Nativism & Vigilantism

I return today to the discussion of nativism, and will use an article from the Washington Post as an example of how nativism works in a contemporary context.

Nativism is a term that us used to the rage of emotions that are discernible as intense opposition or hostility toward an internal minority group based on its foreign or unAmerican heritage or connections. Nativism is a response that is more likely to emerge during times of increased immigration, such as the “classic era” of immigration,” that took place between 1880 and the 1920s. Nativism is closely tied to feelings of nationalism and national identity; it draws upon broad cultural antipathies and ethnocentric judgments,and translates them into actions against people who are residents of the U.S., but are perceived as enemies of a distinctly American way of life.

Nativism has further been described as emanating from a deep cultural anxiety from a citizen population that worried that middle-class values would be inundated by immigrants that are moving into the U.S. in great numbers, and perceived to be inferior to the native population. This cultural anxiety, as it is referred to in the literature on the various responses to immigrant settlement, is the prevalent fear held in common by certain members of the citizen population, and often accompanies immigrant settlement in new and diverse places.

The article that I link here deals with nativism in the extreme. Roger Barnett, an Arizona rancher, is accused of holding an American family (of Mexican descent) hostage when he encountered them while they were on a deer hunting expedition. The court documents indicate that

the family said Barnett loaded an assault rifle and leveled it at the group, then harangued and abused the couple, their two daughters and the daughter of another family also named in the suit.

The apparent problem for Mr. Barnett and others who hold strong nativist positions, is that they assume that anyone who appears to be of Mexican descent, even when they are U.S. citizens, are potential “enemies” of his way of life. Nativism is not rational, but it is a phobic response to cultural and ethnic changes within American society that have resulted from immigration. What price will Mr. Barnett pay for acting out his fear? If he loses the civil lawsuit filled against him, it will be $200,000. He also has a criminal trial pending, however. If the outcome of that trial determines he violated the Mexican-American family’s civil rights, it will cost him much more than cash.

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