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JT Ready filed notice with elections officials in Pinal County, Ariz. last week, saying he is exploring a run for sheriff and plans to collect signatures to get on the 2012 ballot. The office is currently held by rising Republican star Paul Babeu, one of the nation's leading border hawks. Babeu is leaving the job to run for Congress this year.
"The citizens of Pinal County are under constant threat of encountering the horrific reality of terrible violence associated with illegal immigration," Ready wrote on his campaign website. "JT is, unquestionably, the common sense choice for sheriff when the public needs safety and security now more than ever."
Ready is a longtime Republican and onetime precinct leader in the Arizona GOP. But elections records show he switched parties Jan. 13 and plans to run as a Democrat.
He told TPM on Monday that he respects the Democratic Party's history, saying it was the party that brought about Jim Crow laws and Alabama's segregationist Gov. George Wallace. He said he also has a problem with tough-talking Republican sheriffs like Joe Arpaio and Babeu.
"All these, quote, border hero sheriffs — they sit there blaming the president while they're not doing everything they can do," Ready said.
Obama is "definitely not perfect in my book," he added, but the Democratic president has sent more troops to the border and deported more immigrants than the sheriffs could ever hope to.
Ready said he's no longer a member of the National Socialist Movement, the nationwide neo-Nazi organization he belonged to for years, but he could not remember exactly when he resigned his membership. He also said he can't stand the term neo-Nazi, calling it "the other N-word," and insisted he is seeking diverse support for his campaign.
However, Ready's racist views remain on full display on his campaign Facebook page, showing his ideology hasn't changed even if his membership status in the NSM has.
The page is sprinkled with quotes from Wallace. He also posted a photo of himself standing under a street sign that displayed the name of Malcolm X. Below the photo, he wrote that one of his priorities in office would be to get a street named after George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the the American Nazi Party.
As the Phoenix New Times noted when it first reported on his candidacy last week, Ready also lists his campaign chairman as Harry Hughes, a longtime friend and documented member of the National Socialist Movement. Ready told TPM he is now living with Hughes in the Pinal County town of Maricopa.
"What Harry has is a big piece of property that we have turned into a compound," Ready said, noting that they've surrounded it with sand bags and barbed wire. However, he added: "It's not a militia or anything like that."
Ready has been on the fringe of Arizona politics since at least 2006, when he came in second place in an election for city council in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa. And before he made his racist beliefs public, he was also a mentor of former state Senate President Russell Pearce, the primary sponsor of Arizona's harsh immigration law in 2010. Pearce has since distanced himself from Ready.
In early 2010, Ready attended a Tea Party rally that Pearce and Arpaio both spoke at. He mingled in the crowd and passed out fliers for the National Socialist Movement that called for landmines to be placed along the US-Mexico border.
"We all should be actively advocating daily to mainstream America the most humane, non-racist, fair border security plan available," the fliers said. "Namely, A MINEFIELD!"
A few weeks later, Ready announced he would lead an armed group of volunteers on missions to catch what he described as "narco terrorists" in the Pinal County desert, about 100 miles north of the border.
He said Monday that he and his volunteers have continued to patrol the desert on a regular basis ever since, carrying both semi-automatic and automatic weapons with them as they do.
"In fact, we did one of those last night," Ready said, "and we have a major operation this weekend."
A Pinal County election official said it probably won't take much for Ready to get on the ballot this year. All he needs to do is collect about 260 signatures to qualify for the Democratic primary.