Last year, state Rep. Kyrsten Sinema introduced a bill that essentially would have outlawed civilian border patrol groups like the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps.
The proposal went nowhere, just as she expected. "It got a brief mention in (Phoenix) New Times and that was it," she says.
As a liberal Democrat operating in a Legislature controlled by conservative Republicans, Sinema understands the odds against the passage of such a proposal.
Still, this year, she introduced her bill again.
House Bill 2286 reads, in part:
"An individual or group of individuals commits domestic terrorism if the individual or group of individuals are not affiliated with a local, state or federal law enforcement entity and associate with another individual or group of individuals as an organization, group, corporation or company for the purpose of patrolling to detect alleged illegal activity or to individually patrol for the purpose of detecting alleged illegal activity and if the individual or group of individuals is armed with a firearm or other weapon."
Sinema said that it isn't the honest intentions of most people affiliated with such organizations that bother her but a belief that they attract racist extremists and other xenophobic recruits to their cause.
"What has happened over the past week or so more or less proves that point," she told me.
Ordinarily, when a long-shot piece of legislation falls in the forest of such bills at the state Capitol, no one notices. This particular proposal caught the attention of Minuteman members and their supporters, however. Word immediately went out over Internet message boards and blogs. When a proposal like this lands in the digital forest, everybody hears.
"I am not unwilling as a public figure to tackle issues that are controversial and unpopular, but I did not expect this," Sinema said.
The e-mails piled up quickly, many of them not only expressing disagreement but threatening Sinema with everything from death to rape.
"The nature of what they were saying was scary," she said, "One wanted to kick me in the uterus until I couldn't have children. Others have all kinds of really lewd and awful threats. There's not even this shared respect for another human being that you may disagree with."
When told about the threats by a reporter, Chris Simcox of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps said that his organization would not tolerate such behavior. He added, "If Miss Sinema wants to give me the e-mail addresses, I'll check them, and I would immediately terminate them (if they are members)."
Sinema hasn't shied away from difficult issues. She chaired the group that helped defeat Arizona's proposed same-sex marriage amendment. The state Department of Public Safety has worked with her over the threats, and when an unidentified package turned up at her office Jan. 22, the building was evacuated. (It turned out to be nothing.)
"This wasn't driven by the media," Sinema said. "This came from the Internet. And I've got to tell you, it happens very, very quickly. And it goes in all kinds of crazy directions. There is an article out there saying that I'm in cahoots with a Mexican drug cartel. Stuff like that. It's insane. And, yes, if the goal of these people was to scare me, it worked."
The title listed on House Bill 2286 is "domestic terrorism." But forget about the border, militias and all that. Those who oppose Sinema proved that the only weapon a person needs to strike terror in another is a computer.