A peaceful early May afternoon in a Phoenix suburb was violently shattered when a notorious white nationalist opened fire on his girlfriend and her family, killing four including an 15 month old baby before turning the gun on himself.
The details are still emerging but at this time it appears that on May 2nd, border vigilante and candidate for Pinal County sheriff, J.T. Ready, dressed himself in body armor and entered his girlfriend, Lisa Medero’s home in Gilbert where he had been living. He then shot Lisa, her daughter Amber, Amber’s fiancé Jim Hoitt, and Amber’s 15 month old daughter Lilly before killing himself. Lisa’s other daughter was either in the home or arrived after the event but, in any case, was unharmed. The baby was still alive at the scene when police arrived but died shortly thereafter at the hospital. Numerous weapons, including anti-tank grenades were found at the house
I find this difficult to write about because I’ve followed Ready with a kind of disgusted fascination over the past three years and have seen him on several occasions at different rallies I’ve attended. The first was at a Nazi rally in November of 2010 when all hell broke loose as black bloc protesters and police clashed and more recently in October when he and his buddies showed up with their weapons to Occupy Phoenix .
J.T. was never shy about his white supremacy leanings. There are numerous videos online where he goes on at great length describing his hatred of blacks, Mexicans, Jews and anyone else not of pure white European blood. He envisioned a continent where whites had their own homeland and where people of color were repelled by any means, including violence. While he oozed white supremacy at every pore, he also denied he was a supremacist, instead calling himself a white nationalist, as if this was somehow less racist and more acceptable. He was an active member of the National Socialist Movement (NSM) for several years, showing up at their neo-Nazi rallies with swastikas, flags and Hitler salutes. He always described Hitler as an “excellent white civil rights leader.”
Here is a video of one of their NSM anti-immigrant rallies:
More recently, Ready headed up a border vigilante group called Ready’s Rangers that conducted heavily armed patrols of the deserts south of Phoenix in search of drug cartels and what he called “narco-terrorists.” He had been trying to redefine himself as more of a mainstream patriotic defender of US sovereignty and had quit the NSM the previous year. He even started a campaign to run for sheriff of Pinal County, ironically as a Democrat, claiming he wanted to bring the democratic party back to the values of George Wallace.
Ready was propelled onto the national spotlight back in 2010 due to his long-standing friendship with Arizona state senator Russell Pearce. After the passage of Pearce’s immigration bill SB1070, all eyes pivoted on Arizona and the nativists in the legislature. Rachael Maddow’s now-famous expose of the racist roots of SB1070 showed pictures of Pearce and Ready arm-in-arm smiling for the cameras juxtaposed with photos of Ready lined up and smiling with a bunch of Nazis. It was that very same expose that helped motivate me to speak out against the anti-immigrant legislation that Pearce has tirelessly defended and against the national anti-immigrant groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and pro-prison lobbies including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that stood to benefit enormously from the detention of immigrants.
Civil rights activists in Arizona had been writing about, videoing and exposing the connections between Pearce and Ready for years of course, but it took a spot on MSNBC before the rest of the country caught on to just how blatantly racist SB1070 was. Later Russell Pearce was recalled from the senate and nobody (except Pearce) is denying that his associations with extremists and his single-minded focus on immigration were factors in his defeat.
Of course Russell Pearce did scramble to distance himself from Ready, a man that he had baptized and ordained into the LDS church. J.T. described Pearce as a surrogate father and told of how he and Russell would stand on Pearce’s front porch together and tell Mexican jokes; they were that close. But once J.T. refused to participate in cloaking his racism in the manner nativist Arizona politicians like Pearce have long since mastered, Pearce had to distance himself. First he pretended he didn’t know Ready at all but when it became obvious they had a long standing relationship, Pearce had to backtrack and claim ignorance about Ready’s leanings. In his statement to the press after the shootings, Pearce once again attempted to rewrite history on his close attachment to Ready, something that one can only hope will be seen though as the fabrication it is during Pearce’s new campaign to recapture his senate seat.
As much as Ready loved to pontificate about his love of country devoid of brown folks and as much as he displayed his guns and got together with the boys dressed in camo and gilly suits to run around in the desert playing commando, it was hard to take him very seriously. He talked a good talk but often those who do are all talk. But sadly I, and many others misjudged the man. I figured him for a loudmouth blowhard; more revolting rhetoric than substance.
The violence Ready espoused coming home to roost in so horrific a fashion is like a reality punch to the gut. Speculation is running wild that one of the men in camouflage who shot at a truck full of undocumented migrants, killing two, in the desert not long ago could have been Ready. Whether or not this is true, we’re all faced with the level of violence that Ready was capable of, including turning his gun on a tiny child, one he is purported to have called “half ugly” because of her half Latino heritage.
There is no denying that Arizona is a dangerous state. We rank seventh in the nation for gun deaths and sixth for gun slayings. The violence is real, the guns are real, the hatred is real. Arizona is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as being the home of seventeen hate groups. Ready’s followers on Facebook have been spinning conspiracy theories about his murder at the hands of a cartel assassination squad instead of acknowledging his act of mass murder and extreme cowardice.
Sadly, those supporters and other like-minded people are still out there, armed, dangerous and true to their cause, whether they be vigilantes patrolling the desert proclaiming to be patriots or men in political power who speak the language of dog whistle racism while wrapping themselves in the American flag.
Arizona, if ever there was a time for a wake-up call, this is it.
Amy McMullen is an activist for human rights and social, economic and health justice currently residing in Arizona. Her former incarnations include back-to-the-land counter culturalist, small business entrepreneur, charter boat captain, EMT, and rehabber of distressed homes. She is currently unemployed except for her writing and the required care and maintenance of her husband and two dogs. She also volunteers for the Phoenix Urban Health Collective as a street medic. Her writings on social justice and other subjects appear in Truthout, Salon, The Tucson Sentinel, The Pragmatic Progressive and on her blog at Open Salon.