SS IGNORANT

Supposedly intelligent, respectable people do some really dumb stuff sometimes. Case in point: Former GOP gubernatorial hopeful Mike Harris, who ran third behind Don Goldwater and Len Munsil in the 2006 Republican primary for governor. Munsil won that battle and went on to get his lunch handed to him by current Department of Homeland Security secretary and then-Governor Janet Napolitano.

Harris positioned himself as a slightly more moderate alternative to mush-mouth anti-Mexican doofus Goldwater and the ultra-conservative Munsil, whom Harris reportedly blasted as the "Christian Taliban." After his loss, Harris crossed party lines to endorse Libertarian candidate Barry Hess in the general election.

The African-American child that was painted over
Francisco Garcia
The African-American child that was painted over
Artist Francisco Garcia with the image that replaced "blue boy"
Stephen Lemons
Artist Francisco Garcia with the image that replaced "blue boy"

During his disastrous campaign for public office, Harris went so far as to oppose Prop 107, the gay-marriage ban that was defeated in 2006. (A similar measure won approval to the state's Constitution last year.) Though anything gay is generally anathema in Republican politics, Harris granted the local gay biweekly Echo Magazine an interview wherein he blasted the GOP's "holier-than-thou religious attitude."

Though Harris did not support gay marriage per se, he declared that Prop 107 went too far. He told the Arizona Republic at the time, "When two people are in a loving relationship for a long time, God love 'em."

That's why my eyeballs nearly popped out when I saw footage of an October 24 neo-Nazi rally in Riverside, California, where Harris was present, along with Adolf Hitler-worshipper J.T. Ready and about 20 members of the National Socialist Movement.

Like Ready and some of the others facing off 600 anti-racist demonstrators, Harris was outfitted in all-black combat gear, with a helmet and goggles and plastic flex-cuffs hanging from his shoulder. Later, the National Socialist Movement Web site posted a group photo of the sieg heil-ing SS wanna-bes. Though Harris is not doing the Nazi salute, he is in the shot, smiling, clearly identifiable by the gap between his two front teeth.

Had the one-time defender of homosexual domestic partnerships gone Nazi?

I had seen Harris and Ready together in a video shot at an anti-Obama protest by conservative videographer usadefender1. In it, Ready denounces the "Obongo" administration, as Harris looks on. After Ready finishes, Harris goes on a similar tirade, repeating the slur "Obongo" in his address to the camera.

"Let's first of all clear up some misconceptions," Harris says in the video. "We are not a nation of immigrants. I am the seventh generation born in this country. I did not emigrate from anywhere. This young man is the eighth generation born in this country. We did not emigrate from anywhere. We built this country."

The "young man" is Harris' tow-headed son, who was scampering around. Ironically, Harris caught grief in 2006 when it was revealed he had asked a judge to cut his child support payments then plowed $100,000 of his own dough into his campaign.

But the clincher was Harris' self-made profile on NewSaxon.org, the MySpace for neo-Nazis, run by the National Socialist Movement. You know, the guys who just paraded down Washington Street to the state Capitol carrying swastikas and decrying immigrants and Jews.

On the "online community for whites by whites," Harris went by the handle "freethinkerseeking" and addressed members of the site as "my brothers and sisters." Posted were a photo and bio, in which he bragged about having graduate degrees and being a "highly intelligent" member of the high-IQ Mensa and Triple 9 societies. He also notes that he is of "pure Aryan blood stock."

Mr. Genius' "friends" included Ready and other neo-Nazis, with whom he communicated via the site. At one point, Ready complained that Harris' phone message box was full and instructed him to clear some space in the message box "so I can tell ya where to meet."

In Harris' photo section, there were snapshots of his girlfriends, one of whom is nearly naked, his dog "Tosco the Belgium wonder dog," and (creepily) a shirtless boy sporting a Mohawk, with the caption, "My adorable son, 100 percent Aryan."

I couldn't get in touch with Harris by phone so I went to the Scottsdale law office where he works. He wouldn't come to the front desk.

I thought I would run into him when I covered the November 7 NSM demo on the Capitol lawn, but he wasn't there. But at a recent anti-amnesty tea party at the same location, I spotted him. Though Ready was there, carrying a cloth portrait of Hitler, Harris didn't speak with him. As was leaving, I asked about his NewSaxon account.

Harris denied he was a neo-Nazi, describing NewSaxon as a "social-networking site." He claimed not to know NewSaxon was sponsored by the National Socialist Movement and said he hadn't noticed all the swastikas. I then wondered why he had referred to his son as "100 percent Aryan."

"He is [100 percent Aryan]," he replied, following up with the non-sequitur, "I look at it as white people's civil rights that have been neglected for so long."

Huh? And this dude supposedly has an MBA from Pepperdine University?

Later, via phone, he admitted to being in Riverside at the NSM demo, but only as an "observer" to document "civil rights violations." He repeatedly said he had not been on the front lines, that he was not an NSM member, and was not a neo-Nazi or Nazi sympathizer.

As for the picnic photo with NSM members, swastika flags, and sieg heils?

"It was a group photo," he said. "They had a barbecue afterward. I was invited to it. J.T. Ready was my ride there and back. That was it."

Harris told me that he had taken the profile down after I confronted him about it, and hadn't been on the site for months. As for Ready, Harris said he was a "good guy," with whom he sometimes had strong disagreements.

In the future, Harris said, he will be careful about who he associates with, and that the trip to Riverside was an "eye-opener."

"There are some very scary people out there, bro," he told me, not wanting to give additional details.

Harris also complained that he went to the Riverside "under false pretenses."

I can't get inside Harris' head to figure out why someone who claims to be such a brainiac would attend a neo-Nazi rally, hang out with the most notorious brown-shirt in the state, and post a NewSaxon account with a photo of his tyke on it.

One thing's for sure: Warren Buffett the guy is not.

BLUE BOY

The twin towns of Pine and Strawberry, just outside of Payson, are surrounded by the breathtaking beauty of the Mogollon Rim, a mountainous shelf of rock that seems to encircle and embrace the piney area.

But like the burg in the David Lynch flick Blue Velvet or his TV show Twin Peaks, the tranquility of the area masks disturbing tendencies. That's what I discovered when I drove up to the Pine-Strawberry Elementary School to take a look at a not-yet-complete mural by Phoenix artist Francisco Garcia.

One side of the single-story school is covered with outlines of images, some finished, some not. There's a brown buffalo, the school's mascot. Musicians. Kids playing baseball. And in the far left corner, there's a rustic cabin that represents a historic structure, a one-room schoolhouse that's purportedly the oldest schoolhouse in Arizona.

However, that schoolhouse was not always part of Garcia's mural. At the behest of the Principal Mike Clark and school board members such as Diane Roeder, Garcia painted over the original image of an African-American boy in a baseball cap. Garcia had made the boy blue and had planned to paint the other faces depicted in the mural other colors.

Garcia, a sophomore in art and Chicano studies at Phoenix College and recipient of the college's Eric Fischl Vanguard Scholarship and the Eric Fischl Award of Merit, explained that Clark and Roeder began getting heat from locals as soon as the blue boy went up. So Garcia was asked to paint over the boy with something "less controversial."

"I was shocked. It's a kid," Garcia told me on the car ride to Pine. "And he's not even black; he's blue. Then [they] asked me if I can change the features. This made me mad as an artist because I worked on it all day. And it was approved. Once you approve an image it's done."

Garcia said his initial sketch for the mural, created after a workshop he conducted with some of the 135 students who attend the school, included an image of Martin Luther King Jr. He said he was told that the kids could not relate to MLK. So he came up with other images, including the blue boy, that were approved by Principal Clark, he said.

Clark denied during a phone conversation that he had approved the blue boy, and he could not recall whether Garcia's initial sketch included an image of Martin Luther King Jr. But his comments in e-mails that Garcia saved, and in a conversation Garcia taped (unbeknownst to others present) of a meeting with Roeder and Clark, are eyebrow-raising.

In one e-mail, Clark outlined some of the comments he had received from the community, including a fairly reasonable one: "The gun the Transformer is holding must be deleted."

The principal also said, "The mural overall needs more of a country flavor to it. We live in the country/mountains, not Phoenix.

"[There are] some questions on why an African-American boy is depicted so prominently," Clark wrote. "This is not a racial comment; it's just that there are no African-American students attending Pine-Strawberry School."

(Clark admitted to me that there is one African-American child in the school, as well as a few Hispanic kids. Otherwise, he said the small student body was mostly Anglo.)

"Faces need to be less ethnic," Clark told Garcia. "Again, not a racial thing. The reality of our community is that the community [is] 95 [percent] Anglo."

In the digital recording of Garcia's meeting with Roeder and Clark, similar issues came up. Such surreptitious recordings are legal in Arizona, as long as one party knows it is being taped. Garcia told me he decided to make the recording after things started getting "crazy."

During the meeting, Clark noted that the mural had become "a political issue," and he described getting constant phone calls and critical community members showing up at the school.

"I don't even apologize," Clark said at one point. "I should have foreseen this happening."

When Clark stepped out of the room for a moment, Roeder focused on the image of the blue boy, which was one of several images from photos that Garcia submitted after the first mural sketch was rejected.

"I know Mike okayed those photos," Roeder told Garcia. "I don't know why. I didn't see that photo."

Earlier, Roeder expressed the belief that it was because Garcia had finished the blue boy first, which angered residents and parents.

"I feel like if you had finished the buffalo face [first]," she said, "or if you had finished anything else on that mural, then it wouldn't have been a problem. But you finished the face in the corner [the blue boy].

"We don't really have an ethnic background here," she said, apologetically. "And [we talked about how] we needed people to be more Caucasian. So the one thing you finished has raised holy hell here. I can't even tell you how much Mike and I have been dealing with. It's just unbelievable."

For his part, Garcia told the pair that he wanted to work with them. "I'd be willing to change whatever it takes," he told them.

The young muralist was also interested in getting paid the money he was owed. He had a contract with a local civic organization called Take Pride, which was funding the art to the tune of $4,000. Garcia had received the initial payment of $1,500, but the rest was not forthcoming.

Still, Garcia painted the old schoolhouse over the blue boy. Roeder later wrote to Garcia via e-mail that the school board "voted not to continue at this time, leaving the buffalo [and] painting the rest of the wall back to the original color."

"Also," she let him know, "Take Pride will not be paying any additional funds."

A representative from Take Pride did not return my calls asking for comment. I did speak with Clark and Roeder. Both said they had seen Garcia's portfolio, which has a decidedly hip-hop flair.

Garcia is a former graff artist and regularly displays his wares at First Fridays in downtown Phoenix, which is where I met him and heard about his travails with the Pine-Strawberry school district. He regularly uses spray paint and acrylics in his work, as he did for the Pine-Strawberry mural.

"What he put on the building was not okay with our community," Roeder told me. "It looked kind of graffiti-ish, like it should be in a more urban community. We're up in the woods, and we wanted something that had sort of our feel."

She denied that the blue boy had been a sticking point. She also faulted Garcia for not giving the school an outline "in a timely manner" and for not showing up when he was expected.

Garcia explained that they wanted him to come by on a Thursday, but he could make it up there only on a Friday, and stayed over 'til Saturday. He said he wanted to work with the school kids on the mural, but that didn't happen, so he ended up bringing assistants to help him with the project.

Pressed on his recollection of events, Clark said he was unsure of whether he had seen the photo of the African-American kid from which Garcia worked. He said he did not think there was anything racist in the objection to the blue boy, just that it didn't fit the surroundings. I asked him what it was specifically about the blue boy that brought down the ire of the community.

"I don't know," he said, after a pause. "Other than perhaps it looked more like — with the manner of dress, the hat and stuff . . . not anything you see up in this neck of the woods. There are mostly cowboys up here and rural people."

What I don't get is, if the school wanted some kind of lame Davy Crockett mess on its wall, why hire a hip-hop-style muralist from Phoenix? They should've checked out the "art" in Old Town Scottsdale, instead.

Garcia is obviously not happy with the outcome, particularly with not getting paid, even after being flexible in painting over the African-American kid, which ran counter to his principles.

"I believe that they should have different kids on the mural," he told me. "They're keeping their kids ignorant. So when they get out of Payson or Pine, they're going to be afraid of other cultures."

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22 comments
Teo Buneo
Teo Buneo

Wow, such small minded racism emanating from that beautiful spot in the woods below the rim. Their small minded red-necks think they are the end all, be all of AmeriKKKa! The superintendent of public instruction must remove all such school administrators who demonstrate such outrageous racism or sheer cowardice in the face of blatant racism. The artist has a signed contract that can be legally enforced, if he has to go to court to collect his payment the final bill for Pine/Strawberry will be very much larger. Not to mention the loss of tourist dollars from the enlightened majority of Americans who want no contact with such disgusting examples of humanity cowering in the cracks and crevices of the Mogollon Rim hiding from the twenty-first century!

Jean Sipes
Jean Sipes

It is really sad when an article like "Blue Boy" comes along. It's yet another painful reminder that we live in a racist state. Although racism is a problem nation-wide it is more blatant here than anywhere else I have lived. I had thought of moving and opening a business in northern Arizona when I retire, but now I have my doubts. I have African American ancestry although for the most part I am white. I have heard alot of locals make crude jokes or statements about black people;sometimes it's very hard to bite my tounge.

I am now opting for California.

Katie
Katie

Ya just don't quit do you. Pining for justice is suck a bigot himself he only wants to use the racist card like it's water. I find it so funny that you have a problem with an anglo not wanting MLK on the side of a school building. Are children are not ignorant they simple are not african-american and the very few who are are wonderful They might not dress like little gangsters or talk in a slang but they are great kids. Unlike you they don't see color. They have all learned about MLK he just not their hero, he yours.Just like any polatician MLK wasn't perfect either, he had his down fall, he made stupid mistakes. Why do you have such a problem with that? This artist is good at what he does. The project was for him to incorporate the kids art into the side of the school building. He got ticked because MLK was not suppose to be apart of it neither was Boy Blue. He and the reporter saw an opportunity to cause conflict. Shame on both of you. How sick it is to cause so much grief over something so silly. I would love to hear someone definition of a hick town. Don't forget we do have some hispanics and africa-americans that lives hear and what you call us is what you call them.

By the way, why don't you read Wise ass latina commets about this town and look at a map. I wouldn't blame them for looking at tapes after the commets that were made.

Pining4Justice
Pining4Justice

James says: "I beleive that the artist and the writer has turned this into a racial issue to sell paper and t-shirts."

Why shouldn't the artist kid try to make a buck after your racist hillbilly town stiffed him for the work he did? Hell, I'd buy one, and drive up to figgin Pine just to walk around town with it on.

You inbreeds just do not get it. "Unfortunately little boy blue has really nothing to do with the history of this town nor does MLK." MLK has nothing to do with your town? Tell that to the few brown and black people who live there, you idiot.

Sorry, you don't get to establish a white homeland in Pine-Strawberry. Interesting that you aim a threat at the wise ass Latina. If she shows up in your hick backwater again, what are you gonna do, lynch her?

James
James

Yo, wise ass latino, there is no senic route from Payson to Pinetop that goes through Pine. Look at your map. My Wife and I both lived in the phoenix area and were educated there as well. Before you make all the hick town commets about this well established town, let me remind you that many of us work in Phoenix too. So we might rub of on you.I think this artist should have know his subject before he went to work on this mural. This town has alot of great history and none of that was portrayed in the mural. Unfortunately little boy blue has really nothing to do with the history of this town nor does MLK. We do like taking that monday off, so thanks! I beleive that the artist and the writer has turned this into a racial issue to sell paper and t-shirts (so says the artical dated Nov. 19th). That's what I call irresponsible reporting. Are children are very well educated and well rounded. So before you jump to any conclusions you should come and see what your bitchin about. If we don't like you it won't be because of the ethenic back round it will be because your attitude sucks.

P.S. Wise ass latina, they are checking the tapes right now.

Katie
Katie

So let me get this straight, I don't want this beautiful little town to look like the hood so that makes me and everyone in this town racist and I'm not the one who complained about it. I got news for you, most of us moved here from the valley so if your under some weird impression that we all don't have friends from different walks of life guess again. People are different, people like different things, they like different colors, shape and size. I don't beleive that style looks good in this town. I applaud Mr. Clark, he obviously saw talent in this guy and thought he'd give him a chance. It didn't work out, so what. Get over it. People use the racist card way to much. I have noticed people who do, are usually the racist one trying to cause problems. I will be happy to come down to Phoenix and paint a big huge white kid with a cowboy hat on the side of your schools anytime you like, you let me know how well that goes over for ya. The sad thing is that when you paint over it I wouldn't call you racist.

gerald barnes
gerald barnes

>> Gerald Barnes 11/20/09 10:39 AM >>> It is too white for me -or is this for real . After reading aboutBlue Boy, i did not think those people would show there true colors, butI am glad they did, I wont be spending any money in that area ofArizona. It is 2009 and those kids can not relate to MLK. You peopleare from the past , you people do not believe in diversity. You peoplewho suppose to be educated, enlighten ,or do light crosses,makes mewonder where did you get your education from. Because believe me, youpeople forgot the most important element the kids.Oh this is not aracial comment. this from barnes5353@yahoo.com

HiFructose
HiFructose

The answer to your question is, yes, that would be the party taping. As for a reasonable expectation of privacy, the law is very specific. Here it is:

"13-3019. Surreptitious photographing, videotaping, filming or digitally recording or viewing; exemptions; classification; definitionsA. It is unlawful for any person to knowingly photograph, videotape, film, digitally record or by any other means secretly view, with or without a device, another person without that person's consent under either of the following circumstances:1. In a restroom, bathroom, locker room, bedroom or other location where the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy and the person is urinating, defecating, dressing, undressing, nude or involved in sexual intercourse or sexual contact."

Are you suggesting that the principal, that woman and Garcia were naked during their meeting?

Dee
Dee

Taping is legal as long as one party knows? Would that be the person taping? The rule is no consent is necessary if there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. I would imagine a conference in the principal's office with the door closed would be an expectation of privacy. And, if the first thing painted on a predominately Latino or Black school was a gigantic white kid, it would raise holy hell in THAT community. Phoenix has as many racists per capita as Pine and Strawberry. Phoenix racists come from a wider variety of ethnicities, however. There's more to the story here than the slanted reporting encompasses - the reporter so afraid to let go of that "racist" label. As an artist, Mr. Garcia needs to learn that old maxim: The one who pays the piper calls the tune. Mr. Garcia's is an outstanding artist. Perhaps he's a bit of a bully, liar, and racist, as well.

Wise Ass Latina
Wise Ass Latina

For the writer to says, "I invite you to visit ..." NO THANKS. I did visit while driving through some scenic roads on my way to Payson and then to Pinetop.

I stopped at a gas station and went inside to grab a soda and the stares I got from the locals were amazing as if to say; what are you doing here?

Part of me felt terrible and unwelcome there. Another part of me wanted to shout out "Dang, This place is way better than the projects in da hood - I can't wait to move here. Hi, looks like me and my 7 kids will be part of your hood soon!

I wound up not saying it, though I wonder what would of happened if I did. They probably would of thought their Obama nightmare came true. Ha ha.

Visit? No thanks, keep your hillbilly little hick town and your close minded people to stay ignorant in their caves. Oh, and by the way... for that guy at the register who kept staring at me while I was at the store; I didn't steal anything.

Joe Curwen
Joe Curwen

Looks like the good burghers of Pine / Strawberry don't know much about art. They do know what they like, though: white people.

Myndi
Myndi

Whoa, whoa WHOA everyone - I think there are some clear misunderstandings here. I live here have raised 2 girls here both whom attended Pine Strawberry for 10 years Pre - 8. My youngest is VP of the Pine Strawberry Student Council and was a part of and excited about the mural. My oldest is a firefighter and in college. The intent of this project was to take art provided by the students and tranlate it into a mural for the school - an awesome idea. Apparently a handful of adults had a problem with some of the images. I only saw it in partial and was not about to pass any judgement until it was done. We are a primarily anglo community and very small town - but racist, NO! Unprepared for the real world? No. Our children are as prepared as any can with the parenting available to them. Their education is excellent. Two of the boys raised here now serve in the Marines and one is on active duty in Afganistan. Some of our "town kids" have gone on to jobs in Washington and attended Universities all over the world. It's sad that Mr. Garcia and our School had a falling out - I'm sure it will be resolved in a satisfactory manner. But let's not pass judgement on one story when you've not lived here, cried with us, laughed with us and gotten to know us. I'd invite you all to visit Pine-Strawberry we are a great community!

Unfuckinbelievable
Unfuckinbelievable

"He said he was told that the kids could not relate to MLK." WTF? That's your job as educators, to TEACH the kids about Martin Luther King. Amazing. What a dumb little hick town. Racist redneck dipshits.

Kathi
Kathi

I have to say this is a horrible story. I have had the pleasure of meeting Francisco and viewing his work, and it's incredible. The people of Strawberry really do not know what they are missing and it's thier loss.

Joseph P.
Joseph P.

Glad the article was written.Is there a way I can see the entire mural?

All
All

Thats ignorant of them to making him paint over the blue boy they should of known who they were hiring for the mural before hand if they wanted some damm cowboy painting since there in a "rural area" hire somebody that paints cowboys they want say is not racist ,but thats exactly what it is...

elenuf!
elenuf!

I think those people are racist, and should pay the artist what he worked for, its not his fault that the people didnt like it. After all the images were approved by the principal!!

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen

Stephen, This was another eye-opener. Is there any place in Arizona where we can get away from thus bigotry and racism. Guess TommyC hit the nail on the head.

Black Gold
Black Gold

So, jazzbo, just what is "ugly" about the image? The fact that it's a black child? I have never seen a more obvious example of racism. What would you think, jazzbo, if a mostly black school decided to paint out a white kid? Were that to happen, Fox news would lead with it. Rush Limbaugh would be outraged. Glenn Beck would have a field day. This child is beautiful, as are all children, no matter their color or where they live.

TommyC
TommyC

Chris, really, concentrate on what's happening in Georgia. We don't need your horseshit here.

I have to agree with Mr. Garcia. Once the kids leave Pine there's a whole new world out there and most of them are not white anymore. I think the community should embrace the idea of preparing their children for life as adults. But, they are probably still buying chewing tobacco for the boys when they reach the age of ten. The girls, of course, get their first child at 14 or so... and many times the baby looks just like dear old Dad.... I wonder why that is..

jazzbo13
jazzbo13

95% Anglo. Sounds like a great place that doesn't want ugly urban images painted on it's buildings. Why not just organize local talent without bringing outside agitators?

Chrislongski
Chrislongski

Yeah, lemons: There IS a victim under every rock if you look hard enough...

This week's victim report.

 
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