This is a video profile a great American patriot, Dan Russell of San Diego, aka “Gadget Dan”. He was a regular guy, but a great American, too. Dan has spent his entire life serving the public and the nation, nearly every day. He seldom rested. If a fair value was put in the time he donated to various causes, he no doubt donated many tens of thousands of dollars worth of his time plus the cost of his own personal expenses. Gadget Dan passed away on February 27, 2022 after a long battle with cancer. Please pray for Dan and his family. He left a wife, two daughters and siblings.
NOTE: Send me a message via the contact tab above if you need information about the celebration-of-life service for Dan.
He was a Army soldier stationed in Germany, during the height of the cold war, guarding border there in Europe. He came home to become a fireman, get married and raise a loving family. After he retired from the Fire Department, he spent his retirement as a pro-American, political activist. He was interested mainly in border security. Having strong opinions, he had a booming voice, of which he made good use at events, but he was never mean spirited. Dan even ran as an underdog candidate for mayor of San Diego in 1983.
Dan was the lead of the Campo Minutemen, an informal, independent branch of the border Minuteman movement. The base of operations for the Campo Minutemen, Patriot Point was a high hill just next to the border, where a long stretch of open border could be observed. Starting in 2005, the Minutemen camped out for weeks at a time and spotted illegal crossers, reporting them to the Border Patrol dispatcher.
ABC 10 News Report – Dan Exposes Huge Gaps in Border Fence (2018)
Dan was featured in several documentary films. In this clip from “Max Kennedy and the American Dream”, Dan explains how illegal crossers mark the way along the trial into the US. Max Kennedy also worked with the Campo Minutemen.
“Max Kennedy and the American Dream”
Driving Part of the Campo Border Gap (2018)
Dan provided this video to me, not sure if he made it himself or another Minuteman made it, but it is a video of a gap on the Campo section of the border, a few hundred yards west of Patriot Point.
Dan adopted the border near Campo, because it was one of the worst places. He always said he hoped to see the Campo border secured during his lifetime. It was one of the last places to get Trump’s “Border Wall”, but they did build a 30-foot high bollard fence before he had to stop working due to his illness.
It probably will not surprise those who knew him that he still was not quite satisfied with it. He said it still needed certain improvements to prevent some people from still climbing over it. That’s why they called him “Gadget Dan”, though, because he was always developing devices and new ways to make things better. He was never satisfied unless it was perfect.
They used nicknames, too, because it was not entirely safe, what they were doing. Dangerous criminal organizations, the Mexican Cartels, smuggle people and drugs across in Campo, as well as all along the US/Mexican border.
Daily Personal Reports
Dan would send out daily reports about his various activities, often several times during the day. Here is one typical example, repairing a barbed wire fence on the border. In the beginning, decades ago, there was only a barbed wire fence on the border. Even after they put up a better fence it was often there for use as the secondary. The illegal crossers often cut the wire and he would put it back up. It would not stop them, but it would slow them down a little.
A PASSION FOR CLEAN HIGHWAYS
Dan and a couple of other Minutemen adopted sections of local highways and picked up littler on the highways on a daily basis. He did it as a public service, but also because he pointed out that litter was often used to mark trails and for highway pickup locations for illegal border crossers. Illegal border crossers in Campo would be picked up on nearby Highway 94 or Interstate 8. Some called Dan the “Highway Hero”, others just called him an “American hero”.
Tens of thousands of commuters saw his volunteer work cleaning the highways almost daily. When this video was made he had known already for a couple of years that he had a slowly progressing terminal cancer, yet he was still working nearly every day and in good cheer.
TRIBUTE BY USMC SGTMAJ JUAN HIDALGO
Many times, I am asked what is my favorite part of campaigning?
My answer has always been the same.
The great Americans I have been blessed to meet and continue to meet is the best part of campaigning.
Retired fire fighter Dan Russell AKA “Gadget” is one of those great Americans.
He has been removing highway/roadside litter almost daily for over the past 16 years. He has even been called a Highway Hero.
From Campo, CA to San Diego – I-5 (Old Town area), I-8, highway 52, I-15, highway 94, in the Campo area, etc. Totaling well over 100 Tons of litter!
Due to his current physical condition, he has tried to close this litter removal chapter of his life, but, it’s difficult for him to pass by intentional roadside litter.
My friend Gadget is an example of an amazing American that does not simply tell people how much he cares about his community.
For the last 16 years he has been proving that he cares about the community!
I look forward to the many more great Americans I am yet to meet.
Please keep Gadget in prayer and lets all get involved in OUR Community.
Okay, tell them to go to my FB page.
Sergeant Major Juan M. Hidalgo, Jr., USMC- Retired.
DAN’S EARLY YEARS
These are some photos of Gadget Dan as an Army soldier in Germany and with friends in the east County San Diego, during his younger days. He must have always loved East San Diego County, due to its openness and still pristine condition in places.
Dan was interested in Australia or any place where there was natural beauty and clean highways. He he played the Didgeridoo. This was one of the last videos that he sent out in the fall of 2021.
This video was created by his daughter, Denise, her last farewell to her father.
I knew him for about 12 years and he taught me a lot of things about the border in Campo and border issues, in general. Sometimes it seemed like Dan considered me his personal video documentarian. He did a lot of solo events and he would invite me to go along to take video. So, this is my last video project for Gadget Dan Russell. Hope you like it, Dan.
16 thoughts on “Remembering ‘Gadget’ Dan Russell, Patriot Activist”
Rest well Dan.
You will never find a greater patriot, friend or stewart to our environment.
He loved his family, friends and country.
He was one of the best additions to our group and a joy to rally.
We will miss him very much.
Thanks, Wilma. So, true.
Thank you for this comprehensive article about great
American hero Dan Russell!!!
A huge loss for America. God Blees Dan’s family.
One of a kind….one of the Modern 2005 Minutemen to work the Campo Line. Dan always showed up, did his thing, and usually left around 10:00PM or so, as he had a family in San Diego, some 40 miles away, and “did not want to neglect them”, he’d always say… An industrious, patriotic American, honest, hard working, and selfless man. Dan will be missed by all who were privileged to know him….
Thanks, Jim, I’m sure you knew Glenn Spencer, too. Too bad he’s gone, also, now. I never met him, but was impressed by what I read bout his innovative spirit and commitment.
My friend Dan.
A message of respect from New Zealand.
I met Dan in 2017 when I spotted a car emblazoned with “Build The Wall” messages parked on the side of Interstate 8. I had just flown up from New Zealand to document the Mexican border and take a look for myself at what all the fuss was about with Trump and his Wall, so I stopped to photograph this political billboard masquerading as a small white Toyota hatchback. There was no sight of Dan as I photographed his car but pretty soon he walked out of the scrub, litter gadget and sack in hand and enquired in a pleasant way what the hell I was doing. We liked each straight away. Which is notable, given he was an arch conservative and I’m liberal, like most New Zealanders. Although I hasten to add we’re not a “Socialist state run by a Communist Bird” as Dan always asserted (my Māori army friend who fought with Kiwi forces alongside GI’s in Afghanistan would laugh when I told him Dan’s view of NZ).
That day, he gave me an expert’s tour of his stretch of the border and he took me to lunch at the Campo Senior Citizens Center. A truly generous act and a sign of his big heart and enthusiasm for life. And we’ve remained friends and pen-pals ever since – sharing our stories of travel, food and family.
But what struck me most about our friendship was the way we would harangue each other about our respective political views – often ending up hurling insults back and forth. And yet, we always came back to the things we shared and stories that put us back on the same page. It was a heartening lesson to me that two old guys with such opposing perspectives still liked each other enough to not end up estranged or at war.
Now, I know that an online relationship with someone that holds dramatically opposing views is not the same as constantly sitting at a dinner table or a bar and always keeping that person as a friend. Which is why I know so many Americans stay away from politics at the family table or over drinks. But Dan and I welcomed the debate because we enjoyed and respected each other, and whilst he always accused me of being brainwashed by the “Lamestream Media” and I always accused him of being in thrall to a Reality TV Scam Artist, we enjoyed the debate. I’ve always loved America, and in my view your greatest President was Lincoln (sorry Dan, not Donald) who once said “I don’t like this man, I need to get to know him better” (or something like that). And that’s what Dan and I did.
Dan’s passing leaves a big whole in my heart. I will never get another message from him celebrating his Denny’s lunch, or the houses bedecked at Christmas, or the latest escapades of Joe Kenda his favourite detective. He was indeed a patriot, but more importantly he was a good friend.
Godspeed Dan. I hope that Highway isn’t too littered.
Your friend from downunder, Nigel.
Wonderful comment. Dan told me that he had a very liberal friend in New Zealand. Great to read your memories.
No one escaped Dan’s criticism if he thought you weren’t doing the right thing, it wasn’t just aimed at liberals. He called me a “keyboard warrior”, because I would not camp out on the border. As you say, his ire didn’t last long.
Dan was gung ho about Trump, mainly because he thought he was going to finally secure the border and he did to a pretty good extent during his term. Like many of us, he was willing to overlook any personality flaws that Trump might have, in order to see the letter and intent of the law enforced and his long-time goal accomplished, for which he had worked for so long and hard. I think you know, Dan didn’t have a hateful bone in his body.
Photo of Dan in Campo from 2012.
Lil’ Dog in Campo, Founder of the “Mountain Minutemen”, another group, also a participant in Campo.
Gadget Dan demonstrates how easy it was to cross the border in 2016.
Talented, creative, resourceful, quick witt, dedicated, one of the strongest men I’ve had the pleasure to know. 🙏🏽
“Gadget” is one of the most memorable Minutemen volunteers. I spent many times on the California-Mexico border with him back in early days of the Minutemen, and encouraged him to do news interviews.
May he Rest In Peace knowing he will always be in our hearts.
Jim Gilchrist, Founder of the Minuteman Project
To irritate him, the Minutemen called Enrique Morones “Henry”. They claimed that he was born a “Henry” and changed his name to boost his La Raza creds. Naui, aka Naui Ocelotl Huitzilopochtli, asked Dan to sing this song (mocking Enrique) at a protest in front of the Convention Center and caught it on video. Naui was deplatformed from YouTube, though, and I have never been able to find that video again. You have to imagine Dan belting out “Roll with me Henry” in that booming voice of his.
I was not part of the Minutemen movement, myself, but I had followed them to some extent for years and Dan told me some things and showed me some videos.