Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said a new website he launched on the department’s portal was meant to become a forum for citizens to speak out on the state’s border security issues.

Instead, ProtectYourTexasBorder.com has become a political hot potato. In the week since the website’s March 3 debut, the website — advertised as a forum for farmers, ranchers and citizens to discuss violence sparked by drug trafficking along the border — has been criticized by some, including U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso. Critics said the website exaggerates the problem, and that some online commentators are leaving hate speech and calling for vigilante justice.

Staples, a Republican, said Thursday the hateful comments wouldn’t be tolerated but that the website would remain available.

The commissioner said he launched the website to call attention to recurring incidences of drug smuggling, violence and trespassing in Texas cities along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“American citizens are being attacked, threatened and intimidated on their home soil,” Staples said in a statement. “It’s time for the federal government to increase enforcement efforts to help Texas fight this growing war.”

Citizens can submit pictures, videos and stories on the website that detail encounters of intimidation, trespassing, drug runners and property damage, according to the website.

The Texas Farm Bureau and the Texas Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association also assisted with collecting video interviews, new stories and photos for the website Features include a night-vision video of a police chase that ends when a car plunges into the river, and an interview with a Texas Ranger.

To access the site’s message board, users must register and log into the message board section. But to prevent indecent comments from remaining visible on the website, the department has posted a disclaimer that it has the right to remove posts containing any profane language, defamatory statements, hate speech or any other comments of that nature.

Although the site is a “.com” domain, it’s linked to the department’s “.gov” main page.

Reyes said Staples’ website is a waste of tax dollars and inaccurately “portrays rural Texas like rural Afghanistan.”

But Staples said farmers and ranchers are caught in the crossfire of a “border war that affects every citizen of our nation.” He cited a recent incident in which a Cobb County rancher was shot and exchanged fire with five suspects thought to be running drugs on his property.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.