Hold the (thin blue) line: theorizing white vigilante violence as counterinsurgency


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Though sometimes understood as novel, racist groups like the “Proud Boys” and right-wing militias like the “Three Percenters” that have emerged over the last decade are emblematic of a longstanding trend in which white vigilante groups act as de facto counterinsurgency forces, appearing at protests as intimidating, often armed “counter-protestors” and with the tacit approval of police, while also engaging in broader ideological campaigns to “win the hearts and minds” of recruits and the broader public. From the slave patrols of the southern U.S. colonies, on through to the KKK, White Citizens Councils and John Birch Society of the post-war years, to the actors and networks of today, this project sketches the symbiotic relationship between state and non-state actors working to fabricate and defend racial capitalist social order with both idea and violent deed. Using the Kyle Rittenhouse matter as quasi-case study, the project maps the ways that white vigilante violence has been justified by key members of the U.S. media and broader public and how these discourses rationalize and normalize violence in defense of dominant, racialized notions of private property and public order. Here the “thin blue line” is a potent signifier not just of U.S. police, but one that locates the literal battle zone—cultural, political, material—for those self-deputized subjects who take it upon themselves to violently defend the racial capitalist order.



White vigilante violence, De facto counterinsurgency, Thin blue line, Kyle Rittenhouse

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Master of Arts


Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work

Major Professor

Travis Linnemann