PHOENIX - Minutemen groups, a surge in Border Patrol agents, and a tough new immigration law aren't enough for a neo-Nazi who's now leading a militia in the Arizona desert.
Jason "J.T." Ready is taking matters into his own hands, declaring war on "narco-terrorists" and keeping an eye out for illegal immigrants. So far, he says his patrols have only found a few border crossers who were given water and handed over to the Border Patrol. Once, they also found a decaying body in a wash, and alerted authorities.
But local law enforcement officials are nervous given that Ready's group is heavily armed and identifies with the National Socialist Movement, an organization that believes only non-Jewish, white heterosexuals should be American citizens and that everyone who isn't white should leave the country "peacefully or by force."
"We're not going to sit around and wait for the government anymore," Ready said. "This is what our founding fathers did."
An escalation of civilian border watches has taken root in Arizona in recent years, including the Minutemen movement. Various groups patrol the desert on foot, on horseback, and in airplanes and report suspicious activity to the Border Patrol, and generally, they have not caused problems for law enforcement.
But Ready, a 37-year-old former Marine, is different. He and his comrades are outfitted with military fatigues, body armor, and gas masks, and carry assault rifles. Ready takes offense at the term neo-Nazi, but acknowledges that he identifies with the National Socialist Movement.
"These are explicit Nazis," said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project. "These are people who wear swastikas on their sleeves."
Ready is a reflection of the anger over illegal immigration in Arizona. Gov. Jan Brewer signed a controversial new immigration law in April, which requires police, while enforcing other laws, to question a person's immigration status if officers have a reasonable suspicion that the person is in the country illegally.
But Brewer hasn't done enough, Ready said, and he's not satisfied with President Obama's decision to beef up security at the border.
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said there had been no incidents with the group as it patrolled his jurisdiction, which includes several busy immigrant-smuggling corridors. But Babeu said he was concerned because an untrained group acting without the authority of the law could cause "extreme problems" and put its members and others in danger.
"I'm not inviting them. And, in fact, I'd rather they not come," Babeu said. "Especially those who espouse hatred or bigotry such as his."
Law enforcement officials said that patrols such as Ready's could undercut the work of the thousands of officers on duty every day across the border, especially if they try to enforce the law themselves in carrying out vigilante justice.
Ready said his group had been patrolling in the desert about 50 miles south of Phoenix, in an area where a Pinal County sheriff's deputy reported he was shot by drug smugglers in April.
Ready said that he was planning patrols throughout the summer.
"If they don't want my people out there, then there's an easy way to send us home: Secure the border," he said. "We'll put our guns back on the shelf, and that'll be the end of that."