Border vigilantes, which have been around since the early 2000s, have taken it upon themselves to mete out justice and handle the law. Why are these groups proliferating, and what can be done about it? Daily Kos staff writer Dave Neiwert recently joined Thom Hartmann on his show to talk about the proliferation of militia groups and the significance of their increasing activities near the U.S.-Mexico border.
Border militia groups have a history that goes back to the early 2000s. Even years ago, Neiwert noted, “it was fairly clear to folks reporting on this that the border patrol had a really friendly relationship with these folks; they definitely looked the other way whenever they were doing their thing. They were all too happy for them turn in immigrants.” It’s a relationship that the Southern Poverty Law Center uncovered, “showing how the border patrol explicitly has a relationship with these guys and some of them are actually really friendly [with each other],” Neiwert added.
Hartmann delved into the history of militia groups and how they were often dispatched to create fear in Black and other nonwhite communities, explaining that law enforcement often either worked with them or feigned ignorance about their activities:
If you read any history of the United States from the failure of the Reconstruction … right up to the 1960’s, what you find is that in many parts of the country—particularly in the South—there was a symbiotic relationship between Klan members and the police. And very often, what would happen is, the Klan members would do the things that the police could not do under cover of law. They would harass people, they would torture people, they would kill people. And they would terrorize people. The police would come in and clean up after it and maybe provide a legal patina to it, or maybe even cover it up. This is the main reason why, historically, in America we have looked askance, or viewed poorly, professional police agencies aligning themselves with unprofessional civilian paramilitary groups.
Hartmann wondered if this was the same kind of dynamic that’s happening at the border. Somewhat, Neiwert thinks, as the border patrol has become an overfunded and overstaffed rogue, vigilante law enforcement agency with a huge amount of power:
“Basically, they feel a great amount of impunity. This border patrol is also very, very closely aligned with Trump. The border patrol union was rabidly pro-Trump … they of course immediately jumped on Joe Biden as president, saying that they were part of the faction that was claiming that Biden was messing up on the border, and was creating a crisis on the border.”
Hartmann asked Neiwert how he thought the Biden administration was approaching this: “Is the Biden administration taking this seriously, or are they just hands off on this?”
It’s hard to tell right now, Neiwert replied, as there has been a tremendous amount of pushback on it, with many claiming that these are just spurious, politically biased claims. As he explained,
The problem is that … so many of these border patrolmen, as well as I think so many policemen, have become themselves politicized over the last ten years. And not just politicized—but radicalized. A lot of them now believe these right-wing conspiracy theories. A lot of them believe Donald Trump’s disinformation. When you have that situation in law enforcement, it’s really a problem because then you have half the population that they are fundamentally biased against.
Hartmann recalled the strategies of Sheriff Richard Mack, an Oathkeeper who had joined him as a guest before on the show and who described, in detail, to us how his organization was infiltrating police departments all over the U.S., other military organizations, border control, and various state militias. The conditions that Trump created when he entered office engendered a perfect storm for these groups to start expanding at a faster rate. “Is there anything that individual citizens … can do to make their voices heard about their disgust [about] this affiliation between right-wing paramilitary groups and the border control?” Hartmann asked.
Nationalism plays a role in helping keep the illicit nature of much of these militias’ activities away from closer scrutiny, Neiwert notes, so it may be difficult to raise awareness of these groups:
“I will say that there is a ridiculous amount of tolerance in the voting public for these [extremist] sheriffs … people just kind of shrug, ‘it’s constitutional and it’s wrapped up in a flag — it must be okay.”
You can listen to the full audio below: