The Minuteman Corps of California: Civilian Border Patrols and the Production of Power and Difference at the Mexico-U.S. Border
Degree awarded: Ph.D. Anthropology. American University
In 2005, civilian border patrols gained increased popularity with the emergence of the Minuteman Project and the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps (MCDC). Unlike other anti-immigration organizations, the Minutemen focus their efforts primarily on conducting armed civilian patrols on the U.S.-Mexico border, and to a lesser extent the U.S.-Canada border. This dissertation provides an ethnography of one such civilian border patrol--the Minuteman Corps of California (MCC)--detailing their activities, reasons for conducting armed patrols, and their developing relationship with official border policing agencies.This dissertation shows that individuals who joined the Minutemen generally did so because they experienced feelings of political disenchantment and physical and economic insecurity due to the political, economic, and cultural changes brought about by neoliberalism and transnational flows of people, ideas, and capital. Most blamed non-white immigrants from Mexico and to a lesser extent Asia and the Middle East for spreading poverty, government dependence, crime, and terrorism, and for disempowering white American voters. While the Minutemen blamed the government for failing to protect U.S. citizens from the assumed perils of immigration by people of color, in conducting armed border patrols, they also became dependent upon a responsive and cooperative state to achieve their individual and organizational goals. Lacking official police powers, civilian border patrols are dependent upon the state in ways that contradict their view of a largely indifferent and irresponsible government. In negotiating their ambivalent relationship with the state, the Minutemen adapted their tactics to more closely resemble official police efforts including wearing uniforms and increasing their violence-wielding capacity. In short, the Minutemen represent neither an extension of state authority nor a challenge to it. Instead, what we see is a process by which a group of individuals who feel disempowered by widespread political and economic processes seek to access and harness the coercive power of the state. In so doing, the Minutemen further legitimize the power of the state to define, through punitive action, who belongs and who does not within the ideological and physical boundaries of the nation. In sum, the ease with which the Minutemen have been able to adopt state policing strategies reveals decades of escalating state violence directed at migrant populations at the border. What is more, the Minutemen may also reflect a troubling development within contemporary U.S. politics: the growing belief that the sole and proper role of government is to provide physical security that is promoted and protected primarily by the police, military, and an armed citizenry.
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