Vigilante Rebellion and Fragmented Sovereignty in Mexico

Dr. Michael Wolff, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science

Winter 2020

An estimated 200,000 people have been murdered in Mexico since former President Felipe Calderon first launched his war on the country’s drug cartels 12 years ago. Tired of their government’s inability to contain the violence, in 2013, thousands of residents in the state of Michoacán took up arms and went to war with the drug cartels on their own. A year later, as many as 20,000 people had joined the so-called autodefensas (“self-defense” groups), which soon controlled nearly half of the state’s municipalities. Although they have since collapsed as a unified movement, the autodefensas succeeded in altering the dynamics of Mexico’s drug wars by introducing a new wild card actor and tactic into the malaise of political-criminal relations. Drawing from his recent fieldwork in Michoacán, Mexico, Wolff’s presentation explores the rise of civilian militias up close and personal, and in so doing, traces their origins to, among other things, a savory new gastronomical trend in the Global North.

Michael Wolff is a professor of political science at Western Washington University, where he teaches a variety of classes pertaining to political struggle and social order in the developing world. His research is focused on Latin America, where he explores the intersections between licit and illicit coercive power, examining the ways in which policymakers, state security agencies, and criminal groups shape one another’s behavior regarding the use of violence.

Date of Lecture