The Arizona Rangers, a volunteer-based, quasi-law enforcement organization that traces its roots to territorial days, has raised more than $163,000 as of Thursday afternoon as its members continue to provide security for the state's controversial ballot audit.
The presence of the offbeat outfit is fitting for the bizarre spectacle unfolding in the review of more than 2 million ballots from the November 2020 election. Republican leaders in the Arizona Senate still miffed over Biden's win have forced an audit of last year's election results, though no evidence of significant problems turned up in Arizona. Senate President Karen Fann has said that Republicans won't use the audit findings to try to overturn the 2020 election results.
The Arizona Senate brought in Cyber Ninjas, a little-known company hired to conduct the audit, and somebody — it's not clear who — has ordered up the Arizona Rangers, too. Members of the group are helping with security at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, where the audit is taking place.
When the Rangers made the move to help Arizona Republicans with their audit, PayPal "shut down" their account for donations, according to an April 23 tweet by the group. The Rangers promptly opened up a GoFundMe account. (The PayPal problem was resolved on April 24. The company would only tell New Times that the "limitation" was temporary and PayPal worked with the Rangers to get it resolved.) In just five days, the group has pulled in $163,000 on the GoFundMe.
"We've gotten a lot of support," said Colonel Michael Droll, the Arizona Rangers state commander. "It's been very valuable for us for the exposure, good or bad... Basically, we're here helping with an event. The event has a lot of concerns with it, as you know, and we're here to help."
"The fundraising has been quite remarkable," said Gordon Johnson, a Ranger captain and company commander for the group's East Valley Company, in an email. "Those funds will be earmarked for some important efforts and charitable causes we ... support, with much of it directed toward supporting the youth in Arizona. This will provide for a valuable impact on communities all across the state."
The Arizona Rangers are a 501(c)3 nonprofit firm with 22 divisions, or companies, across the state. Johnson said the East Valley Company has provided members for the audit, joining "many" Rangers from other companies across the state in the effort.
"This is a well-staffed, 6 day/week duty, and long hours," he said. "A lot of resources are being devoted to it."
On Thursday, at the entrance to the State Fairgrounds, a small contingent of Rangers stood guard next to portable concrete barriers under a shade canopy. With their beige shirts, star-badges, sidearms, and walkie-talkies, they're indistinguishable from real police.
Rangers aren't sworn officers, though they are typically former cops. They have no legal powers that ordinary citizens don't have in Arizona. (Your powers as an ordinary citizen are considerable, though: You, or a Ranger, can effect a citizen's arrest under certain conditions, and you can legally shoot people in self-defense or to stop the commission of various crimes.)
The Arizona Rangers can date their history back to the 1860s, when the territorial legislature formed a group called the Volunteers to help defend communities and trade routes against bandits and Native American warriors. They slaughtered dozens of Apache and Yavapai Indians by 1866, as a 2018 article by historian Marshall Trimble relates. A history on the group's website covers how the state formed and disbanded the group several times until 1909, when it was abandoned until revived in 1957 by former members. A 2002 law signed by Governor Jane Dee Hull gave the Rangers official status and set a couple of ground rules.
The volunteer force can provide support "on the request of, and under the direction, control and supervision of, established law enforcement officials or officers." It continues to provide aid to police agencies around the state and do charity work. The Rangers also get an official .gov domain for their website.
Yet Droll declined to say which police agency requested the Rangers' help.
"Nobody's going to answer those questions for you," he said. "Because your job is to provide intelligence and tactical information to the public, right? And we're not going to release that information."
He also would not answer questions about how many Rangers were helping to provide security, or other specific questions about the detail.
But how is the question about authorization "intelligence?"
"That's not your information," Droll said.
After that rough start to the interview, Droll became more pleasant, chatting about the charity work the group has done. But New Times also had to ask what Droll would say to members of the public who saw the group as a bunch of good ol' boys dressing up and playing cop?
"I don't know who they met or where their information comes from to have that perception," Droll said. "All I can tell you is if they met us and saw what we did for the community, in the interests of the safety of us as a whole, I don't think it matters whether you're law enforcement or a good citizen or what side you're on — we don't really care — we want to help people."
The Arizona Republic reported on a couple of minor scandals involving the group about six years ago, when some Ranger companies were in "turmoil ... amid allegations of financial mismanagement, corruption and poor leadership." A Prescott company was disbanded after it was accused of going "rogue" and misappropriating funds.
Senator Fann's office didn't return messages seeking comment for this article.
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