Border Militias

Experience, Narrative, and the Moral Imperative to Act


  • John Parsons University of Queensland



Narratives of security and threat are continually used to justify morally contentious activities. In the past three years, the United States’ government has increasingly promoted narratives of “criminal migrants” and “immigrant invasions.” In response to perceived threats, the US-Mexico border has undergone a process of militarization. During this time, various border militias have continued to operate along the southern US border. My research was conducted over 11 months with two militias operating on the US-Mexico border I have labeled Border Watch. This militia provides a snippet of how morality is operationalized in the legitimization of actions and how morality is intrinsically linked to security in the lived experiences of its volunteers. In this article, I argue that the volunteers make sense of their experiences away from the border through the narrative espoused by the US government. The resonance between experience and narrative defines the latter as truth and the ability to dismiss counter-narratives. For the volunteers of Border Watch who adhere to a notion of citizenship through the lens of the citizen-soldier ideal, the narrative delivers a moral imperative to act in defense of the nation. Within the nexus of danger, security, and morality, the volunteers of Border Watch conceptualize their project as one in which moral citizens protect the nation and its citizens from an evil Other.