Federal prosecutors had at least two chances to go after white supremacist militia leader JT Ready in the months before he went on a rampage in an Arizona suburb, killing four others and then himself. Yet Ready was not arrested or charged with a crime.
Documents obtained by TPM on Thursday through a public records request show border agents sent at least two cases to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Phoenix after the agents came across Ready and his men, armed and detaining immigrants in the middle of the desert.
Following the May 2 massacre, in which Ready killed his girlfriend and three others before killing himself, the head of the FBI in Phoenix said his office was investigating Ready on suspicion of domestic terrorism at the time of the killings. He said the investigation was related to the shootings of immigrants in the desert.
Ready was a longtime border activist who once was a member of the National Socialist Movement, the largest neo-Nazi organization in the United States, and used to be an ally of former Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce (R). More recently, he ran his own group that he called the U.S. Border Guard, which patrolled the desert in search of what Ready called “narco terrorists.”
The new documents from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection paint a picture of some of the things that caused federal agents concern. Ready not only routinely caused headaches for the real U.S. Border Patrol but also sparked some volatile and potentially dangerous situations.
In one case, on Feb. 26, 2011, a U.S. Border Patrol agent found Ready and another man detaining an immigrant who was lost in the desert and wandering without water. The documents said the immigrant’s hands were zip-tied behind his back. (The name of the other man accompanying Ready was blacked out of the records.)
“When he saw J.T. Ready and (redacted) walked toward them to give up, because he had no water and was tired,” the report said. “J.T. Ready and (redacted) told him in broken Spanish to get on the ground and he complied.”
The immigrant told authorities that even though Ready and his friend were armed, they never pointed their guns at him and he never felt threatened or mistreated.
The report said a Border Patrol supervisor later got in touch with an unnamed federal prosecutor in Phoenix “and presented the case for any possible violation committed by J.T. Ready and (redacted.)”
The documents said the prosecutor declined to take the case but also asked the Border Patrol to send over a report on the incident just in case. Nothing appears to have ever come of it. A spokesman with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Phoenix did not return a call seeking comment on Thursday.
In a letter to TPM, the public records director for Customs and Border Protection said the names of almost everyone except Ready were blacked out from the documents to protect their privacy. Typically, federal law enforcement agencies will only release reports and documents about people who are dead or gave their consent for the records to be released.
In a case about five months later on July 17, 2011, Border Patrol agents encountered a similar situation. Ready and his group called authorities and said they were holding three immigrants in the desert.
When agents arrived at the scene, they found Ready and his men all carrying guns and wearing camouflage. This time, the immigrants were not handcuffed. But the report said the immigrants told the agents that members of Ready’s group had pointed guns at them and told them sit on the ground.
“The subjects stated that they did not feel like they were forcibly detained and that they did not try to leave,” the report said.
It also said Ready handed the agents a “small amount of personal marijuana which he said came from one of the three illegal aliens.” The immigrants, however, said it didn’t belong to them.
The report said the U.S. Attorney’s Office was contacted about Ready’s group after the encounter. Again, nothing appears to have come of it.
The final entry in incident the report said: “The USAO will advise if they require the subjects to be held for further interviews and whether or not they intend to pursue any criminal prosecution of any members of the Border Guard Group.”
The prosecutor in charge of the U.S. Attorney’s Office at the time of both incidents was Dennis Burke, who resigned in August amid fallout from the Fast and Furious scandal, which involved a botched investigation into gun trafficking from the U.S. into Mexico.
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