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Grandmothers on Guard

Grandmothers on Guard
Gender, Aging, and the Minutemen at the U.S.-Mexico Border

An incisive portrait of nationalism in the United States, Grandmothers on Guard tells the story of older women who found meaning and community in the Minutemen, an anti-immigrant vigilante movement.

May 2021
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224 pages | 6 x 9 |

For about a decade, one of the most influential forces in US anti-immigrant politics was the Minuteman Project. The armed volunteers made headlines patrolling the southern border. What drove their ethno-nationalist politics?

Jennifer L. Johnson spent hundreds of hours observing and interviewing Minutemen, hoping to answer that question. She reached surprising conclusions. While the public face of border politics is hypermasculine—men in uniforms, fatigues, and suits—older women were central to the Minutemen. Women mobilized support and took part in border missions. These women compel us to look beyond ideological commitments and material benefits in seeking to understand the appeal of right-wing politics. Johnson argues that the women of the Minutemen were motivated in part by the gendered experience of aging in America. In a society that makes old women irrelevant, aging white women found their place through anti-immigrant activism, which wedded native politics to their concern for the safety of their families. Grandmothers on Guard emphasizes another side of nationalism: the yearning for inclusion. The nation the Minutemen imagined was not only a space of exclusion but also one in which these women could belong.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction. Border Politics and Invisible Women
  • Chapter 1. Granny Brigades and Political Spectacle at the US-Mexico Border
  • Chapter 2. Doing Old Womanhood at the Edge of the Nation-State
  • Chapter 3. Grandma Grizzlies to the Rescue of Family and Nation
  • Chapter 4. Misogyny Minuteman-Style and Women Tough Enough to Take It
  • Chapter 5. Bringing the Border Back Home
  • Conclusion. From Republican Motherhood to Patriotic Grandmotherhood
  • Appendix. Walking the Line
  • Notes
  • References
  • Index

Jennifer L. Johnson is the R. Todd Ruppert Professor of International Studies and a professor of sociology at Kenyon College. She is an affiliate of the Center for Right-Wing Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.


Grandmothers on Guard offers an utterly fascinating window into a social world that few outside the insular domains of right-wing activists see, much less understand. Earning trust while doing longitudinal fieldwork, especially across a yawning cultural divide, takes enormous patience and skill—and a steadfast commitment to both the ethnographic craft and the intellectual mission it supports. With this timely book, Johnson has produced a deeply contextualized, textured, and penetrating account of women’s political worldviews and activism at that most poignant of social boundaries, the US-Mexico border. We need more books like Grandmothers on Guard, wherein writers press through discomfort and preconceptions and toward a deeper understanding of their objects of inquiry. What a superb read!”
Chad Broughton, University of Chicago, author of Boom, Bust, Exodus: The Rust Belt, the Maquilas, and a Tale of Two Cities