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J.T. Ready: portrait of enigmatic vigilante at center of Arizona rampage

J.T. Ready, an anti-immigration icon of the extreme right who apparently killed himself and four others Wednesday, sympathized with movements ranging from neo-Nazism to Occupy Wall Street.

By Staff writer / May 4, 2012

Minuteman Project volunteer J.T. Ready (c.) speaks with 'legal observers' associated with the ACLU along the US/Mexico border west of Douglass, Ariz., in this file photo.

Fred Greaves/Reuters/File

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The death of J.T. Ready, who apparently killed himself, three other adults, and a baby in a murder-suicide rampage Wednesday, adds to the complicated portrait of a controversial icon of the anti-immigration movement.

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To some, Mr. Ready was a different kind of rifle-toting rebel – an opportunist who sought to unite disparate grass-roots movements. Last year, for example, he went from leading his Ready’s Rangers on paramilitary excursions deep into the Sonoran Desert to rallying on behalf of Occupy Wall Street in downtown Phoenix.

To others, however, he was the border vigilante whose outlook slowly darkened until his obsession to seal the border included plans for tanks and advocacy for planting land mines.  

Yet through it all ran the common threads of his underlying ideology: anti-Zionism, racism, and xenophobia.

“Ready was significant because he was at the nexus of [several] extremist movements, including the white supremacy movement and the extreme wing of the anti-immigration movement, and he operated equally well in both spheres,” says Mark Pitcavage, a researcher with the Anti-Defamation League, who has tracked Ready’s activities for a decade. “Toward the end of his life, he was even making connections with the militia movement.”

To many, his hopscotching between radical social movements made him an enigma. But those who knew Ready say he liked attention and realized he could get it by button-pushing. The result was, at times, an peculiar balancing act.

“Ready was someone who was trying to log roll on different logs going in different directions,” says Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino, who had interviewed Ready extensively. “Unlike a lot of other extremists, he was someone who really wanted to be part in some way of mainstream political action, even though his Hitlerian views were antithetical to even the far conservative part of mainstream politics.”

What bound his many activities, Professor Levin says, was his yearning to inhabit the role of leader. "This is a guy who could only find a home in entities that he exerted significant control over,” he adds. 

After speaking at a Phoenix tea party rally in 2009, Ready and his Ready’s Rangers vowed to protect Occupy Wall Street from police reprisals last year. Similarly, while he clearly aligned with Republicans (he was for a time a Republican precinct committee member), he turned Democrat to run for sheriff of Pinal County. In one of his online manifestos, Ready claimed a liberal, “multicultural” upbringing in a family that included both Democrats and Republicans.

Outward orthodoxy was, in many respects, less important than his inward sense of purpose. “There’s nothing enigmatic about him,” says Mr. Pitcavage. “He was upfront about his opinion.”

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