Disarm the Clueless

Our April 1 story was made up -- these responses weren't

As far as we know, the panhandlers downtown are, in fact, not armed with Mac-10s.

We'll give that up now. Last week, though, anyone who called New Times to ask if our April 1 cover story was a hoax received this standard, if indirect, response: "Real homeless people, real guns."

Which is true. The article "Give Piece a Chance," though, was a hoax. A spoof. A prank. There is no group calling itself Arm the Homeless distributing handguns, shotguns and assault weapons to vagrants in downtown Phoenix.

The response to our elaborate April Fool's joke mirrors those generated by other such New Times gags over the years (the gold in the Scottsdale Galleria; the Beatles reunion concert -- featuring John Lennon; the nonaddictive, new psychedelic drug that coated a page of the paper, which some people promptly ingested).

Judging from the hundreds of calls, letters and e-mails received at New Times and our bogus Arm the Homeless hotline, about 15 percent of the people who read the article--or heard about it--took the bait. The fact that we staged a gun giveaway with actors dressed in Arm the Homeless tee shirts, printed the hotline number (602-440-1136) and set up a Web site contributed to believability.

60 Minutes II believed it. A CBS News producer from New York called the Arm the Homeless line and requested an interview with group founder "Pete Whippit." We obliged. The transcription follows.

KFYI radio called the hotline, also seeking an interview with Whippit. Always poised to jump on a hot story, the Phoenix bureau of the Associated Press called, seeking an interview with Whippit--on Monday.

A homeless man walked into the New Times building on Friday and asked for a gun.

The Phoenix Police Department's community relations department called New Times, saying they were getting lots of calls from concerned citizens. Was it really true?

During lunch hour on April 1, the calls to the Arm the Homeless number--roughly three a minute--were so heavy they nearly crashed New Times' voice mail system.

C'mon, people. There was ample evidence of the story's fallaciousness: Whippit's Marine Recon duty in the "Mongol-Sumerian conflict of '89"; his mercenary fighting with the "Mau-Mau Liberation Front"; the reference to the "Valley National Bank building"; the Sheriff's Homeless Posse; a bullet fired by "Habbie 'Abe' Rafuls" kicking up "a spoof of dust."

About half the hotline callers pegged it as a hoax, including the first caller, who left this message 30 minutes after the papers hit the streets:

This is a pretty good April Fool's Day joke, folks, I gotta tell ya. It'll be amazing to you, I'm sure, to find out how many people think this is for real.

The second call came two minutes later.
I don't know how much experience you have with homeless people, but the fact is they are generally mentally ill, and that is why they are homeless. What they need are homes, not guns, and what you're doing is irresponsible. A lot of people are going to end up getting killed because of your foolishness.

You're a bunch of fucking idiots, you know? You're a bunch of G.I. Joe Rambos. You need to grow up and give your testicles to science. I don't fear my government, I fear paranoid idiots like you.

And one minute later.
I just read this article in New Times, and I'm amazed. I'm a gun owner, and I've hunted for several years . . . and personally, to give people that can't even hold a job, who are alcoholics or drug users, to give them a weapon is just unbelievable.

Indeed.
The first time a citizen gets shot by one of your homeless people that you give a sidearm or a shotgun or a Mac-10? That just blows me away. And Pete Whippit? You're a moron! If I see you--well, you're probably armed--but if I see you and you're not armed, I'm gonna pummel you!

Some callers were more concise:
Yeah, your organization's sick and you're a bunch of fuckin' scumbags.
And another:

Hi. I've got one thing to ask you: Are you fuckin' nuts!? Jesus Christ, people, get real!

And one more:
I think you're all full of shit! That's a dangerous thing you're doing! And I'm a gun owner, and I'm also a veteran. I hope the fuckin' police shut your asses down. So fuck you!

Most callers wanted to know if Arm the Homeless members were "idiots," "stupid," "morons," "retarded" or "crazy." Many of them used the "f-word" a lot--one guy uttered it 13 times in one minute:

Yeah, I'm thinkin' maybe homeless people should be given food, or maybe a job, but not a fuckin' gun! What, are you guys fuckin' retarded, dude? Are you fuckin' crazy? Huh? Some fuckin' homeless dude's gonna go rob a liquor store to get some money, or some fuckin' beer. Or he's gonna fuckin' go, you know, rob a bank or some shit, 'cause he's got no fuckin' money. Or he'll just fuckin' shoot someone, just to take their shit. I mean, what the fuck are you guys thinking? Are you fuckin' stupid? What kind of drugs are you guys on? You need to get your shit together. I can't believe this. Maybe he'll just freak out and fuckin' shoot you for being a dumb fuck and givin' him a gun. You guys are fuckin' dumb.

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