Arizona militias say they are done waiting for the government to protect their borders after state lawmakers shot down a bill that would have created a state-sanctioned border militia unit.
The Arizona Daily Star reports that militia volunteers remain committed to stopping what they say is an invasion of smugglers and illegal immigrants, even after being denied state organization status.
The defeated bill would have created a 300-member volunteer militia at the request of the governor. They would have been be armed; however, a provision in the bill required that members be screened in order to prevent violent extremists from joining. You can read the text of the bill here.
Like almost any topic related to illegal immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border, the issue is extremely contentious. The Daily Star reports:
A longtime Arizona border-militia leader, Jack Foote, worked for a period with the group that wrote the bill and said its demise is motivating sympathizers of the border-militia movement.
"We have now washed our hands of our state's Legislature," Foote, of Cottonwood, said via email. "Now we are going to do things our own way."
But critics of that movement, such as Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League, said the border-militia idea is extremist in its nature, not just at its outer edges.
"Some are explicitly white supremacist," said Pitcavage, who has studied extreme right-wing movements for years. "The others may not be white supremacists but may well be racists."
Critics of militia groups often point to the case of Jason Todd "J.T." Ready, a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi and border-militia leader, who shot and killed four people before taking his own life. He was being investigated by the FBI at the time.
The latest legislative blow to citizen militias in Arizona is part of a growing list defeats.
The fight to form a lawful border militia in Arizona began in 2007, when former Sen. Jack Harper introduced a bill to sanction a state Homeland Security Force that could be used on the border if called upon by the governor, The Star reports. However, then-Gov. Janet Napolitano, now Department of Homeland Security secretary, vetoed the legislation, calling it unnecessary because the governor is already within his or her right to call up a militia.
Harper and others pushed the issue again in 2011 and were able to pass a new bill to establish an Arizona State Guard. The victory was shallow, however, as no money was provided establish the guard and the toothless bill made little impact.
Then drawing from the public laws of 22 other states, state Sen. Sylvia Allen put together a team of people to write a bill that called for $1.9 million to fund the new volunteer militia last year.
But like the others, the legislation faced heavy opposition from lawmakers and was eventually killed. Among the bill's opponents were Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and head of the Arizona National Guard, Maj. Hugo Salazar who worried about the militia group being armed and that he hadn't been consulted enough, The Star reports.
"All this does is, it legitimizes the Minutemen-type model of enforcement," said state Sen. Steve Gallardo, a staunch opponent of the bill.
The reported surge in border militia activity in Arizona, as Fox News Latino points out, seems to contradict a report published in the Southern Poverty Law Center's Spring 2012 Intelligence Report that claimed the "nativist extremist" movement had collapsed.
The same report links the Tea Party to the armed militia groups, saying the Tea Party movement has become "home to many nativist extremists." The center argues the interest of the two groups intersected in 2009 over President Obama's healthcare plan when coverage for illegal immigrants was a hot topic issue.
"Since then, the lines between the movements have become increasingly blurred, with leaders frequently making appearances at each other’s events," the report read.
Now, even without legislative support, militia supporters are vowing to continue.
"There is a large military veteran population in our state who would go down there and do the work that the state needs done under the state flag," Michael Frye, a supporter of the bill, told the Star. Now, he added, "There's really no other choice but for those folks like myself to form citizen militias."