Blog: How border-militia members got a bad name

2012-06-21T10:45:00Z 2012-06-21T11:28:50Z Blog: How border-militia members got a bad nameTim Steller, Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 21, 2012 10:45 am  • 

Undoubtedly, there have been border-militia members in Arizona who have carried out citizen patrols without harboring racist motives or having criminal tendencies.

The problem for the movement, which I wrote about in this May 27 story, is that people with these motives or tendencies have cropped up repeatedly among citizen border-watchers.

Some border-militia members and supporters complained to me after that story because I linked their movement to Neo-Nazi border-patroller J.T. Ready, who had just committed mass murder in Gilbert. But looking back on the movement, it's had connections to criminality from early on, and the connections continue. The latest is fugitive Todd Hezlitt, whom I wrote about in this June 9 story.

I never met Hezlitt but did have some email contact with him starting in 2009. He struck me as a guy often trying to be the hero who ended up labeled the villain. Now the label is likely to stick because there's a warrant out for his arrest, and investigators suspect he ran away with a 15-year-old girl with whom he'd had a sexual relationship. Todd is 38, by the way, and has spent years doing his own patrols of the border.

Todd Hezlitt is just the latest though. Chris Simcox, the father of the  Minuteman movement, left accusations of bizarre, possibly criminal behavior behind in California when he came to Arizona. Then, in 2010, he ended up running from a bounty hunter who was trying to serve him with a protection order requested by his ex-wife. That didn't help his fledgling campaign for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.

Before Simcox, there was Ranch Rescue, led by Jack Foote and Casey Nethercott. This group set the template for groups of armed men who wanted to go out on patrol to interdict illegal border crossers or drug smugglers. Nethercott had already served time in California for assault when he was accused of an assault on illegal crossers in Texas and convicted of wrongfully possessing firearms.

Nethercott ended up losing a Cochise County property his group called Camp Thunderbird in a civil suit by the victims in Texas. Nethercott also was involved in an armed standoff with Border Patrol agents at his property in 2004. And when the FBI subsequently tried to arrest him, they ended up shooting his colleague, Kalen Riddle. Nethercott has remained involved in militia-style groups in Arizona, though apparently not in the border area recently.

Glenn Spencer was an early supporter of citizen action on Arizona's southern border, but he didn't advocate Minuteman-style patrols, instead using technology such as motion-sensing cameras and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. In 2003, he was charged with six felonies for firing a rifle, allegedly recklessly, in his Sierra Vista neighborhood. He ended up pleading guilty to one felony. He was also convicted in 2011 of assault, disorderly conduct and threatening and intimidating.

Spencer's name also was tied into ugly doings in June 2009, when Shawna Forde was arrested as she left his property. Spencer later explained that her appearance at his home that month was an unwanted surprise.

Forde, as you probably know, led a border-militia group called Minutemen American Defense, and she contrived a plan to invade the home of a suspected drug smuggler in Arivaca to steal money and drugs from him. Her crew ended up killing the man, Raul Junior Flores, and his nine-year-old daughter Brisenia. She's awaiting execution in an Arizona prison.

But she was not the latest citizen border-patroller to be accused of murder. That status belongs to Ready, a neo-Nazi who participated in armed citizen patrols of the border for years and advocated mining the border. After long displaying signs he might explode into violence, Ready did so May 2, killing four people and, apparently, himself in what the FBI labeled a domestic-violence incident.

There are other, more borderline cases of criminality, bad acts, or overt racism associated with people connected to this border movement. Jeffrey Harbin, for example, was convicted this year of making improvised explosive devices for use on the border, but I've not been able to find evidence he actually participated in border patrols. And of course, the inspiration for the citizen-border-patrol movement, Roger Barnett, was successfully sued for kidnapping and allegedly striking illegal immigrants.

In any case, this list is long and could be longer, but I think it explains why the citizen border patrollers continue to be viewed in the news media and some parts of the public with skepticism.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

About this blog

When you're a reporter digging deep, you turn up a lot of dirt. But that doesn't mean you can put all the good dirt in the story.

I've found myself with a lot of extra, good dirt in my new role as senior reporter (hence, Señor Reporter), writing primarily for the Arizona Daily Star's Sunday paper.

Check in often, and let's see what we can turn up.

Contact Tim Steller at (520) 807-8427 or tsteller@tucson.com

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