The Pinal County Sheriff's Office allowed a Gilbert man and his militia to patrol the desert in Vekol Valley near Casa Grande over the weekend looking for illegal immigrants participating in criminal activities, but stressed it does not condone such militia efforts.
"We currently have operations that are ongoing and advise all citizens to not take law enforcement matters into their own hands," Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said in a statement issued Monday. "Hate groups and other militia-type groups have also made arrangements to patrol, not at our request. This is not helpful and personally and professionally, I do not endorse, nor do I tolerate hate speech, discrimination or bigotry of any kind. These groups should stay out of Pinal County."
J.T. Ready, a leader of the Mesa Chapter of the National Socialist Movement, believed to be the largest neo-Nazi group in the United States, led a group of armed men during an operation on Bureau of Land Management property, according to Lt. Tamatha Villar, a spokeswoman for the Pinal County Sheriff's Office.
Ready, who has been gaining media attention for his group's stance against illegal immigration, said his group wants to put a stop to what he calls "narco-terrorists" and help protect the border. Ready's group patrolled the area from 3 p.m. Saturday to 3 p.m. Sunday, but no reported incidents took place, Villar said.
"We did not get involved in their operation," Villar said. "With taxed resources already, we did not want to be taxed further. If they would have been doing anything illegal, we would have put a stop to them. They weren't on private land, and when these groups set up camps on public land, we can't do anything about it unless there's emergency issues."
Ready told the Tribune on Monday that this past weekend's operation was a "monumental event," and his group plans to continue its patrols throughout the summer, but would not say the number of participants, citing security measures.
"It's bad enough that you have to tell the enemy when and where you're going to block them," Ready said. "We're not just going to shoot anybody. We want to make it damn near impossible for drug and human smugglers to get through the area. Our focus is to block the area and deny access to drug cartels. We want to make sure we make their lives miserable. It will be deadly for them to cross that border, and we will ensure that we operate within the statutes in the Arizona Revised Code when it comes to acting out in self defense when we have to. If these guys don't want to be vulture food, they should consider finding another career."
Villar said that although Ready's men were armed, his group had informed the sheriff's office about their plans to be in the area and deputies chose to continue "business as usual."
"They were told they were not wanted down here, but they continued their operation," Villar said. "They didn't do anything to help. When groups come down here to patrol and think they're helping, they are not. It presents for us logistical issues with law enforcement."
Ready was unsuccessful at his attempt to win a Mesa City Council seat in the 2006 election.