THE COMPANY HE KEPT
It begins with denials, repeated over time, by state Arizona Senate President-elect Russell Pearce concerning his association with the Valley's best-known neo-Nazi, J.T. Ready.
Approached by an activist at a 2008 candidate forum during the Republican primary for the hotly contested state Senate seat in Legislative District 18, Pearce was asked point-blank if he was pals with the Mesa swastika-licker.
It was a relationship I'd exposed in my Feathered Bastard blog in June 2007 with photos of Pearce and Ready working a nativist rally at the state Capitol together ("Triumph of the Swill," June 18).
At the event, Pearce applauded Ready's rousing anti-immigrant speech, one that talked of yanking judges and elected officials around by their collars, and offered a disturbing vision of Marines mopping up undesirables around the United States.
Still, when confronted by community activist Adolfo Maldonado, Pearce angrily rebutted the contention that he and Ready were tight.
"J.T. Ready showed up at a rally with me and J.D. Hayworth," spat Pearce, as shown in the subsequent YouTube video. "And the New Times — the great fiction it is — went around trying to find a picture they could use."
Later, Pearce added, "It's an old story. It's fiction. [New Times] made it up."
In statements to local media, Pearce has tried to make it sound as if Ready had just happened to be at the rally with him, and they had just happened to be photographed arm in arm.
Recently, Pearce told Arizona Republic reporter Gary Nelson that he has his photo taken with lots of folks.
"Had my picture taken with a gal that I know for a fact is a lesbian," Pearce cracked. "I had my picture taken, I'm sure, with several Democrats. But yet nobody's accused me of being a lesbian or a Democrat."
However, Pearce and Ready were linked in many ways politically, socially, and through religion, specifically the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Links as tightly wound as a Gordian knot.
Politically, Pearce endorsed Ready when Ready ran for the Mesa City Council in 2006 against incumbent Kyle Jones. In a video for Ready's failed bid, Pearce calls Ready "a true patriot" and friend of the taxpayer.
Ready has maintained that Pearce was a "father figure" to him. And I've recently come across evidence that this may have been the case.
The first is a photo from Ready's baptism into the Mormon Church. Ready became LDS sometime in 2003 or 2004. His status as a rising player in East Valley politics is vouched for by those who attended the event.
In the picture, former state Senator Karen Johnson clutches Ready's arm, seated on the front row. Behind them are the smiling faces of former state Representative Dean Cooley, local John Birch Society leader Jim Pinkerman, late state House Speaker Jeff Groscost, and, of course, Pearce, then a member of the state House.
Johnson, Pinkerman, and Cooley all freely admitted they were at the baptism. And they all avowed that they had no inkling of Ready's extremist views at the time.
This may be true, as Ready was not publicly outed as a white supremacist until the Arizona Anti-Defamation League spotlighted Ready during a panel discussion at the state Capitol in March 2007, which I recounted in a 2007 Bird column ("Ready Racist," April 26).
Notably, both that forum and my column came before Pearce and Ready got buddy-buddy at the June 2007 nativist rally.
Also, Pearce had been warned privately in October 2006 of Ready's nefarious affiliations. This, by Bill Straus, regional director of the Arizona Anti-Defamation League.
Straus gave Pearce a file on neo-Nazis and other racists flocking to Pearce's anti-immigrant cause. It included information on and a photo of Ready, who already was on the ADL's radar.
When, in 2008, three Arizona congressmen lined up to kick Ready out of the Republican Party and his elected post as a precinct committeeman, Pearce was again linked to Ready with a now-infamous photo of the prejudiced pair from the 2007 rally, published in Feathered Bastard ("Tonopah's White Knights of America," June 28, 2007).
Of that photo, Pearce told the Republic, "Nobody knew what [Ready] stood for."
After reading that statement, Straus fired off a letter to Pearce reminding him of their October 2006 meeting. Straus says he never received a reply.
"It's hard for me to fathom," Straus told me, "that after a one-on-one meeting with me — and all the press J.T. got — that [Pearce] was unaware of what he was and what he stood for."
Pearce's presence at Ready's baptism belies Pearce's attempts to distance himself from Ready by portraying both of them as two right-wing tugboats passing in the night.
See, Pearce went further than being at Ready's baptism; he also ordained Ready as an "elder" in the Mormon church, making him a member of what's known as the Melchizedek priesthood.
As Karen Johnson said to me, "Almost all of the men in the church hold the office of elder."
According to LDS spokeswoman Kim Farah, the person being ordained gets to choose who will ordain him. She explained that often a young man will choose his father to do the ordination.
Dean Cooley's son Mike was once Ready's bishop. He recalled that Pearce ordained Ready, backing up the information I'd gleaned from what appears to be Ready's 2004 ordination certificate.
The certificate, along with the baptism photo and other info, came into my hands via a confidential source.
Mike Cooley said Ready seemed sincere at the time but that the neo-Nazi is no longer active in the LDS.
If Ready's true colors had been evident, would Cooley have allowed Ready into the church? "If I knew then what I know now, no," he told me flatly.
Both Cooley and his father, as well as Johnson and Pinkerman, insisted that Ready's beliefs are contrary to LDS teachings and their own beliefs.
LDS spokeswoman Farah stated:
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abhors hatred, intolerance, or abuse of any individual or group. We are all brothers and sisters, equal in God's sight as His children."
Well, except when it comes to gays. But that's another column.
To its credit, the LDS church is officially at odds with Pearce's stance on illegal immigration and has expressed support for the Utah Compact, which calls for humane immigration reform that does not unnecessarily separate families.
I exchanged e-mails with Pearce over the baptism and ordination, and I will post them in full on my Feathered Bastard blog. Pearce admitted he was at the baptism but conversely stated he had "nothing to do with [it]."
Queried about whether or not he had ordained Ready an elder, Pearce at first said that he didn't recall, and that he didn't think so. When told of Mike Cooley's statements, he backpedaled.
"That could be true," he wrote. "But it was by invitation at the last minute, as I showed only as a guest."
Cooley told me the baptism and the ordination probably happened months apart.
In any case, the fact Ready chose Pearce to ordain him and Pearce accepted, indicates a much stronger tie than Pearce has previously admitted.
When I contacted Ready about the photo, the certificate, and Pearce's denials, he was indignant, slamming Pearce for opposing the First Amendment right of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement to parade and rally in Phoenix on November 13, activities Ready participated in.
"He is the worst kind of racist," Ready said of Pearce, in a pot-calling-kettle-black moment. "One who will do anything to achieve power, then trample on our rights like a tyrant when he gets that power."
Ready added, "I christen him Grand Wizard of the AZ Senate!"
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The Mesa race-baiter, who now leads patrols in the desert hunting "narco-terrorists," confirmed the details in the photo and in the certificate.
Previously, he's told me that he's a "recovering Mormon" but has refused to explain beyond that.
Based on the information I have, I believe Pearce was Ready's mentor, and Ready was getting groomed for political advancement. But when Ready began to openly attend neo-Nazi rallies, he turned radioactive.
Pearce was forced to disown Ready during Pearce's 2008 primary, but they were apparently close at one time, despite all of Pearce's squirming obfuscations to the contrary.