Jim Chilton didn’t expect to find himself face-to-face with President Donald Trump, much less on a stage in front of more than 7,000 farmers and ranchers. But once there, he didn’t hesitate to seize hold of the moment.
“Mr. President, we need a wall!” Chilton laid bare his declaration. The Farm Bureau membership immediately responded with an enthusiastic standing ovation.
Chilton found himself at the center of the most heated debate of the moment in the U.S., the fight between a government shutdown on one side and President Trump’s demand for border wall funding on the other. Chilton came down firmly on the president’s side of the fight as the two appeared onstage at the 100th anniversary American Farm Bureau Federation Convention in New Orleans.
The talk of a wall is much more than an abstract notion for the Arizona rancher. His land stretches across five and a half miles of the Mexican border with only a barbed-wire fence to keep immigrants, coyotes and drug smugglers off of his property. According to Chilton, drug cartel spotters stalk his land. Last year a border patrol agent was shot multiple times while patrolling Chilton’s ranch.
“When I ride, I have a .44 pistol and a .44 rifle at my side,” Chilton said. “Every time I kiss my wife goodbye I don’t know whether that’s going to be the last time or not, but we have to work our ranch.”
The White House reached out to Farm Bureau after learning of Chilton’s story, looking for contact information for the rancher according to Farm Bureau spokesman Mace Thornton. The White House reached out to Chilton…repeatedly, urging him to attend the New Orleans convention. Chilton said because of the cost involved, he kept telling White House staff no until he was promised the opportunity to take a photo with the president.
Even then…even as he sat watching President Trump begin his speech, Chilton didn’t know he would end up on stage.
Watch the video above to hear the rest of the story.
For more on life along the Arizona border for Chilton and a neighboring rancher read the following story: