The Minuteman Project is a national civilian border patrol group, founded in 2005 to defend the U.S.-Mexico border from "invasion" by illegal immigrants and protest the "blatant disregard of the rule of law" exhibited by government and politicians. This study explores one state chapter of this organization: the Utah Minuteman Project (UMP). The research questions I seek to address are: Who are the Minutemen? What motivates them? How do the Minutemen define what it means to be an American? Using a grounded theory approach, I explore the construction of American identity among the members of the UMP using a range of qualitative data sources: in-depth interviews with 24 individuals, fieldnotes, and primary documents. My findings suggest that what problematizes illegal immigration in the minds of the Minutemen is their view that illegal immigration is a threat to American identity. While illegal immigration and its perceived consequences are the focus of much attention within the UMP, the central motivating factor in the movement relates to the question of who is an American. My findings suggest that American identity, as defined by the Minutemen, can be understood in terms of four main concepts: assimilation, respect for law, work ethic, and patriotism. In many ways, the Minutemen have defined American identity by answering the question of who is not an American. It is against the backdrop of illegal immigration that anti-illegal immigrant movements like the Minutemen have defined themselves, defined America, and defined who is an American. By emphasizing the elements of American identity that stand in most striking contrast to illegal immigration, they exclude undocumented immigrants from American identity. Amidst all the voices seeking to define what it means to be an American, this study contributes another voice and provides a better understanding of how the Minutemen see the world. It is important to that as our country confronts the challenges of immigration reform and answers the question of who is an American, that all voices are heard, including the voices of the Minutemen.



College and Department

Family, Home, and Social Sciences; Sociology



Date Submitted


Document Type





American identity, illegal immigration, the Minuteman Project, immigration



Included in

Sociology Commons