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We’re All Brothers, No Matter What Color: How Right-wing Immigration Restrictionist Activists Understand Racism

Mon, August 13, 8:30 to 10:10am, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Floor: Level 100, 107AB


How do immigration restrictionist activists at the U.S.-Mexico border dispute the claim that their mobilization is racist? This paper draws on 20 months of participant observation with three civilian grassroots organizations that favored more immigration enforcement in the Arizona borderlands. I argue that restrictionists, paradoxically, borrowed from mainstream understandings about the ‘extremism’ of racism to dispute the idea that their collective action was motivated by racial prejudice. Specifically, restrictionists insisted that racists were loners who existed on the margins of society. By contrast, restrictionists saw themselves as operating—civically—at the institutional center of society. Activists justified this distinction between themselves and the ‘real’ racists in two ways. First, restrictionists pointed to the fact that they sought out ways to collaborate with frontline state actors, like U.S. Border Patrol agents. Their organizations’ raison d’être, activists argued, was to empower the state, not to undermine institutional order. Second, the (masculine) camaraderie and solidarity that restrictionists felt inside their groups also seemed antithetical to the exclusionary nature of racism and the imagined figure of the ‘loner’ racist. They saw their mobilization as civic engagement, a lauded American tradition that had eluded restrictionist respondents in earlier parts of their lives. The paper concludes with a call for ethnographic studies of rightwing mobilization.


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