The New Mexico Civil Guard has gotten a lot of media attention this week. After escalating tensions at a June 15 protest in Old Town where a protestor was shot, the heavily armed, mostly White militia group was the subject of a lengthy Albuquerque Journal profile on July 4, as well as an NPR story that aired July 6. KUNM News chose not to air the NPR piece because we feel it left out crucial information, mischaracterized events that KUNM has covered, and provided a platform for thinly veiled racism. Instead, KUNM News Director Hannah Colton spoke with Melanie Yazzie, an assistant professor of Native American Studies and American Studies at the University of New Mexico, about media coverage of militias and how these groups evoke a history of vigilante violence against Native Americans in the region.
Yazzie is with the Indigenous-led group the Red Nation, and says they’ve felt targeted by armed White groups since a protest on June 1. That night, the Civil Guard was out on patrol, and a different group of men in fatigues threatened them with a gun outside their office, accusing them of trying to break in. She says the Civil Guard has since threatened to sue her and to protest outside the Red Nation office, and at other times vehicles associated with the militiamen have been seen in the area, possibly surveilling them.
MELANIE YAZZIE: You know, the reason why we have reacted the way that we have to the New Mexico Civil Guard is because there's a long history of White vigilante violence against Native people, particularly unsheltered relatives, in border towns. Albuquerque counts as a border town, although some may not think that it does. And this history of White vigilante violence actually has its own name. It was coined in Farmington, with the murders of three Navajo men; they were murdered by a bunch of young White high school students back in 1974. It's called Indian rolling. And it operates according to kind of the larger context of settler colonialism, where native people are expected to be kind of disappeared or erased, right? We're like relics of the past. We're not really supposed to be alive today. And so in border towns where we are real people that are around all the time, we have a fair amount of political power, we're perceived as sort of an open threat to the settler order of things. And so there is this long history in border towns of policing that threat, of managing and containing that threat. Police participate in Indian rolling but there's also kind of like this sport killing mentality to White vigilante violence.
KUNM: I did want to ask you about that Albuquerque Journal feature. A criticism that's been leveled at is that it kind of glosses over the Civil Guard leader [Bryce Provance]’s swastika tattoo, and also a joke that he made about “let's get out the crosses” – like a KKK joke – while also taking seriously these men's claims that they aren't racist because their wife is Native American or their fellow militia member is Hispanic. I think those were the examples given. What's the problem with media outlets repeating claims like this from these militiamen?
YAZZIE: Okay, so first let's talk about Bryce Provance. He's a neo-Confederate. He's not just a LARPer or a cosplayer. The Albuquerque Journal piece conveniently did not mention he does Confederate reenactments. There are many pictures of him in Confederate clothing. We just need to call this guy, Bryce Provance, for what he is. And he's founder of the New Mexico Civil Guard, he's the chaplain, which means he's a leader. Then, to call the New Mexico Civil Guard a white supremacist group is not a reach. It's not slander, there's just, you just, the proof is in the pudding of its founder.
Now, the claim that like, ‘Oh, I have Native American kids’ or whatever, ‘I have a Native American wife.' Native people will laugh when they hear this, because it isn't anything different than, you know this, like, ‘Oh, I'm 1/64th Cherokee, my great grandmother was a Cherokee princess’ kind of thing. It's comical that that would be used as a line to claim that one isn't, like, racially motivated, for example. The guy who said he has a Native American family, is also the guy who said, ‘You know, when Native people tell me this isn't my land, like, I disagree with them. We’ve all worked really hard to be here.’ That is the quintessential settler narrative. When a Native person is telling you that this land has been dispossessed and stolen, and that decolonization means the return of land to Native people, and if your response to that is ‘I love Native people, but I'm not going to give up my land,’ that’s just settler colonialism. Which is literally the purpose of bringing down monuments, is to contest the ongoing colonialism that Native people experience in this state.
KUNM: In your view, should media outlets be seeking out these men's perspectives at all? Like, is there a responsible way to go about it?
YAZZIE: No. As I read that piece, I was like, wow, this is this piece is really trying to humanize fascism. And that is so absurd and irresponsible. You don't try to humanize fascism. You try to stop it. Because what fascism is, it's just the language of violence. It's racism, but it's racism taken to another level. And the fact that fascism, right now, has the state behind it, in the form of like Donald Trump and his administration. If you have state power behind your politics, then that means that journalists should be questioning, because that's the side that has more power. It's not the side that's out in the street, you know, unarmed, trying to change the world with pennies, with nothing, you know, which is what a lot of leftists and folks who are doing racial justice work are attempting to do. You shouldn't be humanizing fascism. And it should just be called for what it is.
Note: On June 7, the New Mexico Civil Guard also posted on their Facebook page that they would protest outside KUNM's office.
UPDATE July 7, 2p: The headline has been edited to reflect that not all the Civil Guard or other militia members are White.