By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Mike Johnson's first step toward the militia movement came in 1988, when he joined the Arizona Constitutional Rights Committee, a civil rights organization that puts heavy emphasis on the second and fourth amendments. Today, he's the committee's chairman, organizing pro-gun activities such as the annual Media and Politician Shoot, during which journalists and elected officials are invited to pop off a few rounds at a range.
Members of the Sons and Daughters of Liberty first called Johnson asking him to join their militia two years ago; he turned them down, saying their image problems were too great. But after last October's Amtrak derailment, when the "Sons of Gestapo" note found at the wreck turned law enforcement attention on Arizona's militias again, they called Johnson, and this time he agreed to help them out.
He cut them a deal: He'd work as their spokesman as long as he could say he wasn't a member. It gives him more objectivity, he claims. His first edict: no dressing in camouflage at public events or when making public announcements. That's also why he frowned on the idea of posing for a photograph with his firearm. And he didn't want New Times to know where he lived or worked. Other militia members interviewed for this story were similarly sensitive.
Johnson estimates that 2,000 Arizonans participate in militias, and that 10 percent are black, Latino or others who don't fit the WASP stereotype. But these numbers are difficult to verify.
Most local militias are loosely organized, consist of only a handful of people and labor in obscurity. Since enthusiasts often belong to several different groups, getting an accurate picture of how many Arizonans--white, black or Latino--participate in such groups is guesswork.
Further complicating this task is the commingling that goes on between the militias and other groups in the so-called "patriot movement" which include ardent constitutionalists, tax resisters, segments of the religious right, the sovereignty movement and right-to-trial organizations.
What sets the militia apart, however, is its talk of impending doom. And the large-caliber weapons its members tend to collect.
Johnson says he doesn't mind the term "right wing" to describe his politics. If there are relatively few blacks who feel the same way, that doesn't bother him, either. It's something he's grown accustomed to. "Clinton is left-wing. That's bad," he says in a rare moment of oversimplification.
When his views create tensions with other blacks as well as whites, Johnson's prepared. On his laptop, he keeps statistics and quotations to back up what he says, everything from the crime rate in Japan to quotes from Patrick Henry. But his favorite refrain to those incredulous about his militia involvement is one repeated like a mantra by his fellow patriots:
"You're in the militia, did you know that? Just by being male and of age. You are in the unorganized militia."
A dimly lighted living room somewhere on the west side. Kristina Sanchez's five children are glued to a gigantic television as they take a break from their home-schooling.
Sanchez keeps an eye on them while she talks about working for her husband's militia. On the big screen, Gilligan is doing a Japanese impersonation so racist it would make Al D'Amato blush.
Sanchez seems too young to have five children. She can pass for younger than her 28 years, and she can also pass for Italian. At least that's what people think when they see her black hair and dark eyes, Sanchez says. Actually, she's Mexican American, the daughter of a family that's been in Phoenix since territorial days.
A high school dropout who returned for her GED, Sanchez now devotes herself to teaching her children and studying the Arizona Legislature. She keeps fellow militia sympathizers up on the latest bills in her monthly broadsheet, American Phoenix, which also includes her analyses of the U.S.Constitution and editorials about conservative political history.
Despite her literary bent, the only reading material in the room is a pile of military manuals and martial-arts magazines. But Sanchez insists that the kids don't get any militia training and aren't involved in the militias at all. And it's true. The oldest child doesn't know what to say when she's asked about her mother's work for Sanchez's husband's militia, the First Mounted Rangers.
The rangers (which aren't really mounted, at least not yet) comprise a tiny unit, or "cell," of only six members, all men. They're military veterans for the most part; women need not apply. That's why Sanchez and other wives of rangers such as Dianne Golubski take part in the "women's auxiliary," providing clerical help and leaving the sharpshooting to their husbands.
The men train in CPR, land navigation, desert survival and weapons proficiency. "It's a lot of Boy Scout stuff, really," Golubski says, as though there were a merit badge for preparing for the Apocalypse.
Sanchez admits that her political transformation has been a source of tension in her family, with her mother particularly. "By all rights, I should be a liberal's liberal," she says.
It began with her conversion to Calvinism ten years ago, after she had met her husband, who had come from a religious background and was studying to be a missionary at the time. Her Roman Catholic mother wasn't thrilled. She was even less happy to hear that Sanchez had begun participating in the militia movement.