Updated: May 2, 2012, 10:26 PM
Longtime white supremacist and border vigilante JT Ready saw himself as part of a war that few others would fight. He amassed weapons. He donned a uniform. He formed his own brigade of volunteers to walk alongside him as he hunted what he described as “narco terrorists” flowing across the Arizona-Mexico border.
On Wednesday, reports out of Arizona said Ready died, not at the hands of drug runners, but with his own gun during a mad rampage inside a suburban home just east of Phoenix. Along the way, the reports said, he took the lives of four other people, including a toddler.
The Arizona Republic reported the victims were Ready’s girlfriend, her daughter, the daughter’s boyfriend and the daughter’s 18-month-old baby. Ready still somehow managed to use the event to blame immigrants even after his death. A posting on his Facebook page appeared hours after the massacre took place.
“Reports are unconfirmed that a cartel assassination squad murdered JT Ready and several of his friends and family this afternoon in Gilbert Arizona,” the posting said. “This page’s admin will keep you updated of the situation as soon as possible.”
TPM called Ready’s cell phone late Wednesday, but a message on the other end said the line had been disconnected or was no longer in service.
In an interview with TPM in January, Ready said he was running for sheriff of Pinal County, Ariz., a large patch of desert sandwiched between Tucson and Phoenix. The seat was open after Sheriff Paul Babeu announced he would be running for Congress. Ready saw an opportunity.
“All these, quote, border hero sheriffs — they sit there blaming the president while they’re not doing everything they can do,” he said at the time.
In recent years, Ready had been leading armed patrols in the Pinal County desert, looking for immigrants who were crossing through. He called his group the US Border Guard. They often boasted online of finding such immigrants and holding them at gunpoint until US immigration authorities could arrive.
Before that, Ready was a member of the National Socialist Movement, the largest neo-Nazi organization in the nation. He joined in at NSM rallies in Arizona and California and was often spotted alongside swastika flags.
Ready told TPM he had quit the movement, however he could not remember exactly when. He also frequently brought Harry Hughes, another member of the NSM and longtime friend of his, along on the desert patrols.
Ready said in the interview that he had recently moved into Hughes’s house near the town of Maricopa, inside Pinal County.
“What Harry has is a big piece of property that we have turned into a compound,” Ready said. He mentioned they had recently surrounded the property with sand bags and barbed wire. However, he added, “It’s not a militia or anything like that.”
Long before he ran for sheriff or came out as a white supremacist, Ready had a budding interest in politics. He was part of the young Republicans club at his local college and later became a precinct leader with the state Republican Party.
Along the way, he met state lawmaker Russell Pearce, the man who would later gain national notoriety for his part in crafting the state’s tough immigration law known as SB 1070. According to the Phoenix New Times, Pearce mentored the young man and even helped him convert to the Mormon faith.
Ready ran in 2006 for the city council in Mesa, Ariz.. He lost, but he came in second place among multiple candidates.
It was during the 2006 race, however, that Ready demonstrated he was willing to turn his anti-immigrant fervor into extreme action.
In a bizarre incident that made headlines at the time, Ready followed a vehicle down a dead end street and cornered a Latino man who later turned out to be an illegal immigrant. Ready said the man opened fire on him with a BB gun and he returned it with a .38 revolver he kept strapped to his ankle.
Neither was injured. Police ended up arresting the other man, who later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor of giving a false name to the police. Ready called the outcome a “travesty of justice.”
In the years since then, Ready had a falling out with the Republican Party over his increasingly extremist views and was disavowed by several politicians he once counted on, including Pearce.
As part of his time in the National Socialist Movement, Ready began advocating for landmines to be placed along the US-Mexico border as a form of immigration control. In fliers he handed out at a 2010 tea party rally in Arizona, he called it the “most humane, non-racist, fair border security plan available.”
The fliers factored into a 2011 case brought by federal authorities against one of his fellow NSM members named Jeffery Harbin, who was pulled over on a freeway east of Phoenix with a number of homemade bombs in the back of his truck. Harbin later admitted he was making them “for the border.” He was sentenced in January to two years in prison and is scheduled to be released in October.
Ready distanced himself from Harbin and said he had nothing to do with the plot. Meanwhile, with his new US Border Guard group, Ready was increasing his level of rhetoric. The group was using its website to raise money with the hope of eventually buying a tank.
“Arizona Statues (sic) allow the fielding of most weapons short of nuclear weapons and certain chemical weapons,” Ready wrote on the website. “Therefore we are already in contact with brokers concerning a .50 cal semi-automatic rifle and a MBT- Main Battle Tank. Yes, you read this correctly. We have a goal to get a Main Battle Tank engaged against the Narco-Terrorists.”
Recently, when he filed to run for sheriff, he revealed he had done so as a Democrat. He liked the party, he said, not for its current platform but because of its history with racism. It was the party, he noted, that brought about Jim Crow laws and harbored Alabama’s segregationist former Gov. George Wallace.
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