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Analysis

State guard or 'Arizona Five-0'?

Arizona Special Missions Unit would answer to governor alone

Gov. Jan Brewer galloped over protestations last year when she signed a law creating the Arizona Special Missions Unit (ASMU), an armed state militia that a governor alone would control. Those facts, coupled with its police powers and independence from the National Guard, would make the unit unique in the nation. Although the all-volunteer force can respond to state emergencies, its raison d’être is fighting cross-border crime.

SB 1083, which would breathe life into ASMU to the tune of $1.4 million annually, was approved by the Senate last week by a vote of 20-10. The measure must still win approval in the House before Brewer can sign it into law.

The bill, as currently written, would empower ASMU to:

  • Pursue, detain and arrest individuals engaged in cross-border crime
  • Combat international criminal activity
  • Seize property
  • Respond to natural and manmade disasters, including search and rescue
  • Support community activities
  • Conduct other missions as directed by the governor

“Other missions” could, in theory, include everything from running down kidnappers to Mafioso to terrorists. In one sense, ASMU sounds a lot like television’s Hawaii Five-0, a crime drama featuring a glamorous “special missions” outfit dedicated to derring-do and answerable only to the 50th state’s chief executive. Presumably, Brewer would have a tighter rein on ASMU than TV’s fictional Hawaiian governor has on the dashing rogues of Five-0

But critics do worry about ASMU “going rogue” or mucking up law enforcement given its broad scope, cross-border focus, police powers and apparent freedom to use deadly force, Five-0-style.

Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, and other opponents say ASMU is nothing more than “state-sanctioned vigilante group.” Maj. Gen. Hugo Salazar, adjutant general of the Arizona National Guard, observed that no other state militia allows members to carry weapons, according to the Arizona Capitol Times. “There’s a lot of things that have to occur before I feel comfortable putting a weapon in a volunteer’s hand,” he told a Senate panel. Although Salazar would technically oversee ASMU, how the functional chain of command would work during a “hot pursuit” mission is unclear.

In response to concerns, bill sponsor Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, tightened the rules for vetting volunteers and limited where they could operate without permission. She also compared ASMU to the Texas Rangers as reassurance. But Allen neglected to mention that the Rangers – who abandoned their militia roots long ago – are now a well-regulated law enforcement division within the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Supporters say ASMU is needed to help overstretched law enforcement officers cope with cross-border criminal activity. “Something has to be done about the situation at the border – people are being terrorized,” Allen told The Arizona Republic

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The facts paint a different story, according to the Department of Homeland Security (headed by former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano):

  • Tucson sector border arrests have dropped by 40 percent since 2010
  • Total Southwest borders arrests are on track to be the lowest since 1972
  • Deportations were at an all-time high last year
  • Since 2000, Border Patrol agents have been increased to 4,000 in Arizona alone
  • The Border Patrol is recruiting 1,000 more agents, most destined for Arizona

Moreover, a statistical analysis by USA TODAY last summer found that Arizona border cities tout the lowest crime rates in the state. Those facts notwithstanding, advocates claim that terrorists are colluding with drug cartels in order to launch attacks into the U.S. homeland.

“We are being invaded by criminals who have formed alliances with (Middle Eastern) terrorists,” Allen told a Senate committee in January. Last week, she again claimed that there’s “ample evidence” of terrorist activity, including by Hezbollah, coming across the border, reported the Cap Times.

Again, the facts bespeak a different reality.

The U.S. State Department reports that while terrorist sympathizers are involved in limited fundraising or recruiting activities in Latin America, there are no known Hezbollah or al-Qaeda cells operating in Mexico or anywhere else the Western hemisphere. Moreover, if such a threat ever materialized, it would become a national security matter, not a criminal one per se. Neutralizing it would probably demand the likes of SEAL Team Six, not the volunteers of ASMU.

Lastly, SB 1083 contains a little-noticed provision that allows ASMU to accept “unconditional gifts, grants and donations” from any public or private source, including nonprofit foundations. Does this loophole mean a billionaire could donate millions to equip ASMU with everything from assault weaponry to black helicopters?

Granted, this scenario for transforming ASMU into Arizona Five-0 is perhaps farfetched. But the prospect for unintended consequences is rarely weighed until they after they occur. 

With the high costs of maintaining ASMU, and the potential legal ramifications of arming an autonomous militia to combat threats that are at best nebulous, lawmakers and the governor could find themselves in deep drama for something resembling reality TV – until, that is, reality itself steps forward.

Morrison Institute for Public Policy is a leader in examining critical Arizona and regional issues, and is a catalyst for public dialogue. An Arizona State University resource, Morrison Institute uses nonpartisan research and communication outreach to help improve the state's quality of life.

Ed Perkins is a policy analyst at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy, an ASU think tank.

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1 comment on this story

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1 comments
Mar 8, 2012, 4:26 pm
-1 +0

Those Arizona State Senators, like Steve Gallardo (and other open-borders whackadoodles), who have pooh-poohed the threat from Hezbollah on our southern border are willfully ignoring the testimony on this very real threat that was presented in the Arizona Legislature just last year. 

Richard Valdemar testified before the Arizona Senate Committee on Border Security, Federalism and States Sovereignty, 3 March 2011:
http://azleg.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=13&clip_id=8652


LTC (ret) Joseph Myers testified before the Arizona House Committee on Military Affairs and Public Safety, 23 March 2011:
http://azleg.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=13&clip_id=8938

There has been similar testimony before the US Congress as recently as last October:

http://homeland.house.gov/hearing/subcommittee-hearing-call-action-narco-terrorisms-threat-southern-us-border

http://homeland.house.gov/hearing/joint-subcommittee-hearing-mérida-part-two-insurgency-and-terrorism-mexico

In December of 2011, the US Department of Justice indicted a Lebanese national who they allege operated a vast drug-smuggling empire that linked Hezbollah and the mexican drug cartels:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20111213/us-drug-smuggling-hezbollah/

Even Univision, the spanish-language TV network based in mexico, can see what has been happening.  They broadcast a documentary on the Hezbollah threat in December of 2011:

http://www.judicialwatch.org/blog/2011/12/middle-eastern-terrorists-plan-u-s-attack-from-mexico/

Other sources for info on Hezbollah in mexico are avaialable on our website at http://www.azsdf.org/references .

The threat from Hezbollah is quite real, and Americans who choose to ignore this threat need to grow up fast and start dealing with reality.  That includes our Democrat Legilsators, who appear to be opposed to SB1083 simply because they fear that the military force that it would create would actually be effective in securing our southern border.

What is happening on our southern border is not just crime, it is an insurgency.  This insurgency has been steadily escalating since the year 2000, and the federal government’s response to this threat has remained the same:  talk, talk, and more talk (and an occasional lawsuit) for the past 12 years.  None of which has managed to make one inch of our southern border more secure against this threat.

Arizona has been more than patient and has endured the federal flaccidity on this issue for far too long.  It is time for something more real than federal nonsense proclamations that the border is “more secure now than it has ever been”.  Arizonans would prefer that our border actually *be* more secure. 

The Arizona Special Missions Unit would make that happen.

Arizona State Defense Force Foundation
http://www.azsdf.org

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