The number of “nativist extremist” groups dropped from 33 to 19 in 2014, continuing a long fall from a peak of 319 such groups in 2010.
The fall in the number of these groups — anti-immigrant organizations that go beyond mere advocacy to personally confront suspected undocumented immigrants and those who hire or help them — masked a rising anger at immigrants that lit up much of the rest of the radical right last year, especially antigovernment militia groups.
The decline of nativist extremist groups is part of a long-term trend sparked by bitter movement infighting, the adoption of the harshest movement goals by certain state legislatures, and criminal scandals like them conviction of the leader of one of the groups for the murder of a Latino man and his 9-yearold daughter. But the arrival of thousands of undocumented immigrant children last year sparked a resurgence in nativist anger that infected numerous militia and other groups.
This new eruption began after it was announced in May that up to 60,000 unaccompanied children had been detained recently at the border, leading President Obama to declare a humanitarian crisis and order a federal takeover of relief efforts in June. Despite the fact that many of the children had been raped or otherwise abused on their voyages and a federal law signed by President George W. Bush prevented their immediate deportation, thousands of Americans reacted with rage and accusations that Obama was deliberately flouting immigration law.
That anger animated a wide variety of far-right groups, including major nativist organizations like the Federation for American Immigration Reform, but it was in the militias that it seemed strongest. By the end of the summer, as many as 20 to 30 armed militias had traveled to the border, especially in Texas, to try to prevent people from illegally crossing into the United States.
The real conflagration began in July in Murrieta, Calif., where a howling mob of furious nativists blocked three buses carrying 140 undocumented children and women to a temporary shelter. In the end, the government was forced to take the frightened children to another Border Patrol facility near San Diego.
The events in Murrieta set off a kind of mini-movement, which looked like it might lead to a revitalization of the vigilante nativist extremist phenomenon that started on the Arizona border with the Minuteman movement and then swept the country between 2005 and 2011. Along with a large number of politicians and “mainstream” pundits, the radical right rapidly joined the rising chorus.
One of the first extremists to get involved was a Texas militia member named Chris Davis, who set up a group that he called Operation Secure Our Border-Laredo Sector. But Davis’ star faded when a video he had posted to YouTube came to light, showing Davis saying, “You see an illegal. You point your gun at him, right between his eyes, and you say, ‘Get back across the border or you will be shot.’”
Prominent antigovernment leaders soon joined in. Stewart Rhodes of the conspiracy- minded Oath Keepers called the refugee crisis “a planned invasion, being carried out by the executive branches of foreign nations … the executive branch of this nation … [and] cartel and gang smugglers.” The call was also taken up by the Patriot Information Hotline, run by Barbie Rogers, the right-wing Free Republic website, and many other antigovernment “Patriot,” or militia, organizations.
Then the militias began to arrive.
The San Antonio Express-News published photos of what it said were several armed, camouflage-clad militiamen patrolling the Texas border. Law enforcement officials reported spotting militiamen on the border during their regular patrols.
Jim Gilchrist, a co-founder of the original Minuteman organization that largely birthed the nativist extremist movement, weighed in, saying he supported the deployment of militia groups in light of “the approximately 30 million illegal aliens currently occupying U.S. territory,” and promising to recreate the Minuteman movement in 2015 with some 3,500 new volunteers.
At the same time, anti-immigrant rhetoric grew uglier.
By mid-September, the Patriot Information Hotline was claiming that there were 22 groups of “armed Patriots” on the border, and there were scattered reports of sightings of militiamen, particularly in Texas. Even more groups appeared later.
To many extremists, the apparent surge of armed radicals on the border heralded what they hoped would be a rebirth of the nativist vigilante movement, which peaked in 2010 with more than 300 Minuteman and other groups. But the crisis ultimately seemed to produce little in terms of real organizing. The militias had apparently disappeared from the border by late fall. And the nativist extremist groups ultimately fell in number, despite the fervent hopes of their leaders.
What follows is a list of 19 nativist extremist groups active in 2014:
Arizona Freedom Riders
Arizona Border Recon
Long Beach Minuteman Project
San Diegans for Secure Borders
(San Diego County)
We the People Rising
Floridians for Immigration Enforcement, Inc.
Dustin Inman Society
Minuteman Civil Defense Corps
Help Save Maryland
Michiganders for Immigration Control and Enforcement
Minnesotans Seeking Immigration Reform
NEW JERSEY: (2)
New Jersey Citizens for Immigration Control
United Patriots of America
NORTH CAROLINA: (1)
North Carolinians for Immigration Reform and Enforcement
Oregonians for Immigration Law Enforcement
RHODE ISLAND: (1)
Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement
Stop the Magnet
Texas Border Volunteers