When a headline reads “Scientists run into militiamen,” you’ve got to wonder whether it can get much crazier in these borderlands we call home. Those wildlife researchers had many concerns on August 23 as they returned to their campsite from Onyx Cave in the nearby Santa Rita Mountains: potential rabies exposure from the bats they were studying, rattlesnakes enjoying the cool summer night, pumas looking for dinner. But, I’m certain they never expected to be terrorized by heavily armed militiamen. Science denial makes things hard enough for scientists these days, but now field researchers must also fear militias. As dedicated professionals tackle urgent issues in the borderlands like deadly mosquito-borne diseases or the loss of species that are crucial to agriculture, who will be protecting them?
The greatest danger for anyone working or recreating in our local wilderness areas may now be these untrained, unauthorized defenders of the border. Unlike most immigrants, traffickers, and drug mules who prefer to remain unseen, these thugs seek out the thrill of confrontation and opportunities to engage in combat. The dangers posed by these rogue militias clearly earn them the title of “illegals” on our border.
Militia activity has surged recently, and Arizona is a destination for visitors keen to take border security into their own hands. As reported by Nogales International, a militia group from Pennsylvania (apparently it’s no fun defending the shores of Lake Erie) arrived here this summer, advised by leader Mark Kessler to bring armor, helmets, weapons and ammunition. Kessler also promised engagement with “heavily armed cartel escorts trucking dope into Arizona.” And what made our state such an attraction? Other than the delusion that one could survive an actual cartel confrontation, perhaps it’s that Arizona almost became the only state to implement a volunteer militia to patrol the border.
Let’s not forget that in 2012, Arizona’s Republican governor and lawmakers forged a high profile attempt to create a border militia. Their bill (SB 1083, which failed in the State House) appropriated almost 2 million dollars for the Arizona Special Missions Unit, a group of armed, minimally trained volunteers charged with patrolling the border with Mexico, confiscating property, and arresting and detaining individuals. Under the direction of the governor and her appointed commander, militia members were to be granted the same immunity protections as public law enforcement. Members were to be paid for training and drills. Employers were to grant paid leaves of absence for militia activities. This was that same extremist approach to legislation that continues to humiliate Arizona not only in the spotlight of political satire, but in the mainstream press.
The poor judgment of Arizona’s Republican politicians has made our borderlands a welcoming ground for armed militias. Such dangerous folly must come to an end. On November 4, let’s elect candidates that will care for the public through informed reasoning, not militant absurdity.
Michele herself has tracked wildlife in the dark of night, and on multiple occasions returned to her car by flashlight after exploring Onyx Cave. She now fears the militias when exploring the wilderness near her home.