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Mr. Tough Guy : An extremist? Hardly. But James Jarrett--militia expert--knows how to get inside their heads.

May 26, 1995|PAUL DEAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PHOENIX — 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.

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