one we wanted, we saw from day one, was the Upper Midwest," said Bannon, who was the CEO of the Trump campaign in fall 2016.

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"We could microtarget, and look at the analytics of working-class people," he said. "You would be shocked: the central biggest issue, in addition to trade, was southern border security."

"People in Michigan, people in Wisconsin, people in Ohio, people in Pennsylvania — what happened to Brian Terry, what John Dodson (an ATF agent who blew the whistle on Fast and Furious and who was also given an award by the Terry Foundation on Saturday) brought up, and seeing these cartels, understanding the dangers of the men and women of the Border Patrol, and what you people down here in Tucson, what the border states like Texas and Arizona and California go through, really shook the nation," said Bannon.

"It was President Trump that was really able to bring it home and articulate, because he has a very special way of using the vernacular of the common man to connect with people — it was that that drove us to victory," he said.

"His central issue as he started to get steam in the primaries was what? Build an impenetrable barrier on the ...southern wall, on the southern border," Bannon said.

Trump was "the best candidate I think we've had since Ronald Reagan. He had a terrific message and is the best orator since William Jennings Bryan," said Bannon. "But the campaign was a little disorganized … They didn't have a lot of organization, as you can see from Paul Manafort." (Robert Mueller has indicted Manafort for money laundering as part of the probe into possible collusion with Russia as that nation worked to influence the 2016 election.)

Bannon was introduced by former state legislator Kelli Ward, who's running to replace Sen. Jeff Flake. Ward, who lost last year in the Republican primary to U.S. Sen. John McCain, compared Bannon to the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis beer commercials.

Bannon urged the audience, which was subdued but supportive, to continue backing the Republican president "now more than ever."

"This nullification project that is under way, this nullification project that is trying to take away the 2016 victory from the American people and the Trump supporters has to be stopped," he said. "If we allow any one sector of this country to nullify a presidential election, we will doing this back and forth for the foreseeable future. The next time we lose, the same thing will happen."

Before Bannon spoke, a group of about 150 protesters lined the road leading to the resort, but were kept about a quarter-mile away from the Marriott hotel.

Some protesters offered "free cavity searches, just like Border Patrol," to those driving to the event, with one protester waving a fuschia dildo at passersby.

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Other chanted familiar slogans, such as "Ain't no power like the power of the people."

"Entering Nazi sympathizer zone," one sign read, with another reading "Facist (sic) petting zoo inside."

A handful of Bannon supporters stood across the street from the main group of protesters, with their numbers dwindling to just three about two hours before the GOP strategist spoke.

TPD deployed 124 personnel, including a large group of commanders tasked with crowd control, Chief Chris Magnus said. That included about 50 officers standing by, out of sight in a parking garage, with riot gear at the ready.

"It's a lot of money; we'll be sending the bill to the Marriott," the chief said, noting that the El Tour de Tucson bicycle race had also required a lot of man hours Saturday.

No arrests were made, Magnus said.

One fervent Trump opponent, Bryan Sanders, was granted a press pass to the event. Wearing the same American flag shirt as he was when he was punched bloody during a Trump campaign rally in Tucson in March 2016, Sanders approached Bannon during dinner Saturday night.

"What you're proposing up there is driving the country apart," Sanders told Bannon. "I know that you know you're a white supremacist. You're about to have an orange jumpsuit."

"That's not true. Thanks, brother," said Bannon, who stood up and motioned to security as Sanders spoke to him.

"How about we do this? 1-2-3, treason; say 'treason' for me," said Sanders, as he held up a video camera. He was then asked to leave the banquet hall, with the incident drawing little notice from others.

Although the Marriott had earlier in the week attempted to bar press coverage, citing security concerns, the event organizers pushed back to allow the media to attend. There was a heavy police and security presence inside during the event, and there were no interruptions as Bannon or anyone else spoke Saturday. Security confined reporters to the rear of the hall, shooing back a TucsonSentinel.com journalist who walked a few feet to take pictures from a different angle. The foundation barred reporters from inteviewing Bannon.

Before the event, Sanders said he agreed that a fundraiser for a foundation named for a slain BP agent wasn't the right venue to a strident disruption.

"When a psychotic, deranged racist like Stephen K. Bannon comes strolling into your community, you are free to interrupt their Sonoran dog and tell them to fuck off," he posted on Facebook later that night, along with a video of his interaction with Bannon.

Bannon back at Breitbart

Bannon was pushed out of the turbulent administration by Trump in August, losing his post as chief strategist after he clashed with other top advisors. Bannon was CEO of Trump's presidential campaign, a post he left the top job at Breitbart to take.

Although he was given a journalism award by the foundation, Bannon's only mentions of journalism in his speech were to blast the "mainstream media" as being part of the "opposition party, the fake news business." While mocking the press, he also cited the election-night calls of state races by the Associated Press as being definitive.

Bannon's own organization, Breitbart, while leveraging connections with Border Patrol insiders for scoops, is also noted for publishing conspiracist fantasies such as the "Pizzagate" allegations that Hillary Clinton ran a child-sex ring from the basement of a pizzeria.

The Brian Terry Foundation honors the memory of the slain border agent by assisting the families of Border Patrol agents and offering scholarships to criminal justice students, foundation representatives said. The group also advocates for more stringent border enforcement.

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The foundation's fundraisers, although billed as "nonpolitical," have become increasingly charged over the years. Previous speakers and honorees at the group's events include former U.S. Reps. Gabrielle Giffords and Ron Barber, reporter Sharyl Attkisson, Rep. Darrell Issa, Gov. Doug Ducey, and BP Agent Eric Gough.

Predictably enough from a former White House strategist and presidential campaign CEO, Bannon's remarks dwelled exclusively on politics.

Also appearing at the Nov. 18 event was former ATF Agent John Dodson, who was given the Brian Terry Profiles in Courage Award. Dodson was a whistleblower about the failures of Operation Fast and Furious.

In brief remarks, Dodson said speaking to a crowd was "awkward for me."

"I did what each and every one of you expected me to do as a law enforcement officer," he said.

Norma Zimdahl was given the Brian Terry Courage and Heroism in the Community Award. Zimdahl, a retired Broadway performer, was recognized for her community contributions, including support for the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, and the Heritage Foundation.

Terry's murder

Terry was shot and killed during a nighttime shootout in December 2010.

Terry and three other BP agents, each members of the Border Patrol Tactical Unit, had set up a position in a remote area as part of an operation to apprehend a "rip crew"— a group who robbed drug smugglers at gunpoint — and encountered the five men, some of whom were armed with AK-47-style rifles, according to court documents filed in previous trials.

As the men approached, one the agents yelled "policia," or "police" in Spanish, and told the men to drop their weapons. A gunfight broke out, and Terry was fatally wounded by a bullet that hit him just above the hip.

A semi-automatic weapon that ATF investigators had lost track of was found at the scene of Terry's death.

The final member of the five-man "rip crew" allegedly responsible for Terry's Dec. 14, 2010, murder was arrested in Mexico last month.

Jesus Rosario Favela-Astorga, 37, faces extradition on first-degree murder charges for the his alleged role in Terry's death.

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He was the last remaining fugitive after Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes was arrested on April 17 by Mexican officials. He also faces extradition to the United States.

One man, Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, was wounded during the exchange of bullets and left in the desert. After his arrest, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2014.

Two other men, Ivan Soto-Barraza and Lionel Portillo-Meza, were both found guilty by a federal jury in October 2015. Both men were given mandatory life sentences in the killing, along with an additional 10 years each for carrying a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. Both men were also sentenced to 20 years for conspiracy and assault on three federal agents, terms that will be served concurrently with their life sentences.

Along with the five-man rip crew, two other men were indicted for their role in the conspiracy that ultimately led to Terry's death.

In October 2015, Rosario Rafael Burboa-Alvarez was sentenced to 27 years in prison in a Tucson court for first-degree murder after he admitted that he recruited the members of the group in Mexico, who then entered the United States on foot and used caches of weapons and supplies hidden in the desert to intimidate smugglers into giving up their loads of marijuana. The group would then hand over the marijuana to other co-conspirators and sell the drugs for a profit.

Another man, Rito Osorio-Arellanes, whose brother, Manuel Osorio-Arellanes was wounded during the firefight, later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery and was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2013.

After the murder of Terry, an investigation showed that one of two AK-47-type rifles used by the rip-crew was connected to a Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives operation designed to track the sale of guns bought by straw purchasers in Phoenix-area gun stores and smuggled into Mexico.

However, the agency lost track of at least 2,000 of these weapons, including the one used to kill Terry. Ultimately, the agency recovered around 700 of the weapons.

The operation, dubbed "Fast and Furious," became the focus of a congressional investigation that ultimately led to a contempt hearing for former Attorney General Eric Holder.

Fallout from the case forced U.S. Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke to resign, and the U.S. Attorney's Office of Arizona had to recuse itself from trials connected to it.

Instead, prosecutors from the Southern District of California in San Diego are leading the case.

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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1 comment on this story

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6 comments
Nov 21, 2017, 5:03 pm
-0 +0

What am I missing? Fast and Furious was supposed to track weapons, and one ended up being used to shoot a Border Patrol agent. Doesn’t that count as a successful “find” even with its tragic outcome? Obviously the people buying guns in parking lots of Phoenix gun shows are getting them across the border and into the hands of people who we would rather didn’t have them. In a world that gave a damn about Brian Perry, that would add up to gun control in the parking lots of Phoenix gunshows and more serious background checks.  But in our parallel universe, it adds up to a bunch of people claiming this was a failed program, protecting the gun shows, and subjecting the nation to people like Trump and Bannon. Now THAT is some logic.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Steve Bannon, speaking in Tucson on Saturday night.