1st Edition

Patrolling the Homeland Volunteer Border Militias and the Power of Moral Assemblages

By John Parsons Copyright 2023
    224 Pages 6 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    224 Pages 6 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Patrolling the Homeland explores the tension surrounding the militarization of national borders through the perspective of US militia volunteers. Amidst a humanitarian crisis in which more than 7,800 people have lost their lives attempting to cross the border, US militias patrol the deserts along the Mexican border in camouflage, armed with assault rifles and night-vision goggles to "protect" the US. How and why US border militias conduct their activities is paramount to understanding similar movements, ideologies, and rhetoric around the world that oppose the movement of refugees and support the closing or restriction of international and regional borders.

    Based on extensive and engaging ethnography, Patrolling the Homeland explores not how people strive to be moral but how they maintain their self-perception as already and always moral individuals in spite of evidence to the contrary. This book signifies a creative and unique addition to morality and ethics through an honest and critical examination of a unique social movement indicative of contemporary society. A valuable read for anthropologists, sociologists, criminologists, and individuals interested in morality and ethics, militias, border studies, and policing.

    Patrolling the Homeland - Volunteer Border Militias and the Power of Moral Assemblages

    The Struggle for Acceptance

    Morality and Comfort

    Why Mobilize? A Brief History of Opposition


    Moving Forward

    1. Border Watch

    Searching and Hope

    Militias, Vigilantes, and the State


    Media and Image

    The Operations

    Military Influence

    Away from the Border

    Border Watch

    2. Morality


    Moral Breakdowns

    Discomfort and the Response

    Imperatives – External and Internal - the Basis of Comfort

    Ethical Affordances – the Internal Imperative

    Moral Assemblages – the External Imperative

    The Power of the Assemblage

    The Moral World

    3. Ethnicity at the Nation’s Frontier

    Contemporary Concerns

    Crossing Borders

    A Border Separates ‘Culture’


    Freedom of Movement – a Privilege of Hierarchy

    Controlling National Space

    Ethnicity on the Border

    4. Experience, Narrative, and the Moral Imperative to Act

    The Narrative World of Border Watch

    An Underlying Truth



    The Failings of the State

    Evaluation and Justification – the Bounds of Assemblages

    The Imperative and the Citizen-Soldier

    5. Embodied Narrative on the Border

    The Purse

    An Unknown but Knowable Enemy

    Chasing Fire


    Contradiction and the Immorality of the Other

    Rape Trees and Immorality

    6. The Moral Citizen, Virtue Ethics, and the Internal Ought


    The Self

    The Immoral Other

    Incorporating Virtue Ethics

    Good Guy with a Gun

    Doing What One Ought, Not What One Wants

    7. The Comfort to Act

    Enjoyment and the Moral Imperative

    Protecting Border Watch – The Power of Conformity

    Fitting the Mould through Narrations of the Self

    Danger and Bonding – the Enjoyment of Missions


    The Shifting of Morals

    A World Without Self-Reflection

    The Danger of Moral Assemblages

    The Future of Border Militias



    John R. Parsons holds a PhD in anthropology from the University of Queensland. His research concentrates on the intersection of morality, narrative, and violence.

    "This book is a unique study based upon ethnography in a very difficult area to secure access. It would not only be of interest to sociology/social studies related to immigration and border related studies but also criminology courses looking at policing in the broadest way." – Mark Button, University of Portsmouth

    "If one wants to understand the complexity of living in our contemporary world, then look no further than this book.  John Parsons study of border militias in the United States offers a unique entree into the larger issues we all confront today. This is one of the most ethnographically and theoretically significant works in the anthropology of ethics that I have read in a long time." – Jarrett Zigon, University of Virginia.