By Alex Smith

Alexander Smith is a Master’s in International Affairs candidate at Pardee with a specialization in Security Studies. Alexander’s research interests include Homeland and Maritime Security and matters pertaining to counterterrorism.


When Donald Trump first announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for President of the United States in June 2015, he quickly honed his message to one that focused on criticizing American immigration policy and calling for heightened homeland security measures. These were topics of high importance to many would-be voters. A 2016 Pew Research Center poll found that homeland security/ terrorism was “very important” to 80% of respondents. Immigration was similarly important to 70% of respondents.[1] Vocal attacks on illegal immigration to the United States and so-called abuses of “loopholes” in America’s immigration system, was a signature issue of U.S. President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and his proposed reforms and remarks about this issue generated significant media coverage, which quickly propelled him past other, more established, Republican candidates.[2]

Throughout both his candidacy and presidency, Trump habitually used nativist rhetoric to promote his policy agenda and rally support. He repeatedly stated that illegal immigrants are criminals (even though there is a significant amount of evidence that immigration does not correlate with higher crime rates).[3] To stop unauthorized border crossings, Trump proposed building a wall on the United States–Mexico border and making Mexico pay for it. When established politicians and policymakers decried such a proposal as ineffective or unrealistic, the chant “Build that wall” became a rallying cry for his supporters. Trump has also expressed support for a variety of limits on legal immigration and guest-worker visas, pushed to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and imposed a “zero tolerance” policy to require the arrest of anyone caught illegally crossing the border, which resulted in the viral news coverage of children being separated from their families and images of them being held in cages. Many of these reforms would only exacerbate the situation on the border, where asylum courts developed backlogs of nearly 1,300,000 asylum cases.[4] 

Through his aggressive pursuit of hardline immigration and security policies, continual demonization of the migrant community, and sensationalist public proclamations of a “crisis” along the southern border, Trump has proven successful in stoking fear and fury within a significant portion of his base. It is in this political environment that the US has once again seen an increase in militia activity and growth in violent acts committed by members of the white supremacist, anti-government, and militia movements.[5] According to the recently released Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Homeland Threat Assessment, militias and WSEs have proven to be the deadliest threat to the nation in recent years and have demonstrated a “longstanding intent” to target racial and religious minorities, members of the LGBTQ community, and liberal politicians. The DHS further assessed that “lone offenders and small cells of individuals, including Domestic Violent Extremists (DVEs) and foreign terrorist-inspired Homegrown Violent Extremists (HVE)” will prove to be the greatest terrorist threat to the US.[6] 

High-profile incidents such as the Unite the Right Rally and the recent January 6th siege of the US Capitol have brought to the fore the often-overlooked white supremacist, militia, and anti-government extremist movements. But who are these people? What is it they hope to achieve? And what potential threat do they pose? This paper will attempt to answer these questions. Given the breadth of their ideological motivations, the varying degrees of risk they pose, and the different organizational structures that make up the Far Right movement, I will focus on militia activity along the US-Mexico border and their relationships with the United States Government (USG). 

History of Paramilitary Activity on the Border:

Since its founding, the United States has been a hotbed of militia and paramilitary activity. As a society where militias feature strongly in the mythos of the nation’s founding and one that prioritizes the protection of individual freedoms, including the constitutionally protected rights to freely associate and keep and bear arms, it is not difficult to understand why militia groups have been able to thrive in nearly all corners of the country. Throughout the US’s history, there have been various waves of increased interest in, or motivations for, joining militia groups. Sometimes these motivations have been fairly innocuous (i.e. self-defense), and other times they possess a darker motivation, including xenophobia, racism, and anti-government extremism. [7] 

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s The Intelligence Project has identified 566 extreme antigovernment groups that were active in 2020. Of these groups, 169 were determined to be militias. This is a decrease from the 181 groups who were active in 2019.[8] It is difficult to get hard numbers for groups that are active primarily or at least partially, on the US-Mexico border. A leaked 2018 intelligence assessment from the Department of Defense (DOD) warned combatant commanders operating on the southern border that “an estimated 200 unregulated militia members are currently operating along the southwest border under the guise of citizen patrols supporting CBP [Customs and Border Protection] between POEs [Points of Entry].”[9] Interviews given by some of the more high-profile groups, including Arizona Force Recon, Ranch Rescue, and the United Constitutional Patriots (UCP) would put their numbers in the thousands.[10]

While some groups were explicitly formed to interdict unauthorized border crossers and drug smugglers, and thus maintain a permanent presence on the border, others will only temporarily deploy on operations to train or respond to a perceived threat.[11] Many claim to be acting in support of Custom and Border Protection (CBP) or responding to a call to arms by former President Trump. Some groups actively try to distance themselves from white supremacist groups, despite the documented evidence of such individuals being members of these groups. Most insist they are not breaking the law by conducting their “civil patrols,” and indeed many of their actions fall within a legal grey area in municipal, state, and federal laws. 

Generally, militias can be defined as groups of individuals who engage in the stockpiling of ammunition, train in the use of firearms and paramilitary tactics, and possess some degree of anti-government sentiment or distrust. Militias often express opposition to globalization, harbor racist or xenophobic views, and embrace conspiracy theories.[12] While militia activity does not typically garner significant attention from the public, former-President Trump’s public statements regarding the recent surge in migrant families and unaccompanied minors traveling to the US from the Northern Triangle have focused Trump’s supporters, civil rights groups, and the media’s attention closely on the US-Mexico border and the various actors present in the region. 

America’s legacy of paramilitary activity along the southern border dates back to the 19th century. During the Union’s pursuit of “Manifest Destiny,” settlers, and the militias they formed ostensibly for self-defense, actively pushed indigenous tribes further west. All the while expanding US territory into lands formerly claimed by European powers. This expansion resulted in America’s southern border shifting multiple times, typically through the use of violence. While militias were used widely in the West, no region experienced more militia activity than the area that would become the State of Texas. 

When Mexico declared independence from Spain in 1821, the country’s territory included what are now the states of California, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and Texas. During the Texas Revolution (October 2, 1835 – April 21, 1836), Americans who had settled in Mexico and Tejanos pushed to secede from the country due to increasing dissatisfaction with the Mexican government and their decision to suspend immigration from the U.S.[13] During the initial stage of the conflict, Texas militiamen and volunteers from the United States set to work capturing the garrisons stationed across Texas. In response to this armed uprising, the Mexican Congress’ passage of the Tornel Decree, which deemed all American settlers participating in the conflict “pirates” and, as such, were not to be provided the same protections guaranteed to soldiers fighting under the flag of a sovereign state (any Texan militiamen captured by the Mexican Army of Operations were executed instead of being taken as prisoners of war).[14] 

Texas forces eventually proved successful in defeating Mexican forces led by Gen. Antonio López de Santa Ana at the Battle of San Jacinto (April 21, 1936) and were able to take the General captive. Signed following the battle, the Treaties of Velasco were meant to end hostilities and lead to Texas’ recognition, however, the Mexican Congress viewed them as invalid and would not officially recognize Texas’ independence.[15] Nevertheless, the Republic of Texas would remain a de facto independent state from March 2, 1836, until December 29, 1845.[16] 

To maintain the borders of their new country, Texas formed the Texas Rangers, also known as the Frontier Battalion. The origin of the Texas Rangers dates to a call to arms in 1823 by one Stephen F. Austin, an empresario, or developer of settlements, in the Mexican province of Tejas.[17] Fed-up with raids by a local indigenous tribe, Austin hired ten “rangers” to carry out a punitive expedition against the Karankawa. Over the next few years, similar Ranger companies were formed sporadically, and skirmishes with the Karankawas occurred so frequently that settlers were said to shoot the Indians on sight. Eventually, a peace agreement with the settlers was forged with the help of a local priest, but it did not last long. In 1825, Austin wrote to a Mexican official that he had “been compelled in view of the security of our people to give positive orders to the Lieutenant of the Militia to pursue and kill all those Indians wherever they are found.” Austin’s instructions were fulfilled in 1830 near the mouth of the Colorado River when a force of sixty Texans massacred about fifty Karankawa men, women, and children.[18]

 It would be inaccurate to assume a direct link between these individuals and the Texas Ranger Division, a state investigative and law enforcement agency that reports to the Texas Department of Public Safety. The rangers of this period were volunteers, typically farmers or ranchers, who would sporadically be hired by local officials or landowners as “Indian fighters” and then disbanded following completion of the task. There were fewer lawmen and more mercenaries.[19] In reality, the Texas Rangers can be broken into four distinct periods, each with the Rangers possessing a different mission and level of official authority. Regardless of the period, there remains a constant theme: physical, sometimes brutal, violence against the indigenous and Mexican populations. 

The second period can be traced to 1835 when a council of Texas representatives created a “Corps of Rangers” to protect the frontier from hostile Indians. These rangers received a salary of $1.25 a day and were required to furnish their arms, mounts, and equipment. The Texas Rangers would go on to play a role in the Texas Revolution. During the conflict, Rangers covered the retreat of civilians from the Mexican army in the famous “Runaway Scrape,” they harassed Mexican troops and served as scouts for the Texas Army. When Col. William B. Travis issued a last-minute plea to defend the Alamo, the only individuals who responded were Rangers who fought, and died, in the cause of Texas independence.[20] 

During the Texas war for independence and its years as an independent republic, the Rangers also served as a border patrol, though they continued to wage war on indigenous tribes living along the newly forged borders with Mexico.[21] When war broke out between Mexico and the United States in 1846, several ranging companies were mustered into federal service as infantrymen and guides. Their ferociousness in combat earned them the nom de guerre, “Los Diablos Tejanos” or the “Texas Devils” from the Mexican populace.[22] After the Mexican-American War, the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo transferred more than half of Mexico’s territory to the United States and established, essentially, the borders that the countries have today. 

During Texas’ time as an independent republic and a member of the Union, the Texas Rangers worked to preserve the institution of slavery, actively enforcing the Fugitive Slave Acts. Rangers periodically captured and returned runaway slaves attempting to flee south to Mexico, where slavery was abolished in 1829.[23] It is estimated that between 5,000-10,000 slaves had escaped to Mexico, often settling near the border. Slaveholders knew that enslaved people were escaping to Mexico, and the U.S. tried to get Mexico to sign a fugitive slave treaty which would have compelled Mexico to return escaped enslaved people to the US. However, Mexico refused to sign the treaty, insisting that all enslaved people were free when they set foot on Mexican soil. Despite this, some U.S. owners of enslaved people still hired slave catchers to illegally kidnap escapees in Mexico.[24]

One notorious incident involving the Texas Rangers occurred in October 1855, when James Hughes Callahan led a force of 111 men into Mexico. Officially, the purpose of the invasion was to punish Lipan Apache Indians who had allegedly been conducting raids along the Texas frontier during the summer and fall of 1855, following the drawdown of federal forces along the border. The Lipan Apache had then returned to Mexico to evade Texan forces that had been mustered to quell the raids. It is now believed that the expedition was an attempt by Texan slaveholders to capture fugitive slaves who had fled to northern Mexico and to punish Mexican authorities who had permitted runaway slaves to settle in their midst. The Callahan Expedition was a violation of Mexican sovereignty that resulted in a skirmish between the Rangers and a Mexican detachment led by Col. Emilio Langberg at the Río Escondido and the burning of Piedras Negras by the Texans as they retreated over the border. While the American government did not initially accept blame for the incursion, the Claims Commission of 1868 ultimately awarded approximately 150 Mexican citizens a total of $50,000 in damages.[25]

The Rangers would effectively dissolve during the American Civil War, as most of their members enlisted in the Confederate Army, and a bill to provide funding to them failed to pass. Following the end of the war, security in Texas was mostly provided by Federal troops and a Union-controlled State Police, with only 25 rangers assigned to the border. They would reemerge after the State Police was dissolved in the spring of 1873. From 1875-1920, the rangers would return to their role fighting Indians, Mexicans, and the various outlaw gangs that roamed the frontier. [26]

With the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution (November 20th, 1910- May 21st, 1920) and the eventual raids led by Francisco “Pancho” Villa into the United States, including the Battle of Columbus in 1916, federal, state, and local authorities began to take a greater interest in the border region. Many Texas Rangers, including Company B, were ordered to secure the areas near the border and stop raids by bandits and Villistas. On January 28, 1918, a group of Texas Rangers from Company B, soldiers from the Eighth U.S. Cavalry Regiment, and four local civilians visited the residents of Porvenir while they slept. The posse ordered the residents out of their beds and searched the homes and residents at gunpoint. They then separated fifteen unarmed men from the rest of the citizens, individuals that they accused of being bandits, and executed them. The remaining villagers fled to Mexico, where they attempted to seek justice for the victims.[27] After various investigations by Mexican and American authorities, the conclusion was reached that the Rangers and their allies had murdered unarmed civilians. A legislative investigation was initiated in 1919 at the behest of Rep. Jose T Canales to probe Ranger conduct which ultimately reduced the size of the Texas Rangers to four companies, each with 17 men. It is believed that the Texas rangers killed between 300-3000 individuals in South Texas.[28]

 You will find no mention of the brutality of the Rangers, or their disregard for the lives of the indigenous and Mexican community, on the official website of the organization or the Museum dedicated to them. Porvenir and the Callahan Expedition are not deemed worthy for discussion by a law enforcement agency that chased outlaws like Bonnie and Clyde and prevented the potential assassinations of US President Taft and Mexican President Porfirio Diaz in 1909.[29] Their time as a paramilitary force is not hidden from view, though the information they provide does not depict their origins fully. While the Texas Rangers, as an institution, remain inextricably linked to the founding of Texas and have taken on a revered status among the Texan population, the reality is that these “rangers” actively aided in the genocide of the Native Americans, harassed the Tejano and Mexican population on both sides of the border, and enforced the Jim Crow laws that ensured white supremacy in Texas. Their mentality and the status quo the rangers sought to uphold are alive and well on the southern border. These are carried on by current militiamen as they conduct their “civil patrols” and by the Custom and Border Protection agency, an agency that included many Rangers amongst its initial members.

The Modern Militia Movement and its Presence on the Southern Border:

While militia activity in the United States is not a new phenomenon, the modern militia movement is generally believed to have started roughly between 1993-1994, though it inherited substantial portions of the anti-government ideology from older movements. One of its sister movements is the 1960s tax protest movement, which arose in opposition to federal income taxes. Tax protesters generally believe that either the income tax laws are not valid or that they do not apply to most citizens. Under those assumptions, the protestors believe they have a legal and moral right not to pay taxes.[30] A second movement that serves as an inspiration is the 1970s sovereign citizen movement. Sovereign citizens believe that the original legal system that governed America is “Common Law,” which allows citizens to act as sovereigns and decide which laws to obey and which to ignore. The modern legal system is founded on a government conspiracy that replaced common law with admiralty law, and thus they don’t have to follow it. Collectively, the three movements are referred to as the “Patriot” movement. [31]

All three movements are an anti-government overreach, support the Second Amendment right to bear arms, and engage in conspiracy theories. Some of the most popular conspiracies promoted by militia groups include the “New World Order” conspiracy theory, which promotes the belief that elites are attempting to create a tyrannical, globalist and socialist one-world government. Other prominent theories include the Zionist Occupied Government (ZOG) conspiracy, which similarly believes that the US government is controlled by wealthy Jews, and the Great Replacement Theory, which is an ethno-nationalist theory warning that the white US population is being replaced by non-European immigrants and that their place in society is threatened. [32]

There are a number of factors that contributed to the rise of the Patriot movement during the early 1990s. One factor is the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which saw the transfer of certain US-based jobs in manufacturing industries to Mexico and Canada. Additionally, NAFTA is often wrongly blamed for the loss of jobs that occurred as a result of increased automation in many industries at this time. It is seen by many militiamen as an example of globalization run amok. Another factor is the Democratic Presidency of Bill Clinton, which ushered in new gun control legislation and saw two major confrontations between militia groups and federal law enforcement (the 1992 siege at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and the 1993 standoff of Waco, Texas). [33] One of the gun control measures passed during the Clinton administration was the 1993 Brady Law, which required individuals wishing to purchase handguns to pass a background check. The other gun control bill was the 1994 Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, which banned the sale of many commercially available assault weapons and large-capacity magazines (this act expired in 2004 and has not been renewed since).[34] Both of these legislative acts greatly angered anti-government extremists, who viewed the new laws as the first steps towards mass gun confiscation by the government, a conspiracy theory that exists to this day.[35] 

Modern militia groups have operated along the nearly 2,000-mile-long U.S.-Mexico border since the 1980s with the stated goals of curtailing illegal immigration and drug smuggling. They have proven capable of cultivating strong support from politicians, law enforcement, and private citizens through their popular messages of defending the border, supporting law enforcement officers, and advocating gun rights. In the 1990s and early 2000s, border vigilante groups received support from numerous legislators and politicians. Jim Gilchrist, a former Marine, and founder of what was at the time one of the largest and most well-known militias, the Minuteman Project, received support from then-President of the Arizona Senate Russell Pearce. Other politicians actively campaign on their membership with militia groups. One of the most dangerous incidents of active support from politicians was the May 2006 introduction of House Resolution 839, which sought to give official status to the border vigilante groups and prevent the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from interfering in their activities. 

Preventing illegal border crossings has long been one of the principal activities of border militias, and in pursuing this aim, militias often operate in legal grey areas. The Constitution affords the right to freely associate and bear arms, and belonging to militia groups is not against any law. Many of the states they operate in (such as New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and California) do not have laws that ban openly carrying firearms nor do they ban wearing military-style clothing. In many cases, the weapons they arm themselves with, and the equipment they utilize were legally procured. Where militias’ actions become less legally permissible, or even criminal, is when they detain individuals at or near the border whom the groups suspected of “entering illegally” [36] Such actions can be prosecuted under state and federal laws as kidnapping [37] There are also numerous instances of militiamen assaulting alleged unauthorized border crossers, pointing firearms at them, binding them, and threatening them. Also, should militiamen choose to falsely identify themselves as law enforcement (which has been documented in testimonies and both video and audio recordings) or adorn their clothing with patches or badges that make them resemble law enforcement, then they could potentially be charged with impersonating a law enforcement officer[38] A series of highly publicized incidents, such as an April 2019 detention of suspected unauthorized migrants by United Constitutional Patriots (UCP), have caused civil rights groups to bring attention to the unlawfulness of the vigilante groups detaining individuals.[39]

 In response to this new scrutiny, some of the militia groups have decided to shift their efforts principally to observing and reporting on migrants. Assuming the militias are not trespassing on private land, there is nothing illegal about them “supporting law enforcement and immigration authorities” by reporting suspected groups of unauthorized border crossers to Border Patrol or local law enforcement. However, some militia groups, or their members, go too far, and their reconnaissance crosses the line closer to being harassment and intimidation. Various border vigilante groups have shown up at employment sites that rely heavily on migrant day laborers and surveilled them. Militias have also decided to focus their attention on neighborhoods with large migrant populations or non-profits, immigration attorneys, and medical facilities that are known to be frequented by undocumented migrants. These tactics serve to deter those who need help from seeking it.[40]

The increased presence of militia groups in border towns not only disrupts the daily routines of the migrant community, but also the lives of the locals. While some view the militias as a means to improve the safety of their communities or stem the flow of unauthorized border crossers, many businesses and private citizens do not welcome the presence of the militiamen (who are often not from the towns themselves, are combative and are heavily armed).[41] The growing presence of militias on the border has not only led to increased acts of intimidation but also bloodshed. In 2007, Shawna Forde, founder of the Minutemen American Defense group, and Jason Bush murdered Raul Flores and his nine-year-old daughter in Arivaca, Arizona, during an armed robbery that was intended to acquire funds for the continued operation of their militia. This attack was part of a larger conspiracy concocted by Forde to target individuals she suspected of drug smuggling to fund her organization.[42]

Despite this penchant for criminality, local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies on the border have for years tolerated militia operations within their jurisdictions and areas of responsibility (AOR). During the early 2000s, law enforcement frequently avoided prosecuting groups like the Minutemen for the unlawful detention of migrants or violation of state firearms laws. For example, the Cochise County Sheriff’s Department and the Arizona Attorney General’s Office repeatedly refused to bring charges against Roger Barnett, a former Deputy Sheriff for Cochise County and the founder of Ranch Rescue, despite the fact he and his paramilitary organization were responsible for the unlawful detention of numerous alleged unauthorized migrants. Barnett himself boasted that Ranch Rescue had detained over 12,000 “illegal immigrants” between 1996 and 2006. Additionally, Ranch Rescue volunteers intentionally impersonate law enforcement, dressing in uniforms resembling the legitimate U.S. Border Patrol, as they conduct operations on both the border and border communities to deter immigration to the United States.[43] 

Some militias have received support from unions representing the U.S. Border Patrol and local law enforcement agencies. In other cases, local police officers and sheriff deputies operating near the border similarly expressed admiration and approval for the actions of the vigilante groups. Many sheriffs representing counties all along the southern border have endorsed militia activity in recent years.[44] This tacit and vocal approval from law enforcement and immigration authorities has served to only further embolden a movement that already views its actions as necessary, endorsed by then President Trump, and widely supported by locals and elected officials. 

Only in recent years have U.S. federal law enforcement authorities begun actively prosecuting border vigilantes for their criminal acts. In March 2019, then U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Kevin McAleenan attempted to distance his agency from militias when he announced that the CBP did not need help from citizens to protect the border. This was in response to the viral video of UCP transferring detained migrants over to Border Patrol agents.[45] Spokesmen for Border Patrol and CBP made similar statements over the following months to various news agencies.[46] A few days later, the leader of the United Constitutional Patriots was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for the illegal detention of migrants in New Mexico and firearm-related charges.[47]

Militia Infiltration of US Law Enforcement:

In addition to the long history of close cooperation that exists between militia groups and US officials, there is also substantial evidence of active militia membership amongst various federal, state, and municipal law enforcement agencies that operate on or close to the US-Mexico border. Sometimes this membership is merely coincidental, as law enforcement officers or government officials may join such groups because they share similar views on gun rights or immigration, and while such membership may be frowned upon by some policymakers in Washington, it is not banned.[48] However, recent threat assessments conducted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have identified white supremacist and militia infiltration of American law enforcement agencies and the military as a growing threat to America’s national security. A 2006 FBI report titled “White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement” warned that skinhead groups and anti-government militias were actively encouraging their members to become “ghost skins” within law enforcement agencies.[49] Ghost Skins is a term used by white supremacists to describe members who “avoid overt displays of their beliefs to blend into society and covertly advance white supremacist causes.” The term was later co-opted by other anti-government militias and extremist groups. 

A recently declassified 2015 FBI Counterterrorism Policy Guide, stated that “domestic terrorism investigations focused on militia extremists, white supremacist extremists, and sovereign citizen extremists often have identified links to law enforcement officers.” Reports have also found that military personnel and veterans are also being actively recruited by WSE and militia groups. It is estimated that veterans and active-duty members of the military make up at least 25 percent of the estimated 15,000 to 20,000 militia members active in the US.[50]Additionally, a number of veterans and service members have been arrested or discharged from the military in recent years for their involvement in white supremacist or extremists groups, or have actively carried out violent attacks in service of such causes.[51] 

There is plenty of variation between the different hate groups and militias that are seeking to infiltrate or recruit members of the military and law enforcement. Some are actively seeking to initiate a civil or race war (accelerationism), some are organized into a paramilitary structure, and some are only loosely connected by a shared ideology. Most deal in conspiracy theories and distrust the federal government. Some of the largest and most active in recruiting individuals with military and law enforcement backgrounds are the Ku Klux Klan, the Oath Keepers, Arizona Border Recon, and the 3 Percenters.[52]

One agency that has proven highly susceptible to infiltration by militia groups is CBP, particularly the Border Patrol. Since its creation, the U.S. Border Patrol has allowed a culture of racism and abuse to fester amongst the rank-and-file and has committed violent acts and abuses with near impunity. When Congress created the Border Patrol in 1924 to patrol the Canadian and Mexican borders between ports of entry (POEs), many of the initial hires came from organizations that had long engaged in racial violence and oppression, including the Texas Rangers and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).[53]Since the early days of its founding, the Border Patrol has been subject to repeated reports of inappropriate conduct by its agents. These include allegations that employees of the Border Patrol have engaged in using racial slurs, sexual comments (including solicitation and sexism), and other offensive languages to those in its custody.[54] Various lawsuits and studies have demonstrated the Border Patrol frequently utilizes racial profiling during stops within the interior of the United States. There is also ample evidence that its agents maintain connections to the white supremacist movement and have working relationships with paramilitary groups that operate on the southern border.[55] In 2019, ProPublica discovered a Border Patrol Facebook Group in which its nearly 9,500 members shared derogatory comments about immigrants and Latina lawmakers (including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez).

The Border Patrol has dramatically grown in size, budget, and scope since its inception. The budget of CBP for FY 2021 is approximately $14.6 billion and the agency currently employs 63,685 civilian and law enforcement personnel (including 19,740 Border Patrol agents). The size of the agency makes congressional and bureaucratic oversight difficult and surges in employment during the last four administrations have led to a lowering of standards and a weakening of the screening process of potential hires and the quality of the training new hires receive.[56] Due to these actions, Border Patrol agents have been found to engage in a significant number of criminal acts (including drug trafficking, sexual assault, and murder) and abuses of power over the years with limited repercussions.[57] This combination of limited accountability and a culture of racism and xenophobia, have allowed militias to find fertile ground to expand their influence and spread their ideology. 

What to Do Today:

The current influx of migrants heading to the U.S.-Mexico border will serve as a strong recruitment tool for right-wing armed groups. Heavy media coverage will further strengthen the perception that the US is facing a crisis and that the government is ill-equipped to deal with it. The first action that the Biden administration should take is to instruct the U.S. Border Patrol not to interact or cooperate with the vigilante groups and to encourage the FBI to diligently prosecute members of these groups for any possible criminal acts. To the greatest extent possible, the administration should also encourage local police departments to avoid interacting with such groups. 

The prosecution is an important component of any effective strategy to counter the militia movement, however, it is not the only one. The Biden administration must also take steps to address the principal sources of appeal that such a movement provides. They include a sense of camaraderie for the large number of veterans that have emerged physically and psychologically scarred from the Global War on Terror. 


[1] “Top Voting Issues in 2016 Election,” Pew Research Center – U.S. Politics & Policy (Pew Research Center, May 30, 2020),

[2] Benjy Sarlin, “Inside the United States of Trump,” (NBC Universal News Group, June 20, 2016),

[3] Michael Maciag, “The Mythical Link Between Immigrants and High Crime Rates,” Governing, March 2, 2017,

[4] Susan Long and David Burnham, “Immigration Court Backlog Tool: Pending Cases and Length of Wait in Immigration Courts,” Immigration Court Backlog Tool: Pending Cases and Length of Wait in Immigration Courts (University of Syracuse ), accessed April 6, 2021,

[5] The New York Times. “Cross-Border Patrols, Mercenaries, and the K.K.K.: The Long History of Border Militias.”

[6] Geneva Sands, “White Supremacists Remain Deadliest US Terror Threat, Homeland Security Report Says,” CNN (Cable News Network, October 6, 2020),

[7] The New York Times. “Cross-Border Patrols, Mercenaries, and the K.K.K.: The Long History of Border Militias.” The New York Times. The New York Times, April 25, 2019.

[8] “Antigovernment Movement.” Southern Poverty Law Center. Accessed March 26, 2021.

[9] James LaPorta and Chantal Da Silva, “Troops Being Sent to Tackle the Migrant Caravan Are Also Preparing for the Threat of Armed, Unregulated Militias,” Newsweek (Newsweek, April 4, 2019),

[10] Rafael Carranza. “Border Vigilantes and the Wall They Might Be Watching.” USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network. Accessed March 2, 2021.

[11] Shane Bauer. “I Went Undercover with a Militia on the US-Mexico Border. Here’s What I Saw.” Mother Jones, October 25, 2016.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Jeff Wallenfeldt, “Texas Revolution Mexico-Texas History [1835-1836],” Encyclopædia Britannica (Encyclopædia Britannica, inc.), accessed March 27, 2021,

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] “Brief History of the Texas Rangers,” Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, August 5, 2020,

[18] John Phillip Santos. “The Secret History of the Texas Rangers.” Texas Monthly, May 20, 2020.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Dave Davies, “’Cult of Glory’ Reveals the Dark History of the Texas Rangers,” NPR (NPR, June 8, 2020),

[23] Becky Little. “The Little-Known Underground Railroad That Ran South to Mexico.” A&E Television Networks, October 24, 2018.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] “Brief History of the Texas Rangers,” Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum.

[27] John Phillip Santos. “The Secret History of the Texas Rangers.”

[28] “Brief History of the Texas Rangers,” Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum.

[29] Ibid.

[30] “Antigovernment Movement.” Southern Poverty Law Center.

[31] Ibid.

[32] David Holthouse and Susy Buchanan. “The Franchise.” Southern Poverty Law Center. Accessed March 4, 2021.

[33] Carranza, Rafael. “Border Vigilantes and the Wall They Might Be Watching.” USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network. Accessed March 2, 2021.

[34] “Antigovernment Movement.” Southern Poverty Law Center.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Alex Horton. “’George Zimmerman on Steroids:’ How Armed ‘Militias’ Roam the Border in Legal Grey Areas.” The Washington Post. WP Company, April 25, 2019.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Megan Feldman, “The Hunted: Minutemen Train Their Sights on a New Target: Hispanic Day Laborers.” April 2, 2016,

[41] Melissa Block and Marisa Peñaloza, “Militias Test The Civility Of An Arizona Border Town,” NPR (NPR, April 15, 2019),

[42] Howard Fischer, “Border Militiaman’s Convictions, Death Sentences Upheld in Arivaca Slayings,” Arizona Daily Star (Capitol Media Services, August 27, 2019),

[43] Randal C. Archibold, “A Border Watcher Finds Himself Under Scrutiny,” The New York Times (The New York Times, November 24, 2006),

[44] Cloee Cooper, “New Mexico’s Constitutional Sheriffs Pave the Way for Militias Patrolling the Border,” Political Research Associates, April 29, 2019,

[45] “Rights Group Condemns U.S. ‘Vigilante’ Treatment of Migrants on Border,” Reuters (Thomson Reuters, April 19, 2019),

[46] Angela Kocherga. “Militia Members Showing up on NM Border.” Albuquerque Journal. Accessed March 2, 2021.

[47] Shane Bauer. “I Went Undercover with a Militia on the US-Mexico Border. Here’s What I Saw.”

[48] Ibid.

[49] Sam Levin. “White Supremacists and Militias Have Infiltrated Police across the US, Report Says.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, August 27, 2020.

[50] Lois Beckett, “How the US Military Has Failed to Address White Supremacy in Its Ranks,” The Guardian (Guardian News and Media, June 24, 2020),

[51] Paul M Duggan. “Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Hasson Sentenced to 13 Years in Alleged Terror Plot.” The Washington Post. WP Company, February 1, 2020.

[52] “Antigovernment Movement.” Southern Poverty Law Center.

[53] “The Legacy of Racism within the U.S. Border Patrol.” American Immigration Council, February 11, 2021.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Justin Rohrlich. “The Border Patrol’s Last Hiring Surge Invited a Rise In Corruption. Now It’s Hiring Again,” Government Executive (Quartz, April 13, 2021),

[57] Zoë Schlanger and Justin Rohrlich, “Border Officers Are Arrested 5 Times More Often than Other US Law Enforcement,” Quartz (Quartz), accessed April 13, 2021,