Mr. Tough Guy : An extremist? Hardly. But James Jarrett--militia expert--knows how to get inside their heads.
James Jarrett. The first American Jarrett, clad in kilt and tartan still, the bagpipe s slung across his shoulder, broadsword in hand, target on his forearm, Highland chieftain, warrior, man.
--"Jarrett’s Jade,” by Frank Yerby
James Region Jarrett--warrior, man, weapon still in hand--is a precision fit for any profile of the perfect militia commander.
He is a demolitions and guerrilla warfare expert who sees some FBI agents as arrogant prigs and believes the DEA is out of control. Jarrett is a Vietnam veteran, an NRA member and a combat shootist with a partial claw for a right hand.
Torn in a grenade accident, the hand was rebuilt with bone from a rib and tissue from his backside. Jarrett says he gave surgeons a pistol as a mold so his grip and trigger finger would be saved.
Of course he blitzes editors with letters railing against “elitist ‘progressive’ liberals . . . embezzlement of civil liberties . . . the affirmative-nonsense program.”
And at a 1986 briefing at an Army post south of here, local law enforcers were told of Jarrett’s associations with the Arizona Patriots and other militia organizations. They said he was the Southwest’s most dangerous terrorist.
“It was just a hoot,” Jarrett remembers. “I happened to be working undercover for the Arizona attorney general at the time.”
Therein the responsible, peace-enforcing, law-abiding other side of James Region Jarrett. Also the present of a man who actually is an anathema to the far, radical right.
Especially as a thinking man, an adjunct professor of justice studies at Arizona State University, who examines guerrilla action from the inside and can place militia groups and terrorists in minute and often embarrassing focus.
And Jarrett, 50, says that even if Timothy McVeigh is found guilty of the Oklahoma City bombing, he must never be considered a pure terrorist.
“This was the act of a madman, not a terrorist,” he says. And with common criminals as accomplices. “The psychological profiles developing on these guys are those of zealots by [philosopher George] Santayana’s definition: someone who loses sight of their goals and therefore redoubles their efforts.”
Jarrett, who was a Los Angeles Police undercover officer between tours as a Green Beret in Vietnam and Panama, with side adventures in Cambodia, Laos, Nicaragua and Honduras, does not consider Oklahoma City the overture to collapse of a nation.
Americans should worry that the bombing represents as an extreme of individual brutality and immorality, but, “We cannot allow these acts to even make them think that they [bombers] can cause a ripple in the system.
“So we must condemn them. But condemn them as criminals, not as political activists. You condemn them for being outside all boundaries and mores of civilized behavior. And you do not allow the word political to enter into it.”
By his account of his beginnings, young James Jarrett could easily have fallen on the wrong side of law and violence.
He was abandoned as a child. He says his first memories are of northern Nevada and realizing a series of unique gifts and affinities. Jarrett could read by moonlight, enjoyed walking alone across wilderness, and sensed the moods of animals.
Especially wolves. He says they parallel human behavior, but appear more ethical. Maybe, Jarrett believes, he carries Native American blood.
Part of his boyhood was spent with a fundamentalist minister who considered daily beatings God’s way of cleansing young souls of satanic impurities. Jarrett remembers being force-fed rotted vegetables until he vomited. He was ordered to lick it up.
“When you survive that kind of torture, it becomes a defining event,” he says. “It makes you or breaks you. You stand there and take it and tell yourself: ‘Someday I’ll be big.’ Then you tighten your helmet strap and get on down the road.”
At 14, Jarrett ran away up the road to Canada. His idea was to apply everything he had read by Jack London and Zane Grey and become the world’s youngest mountain man.
Instead, he was arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and dumped on the Prairie Bible Institute in Three Hills, Alberta. But he did learn to hunt, build fires, trap, live off the land and break most institute regulations.
Dumped by the institute for being incorrigible, Jarrett left Canada at 15 for a calmer place, Sun Valley in the San Fernando Valley. There were horses and friendships with cowboys who trained them for the movies and who lived by simple wisdoms: If you can’t bite, don’t growl. If it ain’t worth dying for, it ain’t worth fighting over.
When Jarrett graduated from high school and a final foster home, his gift to himself was an escape from the past of assorted given names--by choosing a name of his own.
He found “James Jarrett” from “Jarrett’s Jade,” a 1959 novel that painted heroes huge enough to inspire a world of 17-year-olds.
So an already life-toughened, self-motivated, inner-directed teen-ager became James Jarrett. Chieftain. Warrior. Man. He added “Region” as a middle name because “I wanted something that had power and distinction . . . and ‘Region’ spoke of space.”
And as he succumbed to a novel, so he was taken by a True magazine cover of a Green Beret sighting down an M-16.
“The Army was the first place where I found a home,” he says. “Class had nothing to do with it. If you soldiered well, you were rewarded. Eighty dollars a month to be in the woods and shoot a gun and tell people what to do. I just loved it.”
Jarrett’s calloused daring, his innate ability to survive alone and a stubborn desire to excel among the elite made him a natural Green Beret. Especially in Vietnam, where his specialties were grim with limited job security--long-range reconnaissance patrols and assassinations.
In 1968 Sgt. Jarrett was honorably discharged and became Officer Jarrett with the Los Angeles Police Department. At 24, with looks going on 19, he went undercover among Students for a Democratic Society at Pierce College and Cal State Northridge. Then factions much more serious than war protesters--militant Weathermen and the Black Panthers.
Jarrett rode a Triumph Bonneville. He wore a beard, tiger-striped jungle fatigues and his easy cover was that of a disenchanted Vietnam veteran. He sold weapons and fragmentation grenades and put people away.
It lasted a year. Jarrett missed the loyalty and honor and unrestrained initiative of Green Berets. The LAPD’s dedication “To Protect and to Serve” was no match for the Green Beret’s credo to “Liberate From Oppression.” Jarrett rejoined his military family in Central America.
In 1974, with the Vietnam War ending, Jarrett saw only flagpole soldiering ahead. He also knew what civilian life would mean: “It would be so [expletive] boring, I wouldn’t be able to deal with it.
“From life and death and black and white, you go to grays and compromises. You don’t fit. You’ve been so special, now you’re standing in a grocery line thinking about paying bills.”
Jarrett took off to Texas, Wyoming, Idaho and Arizona. He trained horses, escorted tourists on trail rides and followed the herds as a range cowboy.
With him went precious books. Aristotle. Freud. Plutarch. It didn’t sit well among phlegmatic, hard-drinking cowboys.
“I was isolated, put outside their circle because I read,” he says. “I realized that not only were these people not intellectuals, they were patently anti-intellectual.
“And I saw in that a recipe for disaster. My God, these people were going to vote.”
Jarrett also saw in himself a curious self-starter who was well-read, but far from well-educated.
His return to Arizona was a cerebral binge. He obtained an associate of arts degree from Phoenix College. Then a bachelor’s of science, summa cum laude, from Arizona State followed by a master’s.
Studies combined what he knew best: justice, law enforcement, domestic resistance movements and unconventional warfare. To keep research fresh, he again slid undercover to work inside the Aryan Brotherhood and Arizona Patriots for federal and state agencies.
But that was several years ago.
Now Jarrett’s life centers more on obtaining a doctorate, teaching handguns at his U.S. Marksmanship Academy, and training horses.
Most of the militia men he knew have moved away, or, since the Oklahoma City bombing, are recycling encrusted pasts for visiting reporters.
Jarrett doesn’t know the newer generation. He hasn’t met McVeigh, Terry Nichols, Michael Fortier and other figures allegedly linked to the bombing, despite their histories in Kingman, 160 miles northwest of here.
But he’s an expert witness to the type.
“It starts with the right, with these kind of ‘radicals,’ ” he explains. “A better word is extremist, a person who goes beyond what is acceptable morally and even socially.
“It is an ideology that says: ‘Well, we will do things that otherwise would not be accepted.’ Which usually indicates they will be sucked right in.”
Extremists, he believes, are typically not bright. Their motivation is usually vague, stemming from advocacy research with scraps of information massaged into a working philosophy.
One common thread, Jarrett says, is a massive failure in life. A dismantled career. Chronic debt. In McVeigh’s case, it may have been his rejection for Special Forces training.
“So they blame systemic issues rather than taking responsibility,” Jarrett says. “They blame the IRS. They blame the government as part of a general hatred of the government for their loss of freedoms.”
He says it was different with the Viet Cong in Vietnam and guerrilla fighters in Afghanistan. These were national movements with nothing to lose. They were fighting to win freedom from, not groping to earn freedom to.
“Militia members might like to see themselves as defenders of liberty,” Jarrett continues. “But it is a distorted and non-contextual view of it. I think that if the nucleus [of militias] was to do something, you’d find the majority of people that claimed membership would disappear like smoke in the wind.”
They have something to lose. Even if it’s a pickup, a family and a frame house.
“They’ll say: ‘I don’t want the police coming in here and tearing my bookshelves apart and looking for whatever,’ ” Jarrett says. “ ‘It might not be much. But it’s mine.’ ”
Jarrett speaks lowly of militia organizations. He thinks they are unkempt and scattered, small and disorganized. He knows what prevents their cells from merging into any semblance of a lethal weapon: lack of charismatic leadership.
“That has often been brought up to me by people trying to push me into that position because they know I believe in liberty. . . .”
Excuse me. Jarrett has been asked to lead militia groups?
“Oh, god, yes,” he says. “In Arizona and Idaho. Because they feel I have the necessary charismatic skills.
“I tell them they are out of their ever-loving minds. Because what they want is more repressive than what they are fighting against. And they can’t see that.”
What else they can’t see is the Jarrett who votes for issues and no particular party. He kicks guns under sofas because he considers them tools, not idols. He is deeply in love with the Old West, circa 1870, when loyalty, honor, courage and compassion were fairly common virtues.
Jarrett is not anti-Semitic, not racist, not homophobic and not anti-feminist, “although I’m certainly not pro-feminist.”
He wants to teach so that young minds might at least consider all that he has experienced. And maybe teach in New Zealand, a more puritan land where no guns are allowed. Then, Jarrett says, he will get rid of his guns.
Those letters to the editor? Mostly a game.
“I write them when I think there is a point of view that is being advanced and isn’t giving fair airing to another point of view,” he says. “Because you don’t know where the middle is until you know where the edges are.”
Jarrett has peaceful suggestions for internal repairs on an overgrown, cumbersome, confused nation that, although flawed, even broken in parts, is far from destroyed and probably worth saving.
Build more universities, Jarrett says, and fewer prisons. Less editorializing and more bald reporting by print journalists, reduced polemics and more civilized debates by electronic media. Quick, certain, hard justice for major criminals with less public hand-wringing.
“I think we need to get ahold of our youth, and responsible hands need not be gentle,” he says. “We are raising a generation of barbarians, and within our gates.”
Despite peer censure he expects for the sentiment, despite prevailing educational moods, Jarrett thinks that “Nothing is going to work with these kids but Draconian measures.
“They do not need to have any civil rights. They need human rights. And they need to be brought into an incredibly structured environment with dress codes.
“Where kids, rather than being cool for what they look like and for outrageous behavior, are recognized for what they are and what they can do.”
Jarrett admits it’s a hopeless dream.
He doesn’t think our system can work a change or create a return to simpler, less violent yesterdays. Whether for high school students or militia men.
“Civilization just has to hold the line,” he says. “But I think we can hold the line. We’ll live with it. We’ll deal with it.”