A blend of sociology and journalism informs this account of time spent among the self-professed guardians of the U.S.-Mexico border.
As Shapira (Sociology/Univ. of Texas) recounts, the Minuteman movement has its origins in several events and forces, notably 9/11 and the widespread sense that the border was porous, unsecured and swarming with enemies of America. Into this stepped the central character of Shapira’s piece, Chris Simcox, who retreated into the Arizona desert following 9/11 and, by his chronicle, was accosted by swarms of narcotraficantes and coyotes who left him with the conviction that he needed to found “a citizen’s group whose aim would be to protect the borders of the United States from illegal invasion.” Thus born of crisis, the Minuteman movement grew, though its numbers were always much smaller than the noise it made. Shapira argues that it is a mistake to view the movement as an ideological outgrowth of the right wing, even though most of its members would probably self-identify with the tea party or other rightist outliers; instead, he suggests, it is an expression of populism, if a vigilantist one. If its members have a commonality, it is that most of them are old: “It is not their ideology that leads them to establish their camp,” he writes, “it is their age.” Shapira, who spent considerable time in those desert camps along the Arizona border, where Minutemen sat in lawn chairs with rifles to hold back the tide, notes that the movement has disintegrated as Simcox moved to the tony town of Scottsdale, married well and ran for political office, tacking to the right of John McCain on the immigration issue—and bewildering his followers by the bald fact that “he is no longer a Minuteman.”
A valuable look at the birth of a populist paramilitary formation, one whose opponents may not dismiss so easily after reading this evenhanded book.