Still, Ready’s dedication to the cause of white supremacy was conspicuous. He kept a metal swastika as a desk ornament. He marched in National Socialist Movement parades carrying pictures of Hitler and named his dog Blondi after the führer’s German shepherd. Regarding border security, he recommended setting land mines between Mexico and Arizona. At the time of his death he was under FBI investigation for domestic terrorism.
Bill Straus sits behind his desk at the Arizona branch of the Anti-Defamation League. It is two days after the Supreme Court struck down much of Arizona’s SB 1070, and Straus, the regional director, is in good spirits. He is discussing a meeting he attended in 2006 with State Representative Russell Pearce. At the time, Pearce was chairman of Arizona’s House Appropriations Committee, and he was suffering politically for forwarding an anti-Semitic e-mail and for praising a 1950s deportation program called Operation Wetback. The meeting had been arranged by Speaker of the House Jim Weiers. According to Straus, the two Republicans believed if they could get Straus to forgive Pearce publicly, it would take the heat off. Straus and Pearce spoke for an hour, and Straus made it clear what he wanted in return.
“I confronted Russell about the effect his rhetoric was having on white supremacists,” Straus says. “He was the new Elvis to them.” Straus asked Pearce to hold a press conference to repudiate his hostile language. He handed Pearce a file that contained information about the neo-Nazis embracing him, including Ready. But Pearce didn’t hold a press conference and Straus offered no forgiveness.
Pearce wouldn’t denounce Ready for two years.
Pearce had become a star of the far right by articulating Arizona’s rising nativism. In 2004 Proposition 200 required immigrants to provide “satisfactory evidence” of citizenship before voting or collecting public benefits. In 2006 the Bailable Offenses Act prevented illegal aliens from being released on bail if they were suspected of serious crimes. Another law turned “self-smuggling” into a felony. And then came SB 1070, a tenet of which allows law enforcement to demand the papers of essentially anyone of Latin descent.
As Arizona’s nativism rose, Ready threw himself into politics. Initially he lived in Mesa and met Pearce while volunteering for Republican causes. In a phone interview Pearce downplayed their relationship, saying, “I thought J.T. was a decent kid when he was first introduced to the district. He was working for a Christian organization. I thought he had a sense of humor and he was good on the issues.” In a statement after the shootings, Pearce said, “At some point in time darkness took his life over.” When asked what he thought had caused that darkness, Pearce said, “How should I know? Don’t ask me.”
The two were closer than Pearce admits. Pearce attended Ready’s Mormon baptism and ordained him as an elder in 2004. In 2007 Ready made a speech in which he suggested putting the National Guard on the border and jerking judges around by their collars. In a video Pearce is seen applauding as Ready rants. In 2010 Ready told an interviewer he and Pearce shared a political strategy by which Ready would push extreme rhetoric as “a bellwether” to see how far Pearce could go. Ready called Pearce a political mentor who taught him how to bring the fringe into the mainstream.
At the Mexican consulate in Phoenix, 2006: J.T. Ready protesting against illegal immigration.
However belatedly, Pearce and the Arizona Republicans finally expelled Ready. The last few years of Ready’s life saw his anger alienate him from almost every group he had been affiliated with. By May 2012 he was unemployed and in a deteriorating relationship. Dottie, aware of his difficulties, offered him a room in Florida, but he said he loved living in Arizona.
May 2 was to be a family day for the Mederos clan. Brittany and Amber had made plans for lunch at a local restaurant, and Lisa and Ready decided to join. But there was another, less auspicious significance to the date: Olivier was moving out of the apartment she shared with Amber, Hiott and Lilly. The rent was no longer affordable, so Amber had mentioned moving in with Lisa. Olivier knew that wouldn’t be easy: On another occasion, Amber “had to literally beg” Lisa to stay there for just one night because Ready opposed it.
On the evening of May 1 a neighbor of Ready’s helped him install screens over the windows. Ready was “high strung,” Robert Kalas told police, and worried about “being invaded.” He also showed Kalas a new bulletproof vest he needed to “get used to.” Meanwhile, Brittany was up all night listening to music and didn’t go to bed until five a.m. When Amber and crew arrived later that morning, an exhausted Brittany asked if they could have dinner instead and went back to sleep. She was awakened by arguing.
“At first I assumed it was the same usual fights,” she says. “But then the yelling turned into screaming. I caught a few words.” What she heard was a shouting match between Ready and the usually nonconfrontational Amber. Ready yelled, “This isn’t your house. You don’t have the right to be here.” Amber hollered back, “This is my father’s house. I have more of a right to be here than you!”
Brittany describes what happened next: “Suddenly, there was screaming. Then I heard gunshots. I had never heard gunshots before, so it didn’t immediately register. I ran to the living room. I saw everyone on the ground. At first I had the ignorant assumption that they had fallen to the floor to avoid the gunshots. I nudged my sister with my foot. Once my foot connected with her limp body, I realized she was dead. They were all dead.”
Mass killers share characteristics. Among them is a sense of isolation; another is training in firearms (many of them served in the military). The most common characteristic, however, is an externalization of responsibility, a belief that others are causing their misery. Take a person who exhibits these characteristics, place him in a culture where intolerance is legitimized, and it’s a recipe for disaster. J.T. Ready both contributed to and was a victim of a culture that exploits fear to cultivate an atmosphere of hate. Groups like the National Socialist Movement and USBG exploit fear of border crime to attract members. Politicians like Pearce stoke nativism for votes and donations. Even corporations—private prison systems, arms manufacturers and security companies—profit from a fearful atmosphere.
There are other victims. “Nobody truly understands the pain of your closest loved ones being taken from you until it happens,” Brittany says. “Most people will hear the story of my family and be sad for a moment and then forget it. But I don’t get that chance. I have to wake up every morning and know this is my life. My broken, messed-up life. I’ll never stop hurting.”