White Vigilantes Have Always Had A Friend In PoliceHistorians in the News
tags: Police, vigilantism, White Supremacy, militias
Nick Estes, a professor of American studies at the University of New Mexico and author of the book “Our History Is The Future,” remembers listening to the police scanner earlier this summer when the gun-toting militia group New Mexico Civil Guard turned up to harass and attack anti-racist protesters in Albuquerque.
He said cops could be heard on the scanner referring to this group of vigilantes — founded by a neo-Nazi — as “heavily armed friendlies.”
A short time later, one of those “friendlies” shot and badly injured an anti-racist protester.
Estes argues it’s important to remember the history of white vigilantism in the U.S. in order to understand how these fascist groups operate in our society today, and how they’ve often proven an eager partner with law enforcement.
“The Second Amendment was created specifically to arm white settlers against runaway slaves, enslaved African people, as well as to kill native people on the frontier,” Estes said.
Fast forward to the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War, Estes said, and you see the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan, a white vigilante group that used the Second Amendment to terrorize Black Americans. Decades later, during the Jim Crow era, armed citizens often attacked Black Americans in Sundown Towns — referring to all-white municipalities or neighborhoods across the country — with little to no recourse from law enforcement.
And look at the violence in “border towns” — white majority settlements ringing Native American reservations — where white vigilantes have maimed and murdered Indigenous peoples for generations. Law enforcement has often looked the other way.
“These white vigilantes today don’t misinterpret history,” Estes said. “They’re actually upholding the kind of the original intent of the Second Amendment.”
What’s happening now, he added, is “an intensification of that kind of citizen policing” in response to a growing tide of Black Lives Matter and anti-fascist organizing.
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