There are the Redskins, Chiefs, Indians, and Braves—sports teams named after the victims of the settler-colonial genocide that made the United States. Then there’s the professional baseball team named after another true American tradition, a paramilitary death squad.
The Texas Rangers (né Washington Senators) was established in Arlington, Texas, in 1971, right around the time Richard Nixon was ratcheting up the funding of Latin American death squads, and was named after one of America’s most celebrated security forces.
From its inception, the Rangers (the law-enforcement unit, not the baseball team) conformed to the classic definition of a death squad. Until it was formalized as an official state agency, the unit was comprised of “irregulars,” rough men with close but informal links to officially sanctioned public-security and intelligence forces. And, like other death squads throughout the Americas, it played an indispensable role, first, in dispossessing a massive amount of property from its region’s subordinated peoples, and, then, policing the property-rights regime that emerged from that dispossession.
“Rangers” go way back in American colonial history, to the early 1600s, when British settlers set up militias. These militias didn’t just protect what was then the border from hostile Native Americas but expanded its parameter, allowing settlers to push north up to Maine and Canada, south into Spanish Florida and down the Mississippi and, eventually, west to Texas and beyond. The first mention of a “ranger” is as early as 1622, during the 1622 Powhatan rebellion, a near-successful effort to drive the British out of what is now Virginia. “Grim-faced men” calling themselves “Rangers” and seeking vengeance repressed the revolt, and in the years to come the words “range, ranging and Ranger were frequently used.… The American Ranger had been born.”
At issue when professional sports teams take the name of Native Americans is the problem of mimicry: having appropriated the land and wealth of America’s vanquished peoples, settler culture then appropriates the supposed values and spirit of the vanquished as well. The idea is that Native Americans possessed exceptional valor, endurance, and strength, qualities that are today embodied by professional sports players on the field. In the case of the Texas Rangers, the appropriation is doubled, mimicries of mimicries.
In the decades before the American Revolution, rangers relied on their Native-American allies to learn small-unit, mobile-warfare tactics, how to move through the landscape stealthily, how to fire accurately with a long gun and conduct quick raids. Whatever brutality Native Americans were accused of, Rangers matched it tenfold, as massacres and village-burning became synonymous with ranger-raiding.