Arizona Extremists Start Anti-Immigrant Citizen Militias

As extremists peddle their anti-immigrant rhetoric along the troubled Arizona border, a storm gathers

Packing Heat in the Desert
In his quest for respectability, Spencer has repeatedly pledged that American Border Patrol will stick to broadcasting the "invasion," and won't light out after immigrants. "We're not going to be out enforcing the law," he said in September. His assurances convinced Ron Sanders, the former Tucson Border Patrol chief, to lend his name to the group as a director.

"I told Glenn right up front: If there's anything illegal I'm not going to be involved," Sanders says. "If there's any of your people carrying guns and making arrests, I'm not going to be involved."

Spencer's Web site features images of immigrants crossing the border, then being apprehended and arrested by U.S. agents. But it includes a disclaimer: "ABP's policy prevents making contact with suspects." Which makes some folks in Cochise wonder: Just how, exactly, do you convince migrants to sit quietly and wait to be arrested without having any contact — or any guns to prevent them from fleeing?

An Oct. 27 incident may provide some clues. That day, ranchers Roger Barnett and his brother, Don, were reportedly riding in a truck down Cochise's main highway when they spotted 26 immigrants traipsing through the desert. The Barnetts allegedly used their dogs to help round up the presumed illegal aliens. The migrants later told Mexican officials that when two of them were not "fast enough in complying with the orders" to keep quiet and sit down, "one of the Barnetts roughed them up and made them sit."

At this point, the Barnetts' usual routine is to summon Border Patrol agents to pick up the migrants and process them back across the border. But this time, they may have called someone else first. The migrants claimed that "two other individuals, both armed in a similar way," with "holstered side guns," soon appeared on the scene. One had a video camera. He began filming the dejected migrants, "and kept on filming ... as they were marched towards waiting Border Patrol agents."

The man with the camera — and the side-arm — may have been Glenn Spencer.

Spencer has admitted rushing, armed, to the scene of the Barnetts' detentions. In November, he told a reporter about "grabbing a rifle" to help the Barnetts detain immigrants. In January, Spencer told the Washington Post, "We're not vigilantes; we're not kooks." But, he added, "We carry guns, because our position is guns are not illegal. They are commonly worn by people in this part of the country, because laws are not enforced."

"What he's doing is piggy-backing on the vigilantes," says Jennifer Allen.

Spencer's act is getting mixed reviews in Cochise County. By the end of the year, Spencer said he'd signed up 60 "Hawkeye" volunteers to document the Mexican invasion — fewer than the 100 he had planned on. Several ranchers, reportedly fearing legal trouble, declined Spencer's request to film "intrusions" on their land.

Still, launching a new non-profit has done more than help Spencer skirt the hate-group label; it's also given him a fresh way to raise money. "This stuff is worth its weight in gold," he reminded his new recruits in September, encouraging them to send video reports to abp. Spencer told the Tucson Weekly he expects to haul in $400,000 in 2003.

 

The paramilitary Ranch Rescue, led by angry Texan Jack Foote (front right), has established a "semi-permanent" presence in southern Arizona.

The Paramilitaries Move In
In October, about 40 miles west of Spencer's "secret headquarters," a notorious paramilitary outfit set up camp near the border. Headed by an angry Texan and Gulf War veteran named Jack Foote, Ranch Rescue was no stranger to these parts. Members first showed up in 2000, helping ranchers including Roger Barnett "clean up" their property.

Since then, this wild bunch of ex-law officers and military adventurers claims to have increased its international roster to 250 members. They've also upped the ante in their "defense" of ranchers' property.

On its Web site, Ranch Rescue says its mission is to "help ... private landowners with the repair of private property destroyed by those mass numbers of criminal trespassers" — a.k.a. migrants. But three weeks before Operation Hawk, Rob Krott — the chief foreign correspondent for Soldier of Fortune magazine and a man who has fought with, among others, the Croatian Army — sent a confidential E-mail to Ranch Rescue members outlining a very different set of goals. Among them: "observe and surveill [sic] border incursions" and "deter criminal trespass."

Ranch Rescue's means of deterrence? "We are attempting to standardize (for ammunition resupply purposes) with 5.56mm assault rifles and .45 caliber pistols. However, AKs, SKSs, and 9mm/.30 cal Tokarev arms are also expected. As are shotguns and bolt-action 'counter-sniper' rifles." Every Rescuer was ordered to wear camouflage, because "the area is 'green.'"

The E-mail defined Ranch Rescue's "enemy forces" as, among others, "5-10 man groups of lightly armed bandits," "[c]ivilian criminal trespassers who may present a threat," "[p]ossible Islamic terrorist infiltrators," and "armed drug smugglers."

Thirty-five Rescuers answered the call, reporting for duty on Earl Hardy's 10,000-acre ranch, near the border hamlet of Lochiel. It was a serious bunch: Among those participating were Tim Meyer, a former U.S. Customs inspector and current "private investigator"; Rusty Rossey, an ex-Marine who ran with the contras in Nicaragua and counter-insurgents in Guatemala and now runs a sniper range in Alabama; a former U.S. Special Forces soldier; and two Canadian light infantry soldiers.

Operation Hawk was supposed to stick to Hardy's ranch. (According to Ranch Rescue's Web site, "We only participate in repair and security efforts while we are the invited guests of the private property landowners. As guests, we are obliged to adhere to the wishes of our hosts.") But on Oct. 15, a 13-member "special operations" group, headed by Rossey, was dispatched — without being invited — to a nearby ranch owned by the Nature Conservancy.

Rossey's group scored right away, when four men stumbled on the "special ops" around suppertime, carrying bales of marijuana on their backs. Not surprisingly, they dropped the pot and fled when they caught sight of Rossey's men and their military grade weapons. Early the next morning, the scenario repeated itself, and Ranch Rescue had a grand total of 279 pounds.

 

Ranch Rescue volunteers pose with their pot.

This was a tiny haul along this busy drug route; U.S. Customs agent Kyle Barnette told a local paper that, in southern Arizona, "I could train a chimpanzee to catch 300 pounds of weed." But Ranch Rescue turned it into a public-relations coup. Rather than calling federal or local authorities, Foote summoned reporters from Tucson.

It wasn't until between 1 and 2 p.m. on Oct. 16 — some 16 to 20 hours after the first seizure — that a Rescue member flagged down a passing sheriff's deputy and reported the contraband. The deputy picked it up while the cameras continued to roll.

The rest of Operation Hawk mostly remains a mystery — just the way Ranch Rescue apparently wants it. As Foote wrote in a 2000 E-mail, "We know that law enforcement is always a long, long way away from us out in the field."

But Foote's opinion of the "criminal trespassers" his troops encountered during their October adventure is not so murky. In another E-mail from 2000, Foote wrote the following to a correspondent named Gonzalo:

"You and the vast majority of your fellow dog turds are ignorant, uneducated, and desperate for a life in a decent nation because the one that you live in is nothing but a pile of dog shit, made up of millions of little dog turds like you. You stand around your entire lives, whining about how bad things are in your dog of a nation, waiting for the dog to stick its ass under our fence and shit each one of you into our back yards.

"Just be careful where the dog shits, pal, because sooner or later we will be there."

Murder and Vigilantism
On Oct. 16, when about half of the Ranch Rescue volunteers were posing with their bales of pot, a pair of masked gunmen opened fire on 12 migrants who were dozing at the edge of a cattle pond near the tiny town of Red Rock, about 90 miles north of Earl Hardy's ranch. Two were killed. Nine were apparently kidnapped. One eyewitness escaped, telling the first person he encountered, "They were soldiers."

At first, investigators suspected either vigilantes or coyotes, who smuggle humans and drugs across the border. The 12 migrants had been waiting to be picked up by a coyote. But, for obvious reasons, coyotes rarely dress like soldiers, preferring to remain as inconspicuous as possible.

The vigilante angle seemed intriguing, especially with Ranch Rescue on the prowl. According to a confidential source, most of Operation Hawk consisted of small teams of two to six members, personally dispatched by Jack Foote to undisclosed locations for up to 24 hours at a time. In their camo, with their military bearing and their sniper rifles, the Ranch Rescue volunteers would certainly look a lot like soldiers.

A month after the crime, the Pinal County Sheriff's Department announced that it had ruled out the vigilante theory — though the neighboring sheriff's department in Santa Cruz County, where Ranch Rescue was camped, was still looking into the possibility.

In an E-mail message to reporters, Pinal sheriff's spokesperson Mike Minter said "there have been no leads indicating a 'vigilante group' was involved." The evidence for the coyote theory seemed thin: "surrounding area property owners," Minter wrote, "believe that this was done by rival alien smuggling groups, not vigilantes."

Questioned further, Sheriff Roger Vanderpool would say only, "We have a witness to the crime. That is how we ruled out vigilante groups." At press time, however, no arrests had been made. Like most crimes in the green desert, this one may never be conclusively solved. At press time, only one of the dead bodies had even been identified, and nobody knew where the nine missing migrants might have ended up.

Meanwhile, after gaining a bit of local fame with their drug bust, Jack Foote's troops decamped on Oct. 28, promising that Ranch Rescue's local chapter would continue unofficial patrols in the area. Foote plans to return in full force next spring for "Operation Thunderbird," once again living up to the motto on the group's Web site, taken from President Bush: "Every American is a soldier in this fight."