I am Shane Bauer, senior reporter for Mother Jones. I bought a rifle and joined several right wing militias. I traveled to the US-Mexico border with the Three Percent United Patriots to "hunt Mexicans." Ask me anything!

Here is the article being discussed: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/10/undercover-border-militia-immigration-bauer

This AMA is finished. Thanks for participating!


Comments: 128 • Responses: 27  • Date: 

stankery28 karma

Your piece on private prisons was great. Do you think that it affected the intended phase-out of private prisons for federal inmates?

What other ideas have you explored for investigative articles but ended up rejecting?

Do you think we're entering or are in a 'golden age' of long-form journalism?

ShaneBauer42 karma

Thank you. I think there have been stronger times for long form journalism. It's hard to top long form in the 1970s, in my opinion. But I do think long form journalism is strong, and is getting stronger. It seems to me that people are growing tired of click-bait journalism and want depth and good storytelling. The problem is that media organizations have been struggling with how to fund work that mostly lives online, where add revenue is minuscule. Projects like this militia project and my prison project cost tons of money and media organizations need to figure out how to pay for this stuff. Mother Jones estimated that my prison project costed $350,000, yet despite the fact that it was read by around 1.5 million people, it only brought in $5,000 in add revenue. Relying on adds is just a losing game. We are a non-profit, so the vast majority of our revenue comes from donations.

whitleywayne25 karma

What were your views on this before going undercover and have they been swayed in any way?

ShaneBauer58 karma

I think I assumed these militiamen are all white supremacists. That's not quite the case. They would never call themselves white supremacists and they are quick to point out that they sometimes have minorities as members. But with the Three Percent United Patriots, people said racist things to each other all the time and even though the group says it doesn't tolerate racism, no one challenged it. They also cooked food with bacon grease because they believed it would keep out Muslim infiltrators. In their world, they believe that they are the anti-racists. They think groups like Black Lives Matter are the ones who are racist because they openly address race. The militia guys idealize the past and prefer a time when people of color and women weren't being so vocal.

spockspeare7 karma

Why did you omit those observations from your article? Or did I somehow read a severely truncated version of it?

two_off19 karma

What tactics of the Three Percent United Patriots concerned you the most?

ShaneBauer49 karma

The Colorado branch of the Three Percent United Patriots as a sort of special forces division called the Rapid Response Team. They described some of their training to me, which involved recruits being sleep deprived for 36 hours and going through a mock interrogation in which they were waterboarded, kept in a "stress box" in the cold, naked except for a t-shirt, tased, cattle prodded, forced to such habanero-covered dildos, and strapped upside down, blindfolded, to a tilt-table. One of the guys who runs that training told me a story about one recruit who wouldn't crack, so he brought a female member of the militia into the room and tased and cattle prodded her to get the guy to talk.

sonofabutch26 karma

WTF? Who do these guys think they're going to be captured and interrogated by?

ShaneBauer57 karma

Drug cartels. It seemed that whenever they encountered Mexican-looking people, they thought they were cartels. A teenager asked them for directions--cartel. A man ran off when he saw a truck full of armed white guys coming--cartel. A Latino family had a ranch with no cows on it--cartel. The police approached us, standing with weapons in a Walmart parking lot--must have been the cartel that called them.

PizzusChrist9 karma

forced to such habanero-covered dildos

Are you aware of this technique being used by any other group? Is this something the cartels do? Kinda wtf there man.

ShaneBauer13 karma

No, I'm not aware of any other groups using these techniques.

dgream16 karma

To what degree are federal border patrol agents aware of the "hunting illegal immigrants" mindset these militia men have?

ShaneBauer33 karma

I got the sense that they were pretty aware of the mindset of the militias. The miltiamen don't hold back with the federal Border Patrol agents. I even witnessed the militia leader brag to a Border Patrol agent who said he was an intelligence officer about how they--the militia--practice waterboarding, taze their recruits, and strap them upside down on a tilt table. The Border Patrol officer just laughed. Then he proceeded to tell us where we should set up operations to find immigrants crossing the border.

dgream11 karma

Holy shit...

Also, thanks so much for this AMA. Your work is (as always) incredible

ShaneBauer11 karma

Thank you!

whitenoise232316 karma

Prior to your more recent great work with private prisons and militias you did some journalism while embedded in places like Yemen and Syria. How do you think the mentality of those enforcing white supremacy, capitalism, and the idea of a Christian homeland in the USA through extra-state militaristic interventions are similar or dissimilar from groups in the Middle East and North Africa who are exercising extra-state power militarily while emerging from ideologies and cultural values more closely aligned with Islam?

ShaneBauer20 karma

I think there are a lot of similarities. In both cases, the groups are deeply conservative, harking to a distant, idealized past. They also tend to be very authoritarian. A lot of armed groups in the Middle East are very conspiratorially minded, as are the militiamen. And Islamic fundamentalist groups, like the militia, seem to idealize military life.

0llie0llie15 karma

How do you end up doing these undercover assignments? Where does the idea come from and how is it made into a concrete decision? Do you pitch the idea? Does MoJo?

If you were to land in legal trouble for something done undercover, how would MoJo help you?

(I've not yet taken the time to read your militia piece, but I was very...moved and impressed by your private prison piece.)

ShaneBauer34 karma

All of my stories are ideas I pitched to my editors. When they approve, our lawyers are typically involved throughout the process. Typically, risky projects like this are done by freelancers who have no legal protections. Part of why it is such a big deal for Mother Jones to take on these projects is that, since I am on staff, they take on a lot of legal liability. There really is no other publication doing that to this degree right now.

Mount10Lion3 karma

VICE? Sending folks off to war zones in the middle east seems a bit more risky than hanging out with some hillbillys in the USA.

ShaneBauer27 karma

Risky for the reporters, yes. But less legally risky.

smashleenbones12 karma

Hey Shane! First, I've read both this piece and your adventures as a private prison officer. They were great and well timed! I know when you were with the militia Trump was not as adamant about the election being rigged. But after getting to know a lot of the people involved with militias, do you think any of them would be serious in organizing protests or a "revolution" if Hillary wins?

ShaneBauer40 karma

I expect that if Hillary wins, the militias will get a boost in membership. The militia movement was born in the 1990s, but went dormant during the Bush years. After Obama was elected, membership grew eight-fold. There are now more than 270 militias in the county, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Militia leaders told me the membership swelled after Obama's re-election. And I think these guys loathe Hillary even more than Obama. Many believe she is already running the show behind the scenes.

These guys typically see themselves as defense organizations. A big part of that is defending their interpretation of the Constitution. The big question is, at what point to they decide that the Constitution is being infringed upon, and they need to "defend" it. I think it's very unlikely the militia movement will all come to agreement about this. It is very fractured. But individual militias, or members of militias, might decide for themselves.

smashleenbones12 karma

Have you received any types of threats or hateful messages from members of the organizations you investigated?

ShaneBauer22 karma

No, I haven't. Some of them have commented though that the article was well written. :) Also, one guy asked if I'd like to go back on another border operation. I said no thanks.

sonofabutch11 karma

You were getting teased about being a socialist and having a "pretty mouth", were you just being singled out as the new guy or do you get the sense they knew you weren't really one of them?

ShaneBauer24 karma

I was the only one from California, so that made me stand out. People just couldn't understand why I would live there.

elizduggan10 karma

Should we be afraid of these people or pity them? Combination of the two?

ShaneBauer54 karma

Most of these guys are working class white men. They believe that they are the real victims of society, which is an easy illusion to maintain when you actually don't have much and you see your standard of living decreasing. Their frustration often evolves into elaborate conspiracy theories about the government or the United Nations being out to get them. In some ways, they do seem pitiful, but they are also grown men roving around with assault weapons looking for human beings. That is dangerous.

I have heard people suggest that militias are nothing but grown up Boy Scouts. That view is implicitly racist. This suggestion would never arise if the groups of men doing paramilitary training, taking over federal buildings, and conducting paramilitary operations along the border were mostly Muslims or African Americans. Our society's capacity for tolerating things white men do is phenomenal.

dudeguymanthesecond3 karma

taking over federal buildings


ShaneBauer14 karma

Sorry, I was referring to the armed protest in Burns, Oregon in which armed members of the patriot movement took over occupied the headquarters of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.

jungleboogiemonster10 karma

What did the militia do when they encountered illegal immigrants? Would they stop them by any means?

ShaneBauer22 karma

This was never totally made clear to me, but my understanding is that we were to radio in to the militia base, which would call Border Patrol. We were not supposed to shoot people. I worried constantly that we would actually run into someone. Many of these guys are military veterans and when we'd roll out of the base in the back of a pickup, they would get really amped up. Some would talk about "hunting Mexicans." One guy told me, when he was sitting watch on a mountain, that he had his site on some guys "playing Mexican music" and he was itching to pick them off. I always worried what would happen if we were out in the desert in the middle of the night and someone jumped out and ran from behind a bush.

JackDT7 karma

The people in the article really remind me of being a kid and having secret tree forts in the woods, building traps against non-existent invaders and planning operations.

Beyond political and cultural elements it seems like a lot of the people in the article really like having a mission and a team, being part of an organized structure, planning and preparing. It does sound kind of fun if you disconnect it from what's actually going on. I don't know if I have question exactly, but along these lines, did you get a sense this was a part of it all?

ShaneBauer11 karma

Yes. A lot of them were clearly motivated by the excitement of it all (as was I, frankly). They also really nerd out over things like survival bags and tactical gear. A lot of them seemed to just want to get away from their families for a while too.

facingstrangers6 karma

Do the Militia Men really make life easier for the border patrol?

Do the Border Patrol think they make their life easier?

Do people crossing the border on the other side : - Citizen, criminal or immigrant know about and fear the militia men?

Are the militia actually something that cartel, smuggler or coyote would take into account?

How much funds are the militia really dealing with, budget-wise and do they have any big contributors or fundraisers?

ShaneBauer7 karma

When the three percenters are out there, they far outnumber and outgun the border patrol.

Falesen6 karma

At any point were you worried for your safety?

ShaneBauer17 karma

When one militia member told me I had a pretty mouth and started talking about my "socialist butt hole," yeah, I start getting a bit worried. I decided if that guy tried to get put in my squad on a desert operation, I would refuse.

dorn764 karma

What does the CBP think of these militias?

ShaneBauer14 karma

They work closely with them. They would come to the base, bring us donuts, and give the militiamen tips on where to conduct operations. They thanked the miltiamen for their work frequently. One agent said, "You guys come down here and do what I do for no pay at all." I interviewed the leader of the Three Percent United Patriots, Mike Morris, months after leaving Arizona and he said he was in contact with the Border Patrol on a weekly basis. And he lives in Colorado. He said that whenever they plan a border operation, they coordinate with Border Patrol, who suggests times for them to come down, and suggests where they should go.

mstrdsastr3 karma

Do you think the Border Patrol just does it to get them to go to an area that would keep them out of the way of actual Border Patrol operations?

ShaneBauer12 karma

It's possible, but even if that were the case, they would still be encouraging random armed self-trained vigilantes to find immigrants in the desert. And everywhere they told us to go was near the border fence.

sandrastephens3 karma

Are there any women serving in the CO and AZ militias, and if not, do they explicate a justification for keeping women out?

ShaneBauer20 karma

There was one woman from Colorado and one from Arizona at the border operation. In California, I joined a militia called the 31st Defense Legion. The guy who recruited me said I could bring my wife but only with prior approval and only if she could provide a support role like cooking.

Rheto502 karma

How long did you cover the story? How where you able to get picture on your story when doing the undercover assignment? When pictures would make you suspicious.

ShaneBauer6 karma

I spent a week on the border with the Three Percent United Patriots, but trained with the California State Militia for several months before that (with training occurring twice a month). For the border operation, the leadership required us to bring body cameras. The idea was that the militia could use video to disprove false claims against them. So I wore a body camera and filmed regularly. Guys were also taking pictures constantly, so taking pictures with my phone wasn't an issue. They even asked people to bring drones if they had them. I did that too, and some of the footage accompanies this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKooP8P82Bc

A__dam1 karma


ShaneBauer16 karma

I don't think a lot of these guys are republicans. Some might vote republican when it comes down to it, but they are generally distrustful of both parties and federal politics in general.

sandrastephens1 karma

If Sandstone or others could land a government job that paid $60k with benefits for their families, do you think they'd take it? And remain part of the militia? Or would a better life with less economic struggle have an effect on their motivations to belong to a militia? (thank you for an excellent article)

ShaneBauer10 karma

Wouldn't surprise me. One of the militiamen was a TSA agent.

stankery1 karma

In December 2013, the Los Angeles Times published an article entitled "Iran wants American tourists, and a boomlet has begun". A Google search will bring up many results about vacationing in Iran. What advice would you give to American tourists in Iran?

ShaneBauer10 karma

Don't know. I haven't seen Iran outside of a car window and a prison cell.