B y G r e g o r y M c N a m e e
IT MAY COME as no news to moderate-minded citizens of Tucson, that bastion of Bolshevism, that the rest of Arizona is a hotbed of right-wing extremism.
But it is news when federal law-enforcement agents put Arizona high up on the list of hate-group havens, alongside the would-be Aryan principalities of Idaho and western Montana.
To hear those agents tell it, Arizona is experiencing an unprecedented boom in right-wing recruitment, largely through militias scattered across the state. One manifestation of that boom may have been the sabotage of the Southern Pacific Railroad line outside Hyder, Arizona, last month, which derailed Amtrak's Sunset Limited and for which a group called the Sons of the Gestapo took credit.
Another is the increasing anti-governmental tone of local politics throughout the state, especially in rural districts, chiefly directed at agencies like the federal Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"There's something about Arizona, especially the outlying towns, that seems to draw the extremist types," says Joel Breshin, a spokesman for the Phoenix chapter of the Anti-Defamation League of Bínai Bírith.
The draw is strong these days, and much of it centers on the booming area around Prescott, where David Espy, a self-styled American revolutionary, drew a large turnout a year ago when he posted a notice in the Prescott Courier for an inaugural meeting of the Sons and Daughters of Liberty.
Citing a "clear and present danger" in the form of a supposedly dictatorial federal government and urging Arizona's secession from the Union, Espy announced, "I feel a genuine and rational need to form a volunteer militia force, if for no other reason than to let Washington know that there's still a large group of us out here that have inherited revolutionary DNA and are willing to fight for it until our dying breath."
Espy is joined in the Phoenix area by Gary D. Hunt, a militia leader who cites the Waco Branch Davidian siege of 1993 for the upsurge in right-wing activity statewide. Hunt has done little more publicly than quote from the hate-mongering Turner Diaries and other key texts of the radical right, which proclaim, among other things, that race-mixing will produce a "swarming horde of indifferent mulatto zombies" and that the Sixteenth Amendment and the second plank of the Communist Manifesto are identical. Still, the FBI is keeping close tabs on Hunt and other militia leaders as new followers enter their ranks.
Far-right activism in Arizona is nothing new. In the 1980s the Arizona Patriots, based near Payson, plotted to blow up the state's main Internal Revenue Service office, the Palo Verde nuclear power plant near Phoenix and a Tucson abortion clinic, among other targets; several of the group's members were jailed after an informer broke their plans to law-enforcement agents. (The Arizona Patriots were for a time under the tutelage of retired Green Berets colonel Bo Gritz, who moved to northwestern Montana after a short-lived run at the presidency on a slate with former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.)
And militias across the country still draw ideological pointers from the long-syndicated radio program America's Promise, which airs through the offices of the Phoenix-based Lord's Covenant Church. The church's late founder, Sheldon Emry, preached, among other things, that ethnic minorities threaten the basis of the legitimate inheritors of the House of Israel, which is to say, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Emry's latter-day followers may lack the radio play of G. Gordon Liddy, who recently urged his listeners to "go for a head shot" if federal agents happened to pay a call, but America's Promise is nonetheless highly influential.
Despite some idle murmurings after the Oklahoma City bombings and Hyder Amtrak derailment, no major Arizona politician has proposed legislation to curb the militias, and federal law-enforcement agents can do nothing but bide their time until existing laws are broken. In the meanwhile, groups monitoring right-wing activities, foremost among them the Southern Poverty Law Center's Klanwatch project, are now studying Arizona closely, watching for alliances among county-rights and Wise Use Movement activists and the militias. Breshin says that may be "more widespread than people think."
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