PHOENIX (AP) — The death of a former neo-Nazi whose group patrols Arizona's desert near the Mexican border for illegal immigrants and drug smugglers is raising questions about his organization's future.
Friends of Jason Todd "JT" Ready vowed Friday that U.S. Border Guard's armed patrols will continue, but monitoring groups doubted the operations could be sustained.
Authorities say the 39-year-old Ready shot and killed his girlfriend and three others, including a toddler, before killing himself in a Phoenix suburb Wednesday, a murder-suicide stemming from domestic violence issues.
The Arizona Republic reported on its website Saturday that the FBI was already conducting a domestic terrorism investigation into Ready's activities prior to the shootings.
James Turgal, special agent in charge of the FBI's Phoenix office, told the paper that the FBI's investigation dated to when Ready was a member of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement and continued into his participation with the border group. The probe is based on tips of criminal activity that Turgal would not specify.
He stressed that it had nothing to do with this week's shootings.
Sean Rose, a 35-year-old Tucson man who said Ready was like a brother to him, said he would quit his job to keep the group going.
"He did a lot for this country as far as protecting the border, something the government doesn't do," Rose said. "I think it's good to have civilians stopping the drug market."
Groups that monitor the activities of organizations like the U.S. Border Guard expressed doubts that it will be able to maintain its operations. Without Ready's leadership, they say, the Border Guard will likely disappear.
"The U.S. Border Guard is probably finished," said Mark Potok of the anti-hate group, the Southern Poverty Law Center. "It really did revolve around JT Ready."
An SPLC recent report said that "nativist extremist" groups like Ready's decreased by almost half in 2011 to 184 groups, down from a high of 319 such groups in 2010.
The Minuteman Project and other similar groups have been plagued by infighting and financial difficulties, largely splintering or disintegrating altogether.
The movement's decline comes as states like Arizona passed harsh immigration laws that included provisions allowing local police to question a person's immigration status while enforcing other laws, Potok said.
Those laws created an impression among some civilian border militia members that state governments were doing more about illegal immigration, and that they no longer had to, he said.
Jennifer Allen, interim director the Arizona chapter of the immigrant advocacy group, the Southern Border Communities Coalition, said that organizations like Ready's thrive on a charismatic leader, and tend to implode once that leader is gone.
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