Faculty Publication: Grandmothers on Guard

Jennifer Johnson, R. Todd Ruppert Professor of International Studies  & Professor of Sociology, has published the book Grandmothers on Guard with University of Texas Press, May 2021.

Book cover pink camo background with barbed wire accents


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?

Kenyon Professor 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.


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

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