PHOENIX -- Jason Todd Ready was a neo-Nazi who didn’t try to hide the fact that he was ready and willing to use deadly force on the U.S.-Mexico border to stop the incursion of undocumented immigrants. That his life came to a violent end was no surprise to those who, over the years, had tried to raise awareness about the danger to society posed by Ready and his associates.
Posthumously, Ready is being investigated as the lead suspect in an alleged mass-murder suicide that took place on May 2, and that resulted in the death of Ready and four others including his girlfriend, Lisa Mederos, her daughter, her daughter’s boyfriend, and Mederos’ 18 month-old grandchild.
The crime has been deemed a domestic violence incident by the police, but it’s a case that opens the door for other questions about Ready’s involvement in domestic terrorist groups, and exposes clear ties between the anti-immigrant movement in Arizona and white supremacist groups that have found sanctuary in a state polarized by a divisive immigration debate.
During their search of Ready’s house after the killings were reported, officers found six anti-tank grenades -- U.S. military-issue, 40 millimeter projectiles that require a launcher to be used (no launcher was found at the home) -- according the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Authorities are still investigating where the grenades came from, why they were at Ready’s residence, and whether or not he planned to use them.
In the aftermath of the killings, the FBI revealed that Ready had been the subject of an investigation related to “domestic terrorism” over a nearly five year period, in connection to a militia group called the U.S. Border Guard, a group that Ready founded. Despite the amount of time spent on the case, the investigation yielded no criminal charges against Ready.
“There were allegations that [Ready] was involved in criminal activity, that through our investigating we weren’t able to corroborate,” said special agent Manuel Johnson, a spokesperson for the FBI. “If people use hate speech, it isn’t a violation of the law. There’s a fine line between that and committing criminal activity.”
Ready was well known to be a former member of the National Socialist Movement (NSM), a neo-Nazi group. More recently, he’d come to be recognized as the leader of an armed militia known as the U.S. Border Guard, a group that patrolled the desert borderlands looking for migrants. On occasion, Ready would capture people crossing the border and turn them over to the U.S. Border Patrol.
In an article published in the local weekly Phoenix New Times, journalist Stephen Lemons revealed the FBI was warned over two years ago by an informant that Ready had intentions to conduct raids in Latino neighborhoods and kill people, and that he planned to do so while posing as an officer from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Lemons himself put the informant, David Heppler, a member of Ready’s inner circle, in touch with Phoenix police, who then contacted the FBI due to the nature of the allegations.
Lemons reported that Heppler told the authorities that Ready had directed him to conduct “dry runs” in South Phoenix, where he was planning to carry out the raids. Lemons also reports that Heppler “was scared that the FBI was not keeping Ready under surveillance” during the time the practice runs were taking place.
“We don’t discuss anything about informants,” said Manuel Johnson of the FBI, when asked about Heppler’s involvement. “There were many allegations of criminal activity with regard to Ready, and those were looked into.”
Last year, while the FBI was trying and failing to find evidence to bring down Ready, they did arrest Jeffrey Harbin, a former NSM member who Ready admittedly recruited to the organization. Harbin was arrested after police found him with twelve grenade-like explosives, ball bearings and an improvised fusing system. At that time, a local TV reporter from Channel 15 asked Ready if he knew what Harbin planned to do with the bombs, and Ready replied: "Things are still under investigation. You would have to talk to the feds and see what their official statement is on that, but I will say that domestic terrorism is real."
Dennis K. Burke, then the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, said in a statement that Harbin built his improvised explosive devices (IEDs) “to maximize human carnage.” Harbin had also been a member of Ready's U.S. Border Guard.
A few months before Harbin's arrest, at a Tea Party event, Ready and members of NSM had distributed fliers calling for the use of landmines on the border to stop illegal immigration.
In February 2012, just months before the apparent mass suicide, Ready’s girlfriend Lisa Mederos filed a police report alleging an incident of domestic violence that occurred seven months prior. Mederos stated in the police report that Ready tried to choke her.
Police concluded their investigation without making charges at the end of March, after they approached Ready at his residence and he refused to comment.
Just weeks later, on May 2, Mederos called 911 asking for police to come to the Ready residence. On the call, Mederos can be heard telling the dispatcher that there is a domestic violence incident occurring. Shortly thereafter, gunshots are heard before the line goes silent. Mederos’ daughter Brittany called 911 afterwards to report that she’d heard a fight and then found her mother, sister and 18 month-old niece shot, and lying the floor. She also told authorities during the 911 call that Ready had guns in the garage.
Pattern of Violence
The murders in Gilbert, which are being considered a domestic violence incident, are the latest chapter in a wave of violence tied to extremists and border militia groups in Arizona.
On May 30, 2009, Brisenia Flores, 9, and her father Raul Flores were fatally shot after a home invasion. The ringleader of the crime was Shawna Forde, a leader of Minuteman American Defense (MAD), another armed group whose goal is to detain and report undocumented immigrants crossing the border. Forde was found guilty for the murders and given the death penalty. Her accomplices in the crime were Albert Gaxiola and Jason Eugene Bush, both of whom had ties to white supremacist groups.
According to prosecutors, the murders were the result of a botched robbery attempt that was being carried out to help finance MAD.
“Arizona has seen a hell of a lot of violence associated with the anti-immigrant movement: Shawna Forde, Jeff Harbin and J.T. Ready,” said Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, a think-tank that monitors white supremacists and hate groups. “The real question is, has there been any kind of coordinated effort on the part of the extreme right, to harm people crossing the border?”
It’s a question Potok can’t answer, but he believes law-enforcement needs to look closer into recent cases of violent migrant deaths happening in the desert before attributing them to the activities of drug cartels or human smugglers.
Last April, a group of camouflage clad gunmen killed two immigrants near Eloy, about four hours from the Arizona border. Authorities investigated whether or not Ready had potential ties to the killings, but concluded border bandits were responsible for the incident.
Early warning signs
There were early warning signs that Ready was a man with dangerous ideas.
In 2007, during a hearing at the State Legislature, the Anti-Defamation League identified Ready as a neo-Nazi. Also at that hearing, detective Matt Browning, an undercover officer from the Mesa Police Department who had investigated white supremacist groups, said that domestic terrorism posed a serious threat nationwide. Furthermore, said Browning, hate groups in Arizona were using the immigration issue as a way to recruit new members.
Ready was a familiar face in Arizona politics since his run for Mesa city council in 2006, where he finished in second place. Before getting into politics, Ready had served as a Marine, but he was court-martialed twice and eventually discharged for bad conduct.
Around the time of his run for city council, Ready was close with recently recalled Republican Senator Russell Pearce. In 2004, Pearce made Ready a member of his Mormon church. In June 2007, Pearce even posed for a picture with Ready during an anti-immigrant rally at the State Legislature, after Ready had been ousted as a neo-Nazi by members of the Legislature and by various news reports. Last year, an investigation by Phoenix New Times (PNT) and videographer Dennis Gilman revealed that Ready had ties to Pearce. Confronted with those facts, Pearce said he’d distanced himself from Ready years ago.
“At some point in time, darkness took his life over. His heart changed," Pearce wrote in a statement after the massacre. "And he began to associate with the more despicable groups in society. They were intolerant and hateful and like so many who knew him from before, I was upset and disappointed at the choices he was making."
Recently, PNT published excerpts of an email from Ready, sent to their reporter Nick Martin, in which Ready spoke about the nature his relationship with Pearce:
“My leap into the extremist right was more of a push off the cliff than a preplanned adventure, however. Having the tutelage of Senate President Russell Keith Pearce for years, I knew very well how to work fringe elements slowly into the system,” wrote Ready.
Ties to the Anti-Immigrant Movement
Even though politicians that once befriended him, like former Senator Pearce, came to frown upon him, Ready’s activities closely fed off of and thrived on the growing anti-immigrant sentiment in Arizona.
He wasn’t one to shy away from the camera, and he used the polarizing issue of immigration in Arizona to propel himself into the national spotlight.
In 2010, he launched his U.S. Border Guard by inviting the national media to cover one of his patrols in a deserted area on a quest to capture what he called “narco-terrorists.”
“We are going to do an armed incursion, we are going to reclaim the area, with or without deadly force, it will depend,” said Ready, armed with a shotgun and a camouflage uniform in an area in the Vekol Valley in Pinal County.
At the time, politicians like Arizona’s Republican Governor Jan Brewer were making claims that law-enforcement was finding beheaded bodies in the desert, and that violent crime was going up in connection to illegal immigration. Subsequent media reports refuted both claims.
As much as Ready was considered to be at the fringe of the anti-immigrant movement, some of his tactics were indirectly embraced when governor Brewer signed SB 1495 into law last year, a bill that authorizes the creation of a state-operated border militia.
Critics argue that any such militia – it hasn’t yet been assembled -- would attract the likes of Ready.
“I think words have consequences. When you have politicians like (Maricopa County Sheriff) Joe Arpaio and Jan Brewer running around and saying incredible things about immigrants, it’s not a surprise when people go and physically attack those immigrants,” said Potok.
In addition to Pearce, Ready was drawn to public officials like Arpaio, who has made it his personal crusade to go after undocumented immigrants.
In the spring of 2009, Ready counter-protested during a march of 3,000 people to Arpaio’s Durango jail complex. Ready was joined by a handful of neo-Nazis that stepped on the Mexican flag while giving the Nazi salute and yelling racial slurs.
Photos and videos circulating on white supremacist web pages show Sheriff Arpaio getting his picture taken with them. During that time, Ready compared Arpaio’s actions to those of Adolph Hitler, saying the latter was his “hero.”
Like Pearce, Arpaio disassociated himself from Ready and his cohort during a press conference, and later complained that he hadn’t been aware of their stance when he got his picture taken.
What is alarming to some of Ready’s most ardent critics is that he was able to conduct his activities at his leisure.
“They deal with explosives, they deal with grenades, they identify themselves (falsely) as officers and… they are running around unchecked,” said Carlos Galindo, a radio commentator who once had Ready and Harbin as guests on his show.
Galindo said groups like the Minutemen opened their doors back in 2004 to extreme vigilante groups. Ready and Forde were among those who took up with the Minutemen at that time.
“You have this collective effort of people (trying) to make this a state that not only behaves in a wild-west fashion (referring to decreased gun regulations), but fosters a concept of nurturing racism and xenophobia,” said Galindo.
Galindo contends that Sheriff Paul Babeu and the U.S. Border Patrol allowed Ready’s group to operate in Pinal as a “legalized vigilante group.” And, said Galindo, some of Ready’s associates continue to do so.
“We need to hold local law enforcement responsible and say take your focus off chasing immigrants and start focusing on the true menaces of society, which are these legalized vigilante groups,” said Galindo.