I crawl out of the back of the pickup with my rifle in hand. “Keep your weapons nice and tight,” Captain Pain orders. I am traveling light. Unlike the others, I don’t view southern Arizona as a war zone, so I didn’t put steel plates in my chest rig. Next to everyone else’s commando-style AR-15s, my Ruger Mini-14 with a wood stock is slightly out of place. But everything else is square—I’m wearing a MultiCam uniform, desert tan combat boots, and a radio on my shoulder. I fit in just fine.
We are in a Walmart parking lot in Nogales. Captain Pain and a couple of others go into the store to get supplies. In Pain’s absence, Showtime is our commanding officer. He is a Marine special-ops veteran who did three tours in Afghanistan. He has camo paint on his face and a yeti beard. He gets in the cab to check Facebook on his phone while Destroyer, Jaeger, Spartan, and I stand with our backs to the truck, rifles in hand, keeping watch for anything suspicious. The Mexican border is three miles away.
“There you go,” Jaeger says, looking across the lot. “Camaro with rims.” His hands rest casually on the butt of his camouflage AR-15, which hangs over his chest from a three-point tactical sling.
“You know every other Mexican has chrome rims on his car,” Destroyer says in a reasoned tone, suggesting that this particular ride might not belong to a drug cartel. He’s clutching the pistol grip of his AK-47, his trigger finger responsibly pointed down the receiver.
“Last time we were here, [there was] a blacked-out car,” Spartan adds. “Big-ass rims on it. Bumping Mexican music. It cruised us twice. Slowly, too.” He spits out a sunflower seed.
After independence, America’s militias were seen as an alternative to a standing army, but they fell by the wayside in the 19th century, only to be revived in the late 20th century by self-appointed patriots animated by fears of big government, illegal immigration, and societal collapse.