Proof of that came last year in a series of documents that the hacker group LulzSec stole from law enforcement in Arizona and then posted on the internet.
News reports at the time focused largely on what the stolen documents said about the drug war in Mexico and how law enforcement in the United States was handling it. But the documents also revealed several incidents, which were previously undisclosed to the public, showing how extremist groups in were escalating their tactics in the Arizona borderlands.
One document, for example, showed that US Border Patrol agents ran into a heavily armed man on March 30, 2011, in the desert south of Tucson. The man, identified as Tim Foley, told them he was patrolling the border. He said he was getting $350,000 in funding from people he described as “concerned citizens” to recruit five other men to help him.
The document, which was marked “Law Enforcement Sensitive” from the Department of Homeland Security, said Foley bragged to the agents about having military experience as a sniper and ranger. He said his group planned to conduct “mercenary type operations” on both sides of the border.
Most concerning to the agents, according to the document, was what the man told them next. “Tim stated that he has Improvised Explosive Devices deployed in the desert near Sasabe (Ariz.),” the document said. The sentence was typed in bright red letters.
For reasons that still aren’t exactly clear, the agents let Foley go that day. But two days later, federal investigators launched an all-out manhunt for him.
The FBI was brought in along with the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a local bomb squad and bomb-sniffing dogs. The search included plans to evacuate parts of the tiny border town of Sasabe if anything major went down. After hours of searching, however, they came up short. Foley had disappeared and his alleged bombs were nowhere to be found. He could not be located for comment on this story.
By then, the idea of explosives hidden in the desert was not altogether new to law enforcement in Arizona. Another document released by the hacker collective showed that on May 30, 2009, a US Border Patrol agent discovered a pipe bomb west of Tucson along a known smuggling route.
Investigators described the device as “moderately complex,” but said it was impossible to know who planted it or what their motive was. The incident was being investigated by the ATF and local authorities.
Beyond explosives, the groups have also demonstrated an ability to put law enforcement on high alert in other ways.
A third “Law Enforcement Sensitive” document released by the hackers showed that authorities were told on April 28, 2010 to be on the lookout for a “civilian Minuteman type group” that had talked about shutting down a major freeway in the central part of the state.
The group, which called itself “A Concerned Citizen,” believed Interstate 8 was being used by smugglers to transport cargo. The warning of a freeway shut down came just days after Gov. Jan Brewer signed her state’s harsh immigration measures.
“The request comes in support of Governor Jane (sic) Brewer’s signing of SB1070 into law,” according to the warning, “and at the opposition of the media’s coverage of the protests in Phoenix.”
The document noted that the group’s plans went far beyond those of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, a border watch group that got widespread attention several years earlier for its operations along the border.
The MCDC, which has since been disbanded, camped out at the border and called federal agents whenever they saw immigrants illegally crossing. Despite doubts from its critics, the group’s leaders always insisted their role was to simply observe and report what they saw.
“If this new operation happens,” the document said, “there could be potential for human rights violations and a possibility of violence between armed civilians and smugglers or with law enforcement.”
Meanwhile, at least two of Harbin’s associates from the National Socialist Movement have founded a new group that intends to go well beyond anything the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps ever did.
Led by longtime white supremacists JT Ready and Harry Hughes, the US Border Guard routinely treks out in the desert south of Phoenix, heavily armed for what it describes as “operations” to stop “narco terrorists.” Its members often boast of confronting immigrants and detaining them until authorities can arrive.
But Ready, the same man whose name adorned the landmine fliers in 2010, hopes the group will someday do even more.
On the US Border Guard website, alongside photos of its members wearing camouflage and carrying large guns, he recently posted a call for supporters to help the group with donations through PayPal.
Nick Martin is an associate editor at TPM in New York City. He came to the site in 2011 as a reporter for TPMMuckraker. Previously, he worked in Arizona, first as a staff reporter for a local newspaper and later as a freelance journalist. He also ran the news blog Heat City. Contact him: nick [at] talkingpointsmemo.com