Donald Trump’s populist pandering to the anti-immigration lobby in the USA has given the country’s militia movement a mainstream boost that it probably never anticipated. In 2018 alone, there were 216 active militia groups in the USA, most of them allied with the alt-right, according to Patrick Strickland’s The Marauders.
Strickland, a journalist who has previously reported on the migrant crisis in Greece and the Balkans, sets out to investigate some of the militias operating along the USA–Mexico frontier in Arizona in a mostly vain attempt to stop the flow of migrants from Mexico and Central America. His stated focus is the deeply divisive impact that these glorified vigilantes have on the communities along the border, with some residents trying to stop them and others enthusiastically embracing their mission.
Militias and anti-migrant sentiment are nothing new in the USA. From the 1830s, groups based along the USA– Mexico border were already hunting escaped slaves, Native Americans and Mexicans, while so-called ‘nativists’ – US-born citizens – railed against Catholic and Chinese immigrants. Later, Russian and Eastern European Jews, the Japanese and Vietnamese were all targeted. But the sheer number of people crossing from Mexico have made Mexicans and Central Americans the primary focus of the militias. They smear them as criminals and rapists who traffic children and drugs, and allege that the migrant caravans are bankrolled by the usual suspects in alt-right conspiracy theories: George Soros and the Rothschild family.
Strickland’s short book feels like an overgrown feature article. He meanders around his subject and too much of the book is background: potted histories of militias, a recap of Trump’s time in power and, of course, the storming of the Capitol in Washington DC last year. I would have liked to hear more from the border residents and migrants. There’s nothing wrong with Strickland’s conclusions, but nor is there anything very new or startling about them.