Here is an excerpt from Tim Steller's article in The Arizona Daily Star:
"Lawmakers killed a bill that would have created a state-sanctioned border militia, but that didn't squelch the Minuteman impulse in Arizona... People in the cause remain committed to patrolling spots near the Arizona-Mexico border to stop what they see as an invasion by smugglers or illegal immigrants, said participants, their supporters and their critics. Some may be even more motivated now that their plan for state organization was ended by a legislative maneuver... 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... The bill would have set up a 300-member volunteer force to patrol the border at the governor's request. The group would have been armed but also vetted in an effort to weed out the violent extremists who have been attracted to the Minuteman movement. 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... If the border-militia movement is regenerating, that goes against a trend documented earlier this year by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks groups it considers right-wing extremist. The center reported that the number of border-militia groups had significantly declined, in part because members' passions were being channeled into state legislatures. Now, in Arizona, they've been stymied.But the potential expansion of border-militia activity doesn't necessarily mean violence, members and others said." Link to Full Article
Analysis: I have to admit, I was pretty surprised at first glance that this bill never even made it to a floor vote in the Arizona legislature, considering it's probably the most hard-core border security state in the southwest. Then I thought about it a bit, and started looking at some of the public image hits Arizona has been taking lately, mostly over SB 1070. Even if the bill passed and a private-citizen border force was created that behaved impeccably, the national perception might be that a bunch of trigger-happy cowboys were wandering around the desert, looking for Mex-ee-cans to shoot.
The fact is, these types of patrol groups - call them militias, Minutemen, civil patrols, whatever - have been around for some time, and not just in Arizona. The Texas Minutemen are probably the most well-known, and they've had their own conflicts to deal with. Most members of these groups either just walk or drive the border, or sit next to a camper with binoculars or a camera, making phone calls to the nearest US Border Patrol station if they see something suspicious. A lot of civil border patrollers are former or retired law enforcement or military members, and feel their federal or state government isn't doing enough to prevent illegal immigrants or violent drug smugglers from crossing the border and/or trespassing on their property.
But then there are the bad apples. Border-militia leader and neo-Nazi J.T. Ready killed four people and apparently killed himself May 2 in Gilbert. Per the article, "Ready's rampage - in which he killed his girlfriend, her daughter, the daughter's boyfriend and their baby - was "a domestic violence tragedy" unrelated to his political and border activities, said James Turgal, the FBI special agent in charge who oversees Arizona. The FBI was investigating Ready at the time he died. For years he participated in heavily armed border patrols, and most recently he led a group called U.S. Border Guard, made up in part of members of the National Socialist Movement, a neo-Nazi group."
Maybe people like Ready and others like him are the reason Governor Jan Brewer opposed the bill, which is an uncharacteristic move for the border security hardliner. She's repeatedly called for more National Guard troops on the AZ-Mexico border, and will use any opportunity to take potshots at Janet Napolitano, DHS, and the White House for doing little to nothing to improve her definition of border security (everyone has a different one). This article didn't explain why Brewer didn't want the bill, but the head of the AZ National Guard said he was worried that the group would be armed - and that the bill creators didn't consult with him first.
I can understand that people involved in these groups would be ticked off at a perceived lack of support from an Arizona legislature they assumed (with good reason) would be supportive of their efforts. But I can also see why there might be some concern among legislators, Guardsmen, and other AZ citizens. People can already arm themselves to protect their property and family members from smugglers and immigrants (who are rarely armed, if they're just crossing with a coyote and not smuggling drugs). I trust that most gun owners who follow the law are responsible gun owners, and would prefer to pick up the phone and call Border Patrol if they're not in a life-threatening situation.
But it just takes one J.T. Ready incident to not only give a civilan border patrol movement a black eye; it would be a public relations nightmare for the state government that not only endorsed it, but helped fund it. At least with private movements, if something bad happens, the state and local governments can distance themselves from it by saying they don't condone vigilante behavior. Officially supporting such a group would be a step too far for the Arizona government in a time when they're still trying to clean up their image from the SB 1070 fiasco.
This is definitely a hot topic, so I'm curious what your thoughts are. Are armed citizen groups like this more dangerous than helpful? Or do we need more groups like them along the southwest border? Should the states going about formalizing civil patrol groups, like deputizing certain people, or keep them at arm's length?