TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — The recent defeat of legislation that would have created a citizens’ border group is driving up support for Arizona militias.
The Arizona Daily Star reports the state’s border-militia groups are seeing members becoming more motivated after plans for a state-sanctioned organization were struck down in the Legislature.
Leaders of volunteer patrols along the Arizona-Mexico border said there is an invasion of smugglers and illegal immigrants that needs to be stopped. Supporters say they are giving up on getting assistance from lawmakers.
Jack Foote, a longtime Arizona border-militia leader from Cottonwood, worked with the group that penned the bill.
“We have now washed our hands of our state’s Legislature,” Foote said. “Now we are going to do things our own way.”
The proposed bill would have established a 300-member, armed Arizona Special Missions Unit to guard the border at the governor’s request. A provision in the bill included screening volunteers to weed out violent extremists.
Critics of the bill say a border militia is extremist in nature.
Mark Pitcavage, of the Anti-Defamation League, said extreme behavior is no longer found on the fringes of militia movements.
“Some are explicitly white supremacists,” Pitcavage said. “The others may not be white supremacists but may well be racists.”
Arizona militia groups were recently in the spotlight after Jason Todd “J.T.” Ready, a known neo Nazi and border-militia leader, shot and killed four people before turning the gun on himself. FBI officials were investigating Ready at the time. He had most recently led a group known as the U.S. Border Guard. James Turgal, the FBI special agent in charge who oversees Arizona, said Ready’s shooting of his girlfriend and her family members was “a domestic violence tragedy” unrelated to his political activities.
A regeneration of border-militia movements would contradict an earlier trend reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks groups it considers right-wing extremist. The center said earlier this year that the Minuteman border-watch movement that exploded in southern Arizona in the last decade has virtually disappeared. The study concluded the decline was due to its members’ concerns about illegal immigration have been adopted by state lawmakers.
Pat King, a rancher who lives near the border, said she has accepted help in the past from Minuteman groups. King said the group now uses cameras to report illegal activity rather than conduct patrols.
“You have to be very careful of who joins your ranks, that you don’t trash the whole organization,” King said. “Some people can join and have their own agendas. That gets kind of frightening.”