As Russell Pearce‘s power in Arizona politics grew over the years, so too did questions about his past friendship with a man who went on to become the most vocal neo Nazi in the state.
So when that neo Nazi reportedly massacred four people in a suburban Phoenix home before turning the gun on himself on Wednesday, reporters naturally turned to the former state Senate president and primary sponsor of Arizona’s tough immigration law to comment on the killings.After resisting for hours, Pearce relented late in the day and released a lengthy statement detailing how he came to know JT Ready and what eventually led to their falling out. Multiple media outlets in Arizona posted the statement in whole.
Pearce said he, like others in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa, got to know Ready for his interest in Republican politics.
“When we first met JT he was fresh out of the Marine Corp and seemed like a decent person,” Pearce wrote. “He worked as a telephone fundraiser for Christian and pro-life groups, he dated the daughter of one of our District 18 members, and his attitudes and spoken opinions were good and decent.”
According to the Phoenix New Times, Pearce became a mentor to Ready. The powerful lawmaker helped the young man convert to the Mormon religion and he was there for Ready’s first baptism.
But Pearce said Ready’s demeanor changed somewhere along the way. Pearce described it as a “darkness.” Ready began spending time with hate groups, including the National Socialist Movement, which is the largest neo Nazi organization in the U.S.. After pressure from fellow Republicans, Pearce eventually disavowed the friendship.
“He was angry with me and stayed angry with me, and it has been several years since I have had reason to speak with JT,” Pearce said in the statement.
The former lawmaker, who was thrown out of office by voters in a recall election last year and who is currently trying to regain a seat in the state Senate, also took the opportunity to criticize reporters for hounding him with questions about his former friendship with Ready. He described the reporting as “the most reprehensible that I have ever witnessed.”
Pearce said he never shared Ready’s racist views and moved quickly to distance himself from the neo Nazi. He hurled anger at journalists who he said were trying to connect him to those views.
“When I learned the truth about him, I made it clear how wrong I thought it was and I worked to remove him from our Party,” Pearce wrote. “Yet the lie is told and retold over and over again.”
Pearce, however, didn’t address the fact that, according to the New Times, it took more a year from the time that Ready went public as a white supremacist to the time the senator finally denounced him.
Finally, Pearce used the opportunity to express sadness over the massacre in which four others, including a toddler, were killed. The victims included Ready’s girlfriend and members of her family.
“Today, the Devil won and claimed the soul of one young man and the lives of others, including the most innocent of all, a child,” Pearce said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the four beautiful souls that are now in God’s hands.”
Watch an 11-minute report about Pearce’s connections to Ready that a Fox affiliated television station aired last year:
Nick Martin is an associate editor at TPM in New York City. He came to the site in 2011 as a reporter for TPMMuckraker. Previously, he worked in Arizona, first as a staff reporter for a local newspaper and later as a freelance journalist. He also ran the news blog Heat City. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org