October 29, 2009 | 11:15pm
Is Sheriff Joe "America's Toughest Sheriff," or "America's Biggest Wimp"? That's what I can't help wondering as I read this latest press release from his PR staff. It lamely attempts to link the folks who protest Joe almost daily outside downtown Phoenix's Wells Fargo Building -- where Arpaio keeps two floors of ultra-expensive executive offices -- to Lou Dobbs' recent report that a gun was fired outside his house three weeks ago.
"The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office security detail is re-examining the level and methods of security it provides to Sheriff Joe Arpaio," reads the statement, "in light of news coming out of New York City today that CNN TV host Lou Dobbs may have been the target of pro-illegal immigration activists when his New Jersey home was shot at three weeks ago."
Dobbs related the tale of the gunshot on his radio show and suggested that it had to do with the "atmosphere" created by critics of his extremist, nativist views. Was this unknown shooter was motivated by hatred of his persistent brown-bashing? The New Jersey State Police are investigating. As there's a campaign by Latino activists to remove Dobbs from CNN, this incident comes at a good time for Dobbs to paint himself in a sympathetic light for his bigoted fans.
What does a random gunshot in New Jersey have to do with Sheriff Joe? Nada. Zip. Zilch. But, all the same, Joe wants to piggybank on it, and have us buy the hooey that his security team is really worried about this, that somehow he might be "targeted" by Latinos, even though no one yet knows who fired this random shot at Dobbs' residence.
"Sheriff Arpaio and Lou Dobbs were called the `two most unpopular figures with millions of American Latinos,'" states the release, "on national television by Fox talk show host Geraldo Rivera this past Saturday, October 24th."
Actually, that quote is a little off. Rivera actually called Joe, "With the exception of CNN's Lou Dobbs...for millions of American Latinos, the most unpopular person in this country..." But close enough, I reckon. Still, um, so what? I thought Joe was, like, the "Toughest Sheriff in America," or something. Apparently, Sheriff Tough Guy is spooked by a random gunshot that hit no one 3,000 miles away.
Even more absurd is the suggestion that the people who peacefully protest outside Wells Fargo -- members of civil rights activist Salvador Reza's Puente Movement -- will somehow inspire an act of violence against our scaredy-cat sheriff.
"Arpaio's many national television and newspaper interviews have resulted in daily protests by local open borders supporters," the statement says. "They brandish signs and banners, some even picturing Lou Dobbs and Sheriff Arpaio as fellow KKK members in front of the Sheriff's downtown offices. Such depictions serve to inflame Arpaio's critics."
Apparently, Joe and his minions have a problem with the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But you knew that already. And in any case, it was on Lou Dobbs' show that Arpaio said it was "an honor" to be called KKK. The "depictions" mentioned, if accurately described, have a valid political point.
I called Reza for a response. He told me that he and his fellow activists are dedicated to the principles of non-violent protest.
"We have an agreement of non-violence," Reza explained, "that everybody who participates has to accept. We follow the teachings of Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi. We do not participate in violent acts, period."
Rather, it's Arpaio who's inflaming racial discord, countered Reza.
"Sheriff Joe is trying to escape being tied to the neo-Nazi, anti-immigrant rally that's happening in Phoenix on November 7," Reza insisted, "and the state of hate that he's created in Arizona."
This is true. Arpaio has many neo-Nazi supporters, as was evidenced when he cozied up to them back on May 2. At that time, they showed up with the nativists as a counter demonstration to Reza's march to the jails, led by rocker Zack de la Rocha. Arpaio stopped for a photo op with the neo-Nazis, and even advised them on how far away the marchers were.
Arpaio has spoken in front of several extremist nativist groups, here in Phoenix and elsewhere. And he has strong ties to United for a Sovereign America, the most vicious nativist organization in the Valley. During the course of its existence, U.S.A. has accepted neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremists into its meetings and events. Arpaio has spoken at some of these meetings with such extremists present.
Arpaio is the hatemonger, here. This effort by his PR flacks to flip the script is as plain as the varicose veins on Arpaio's bulbous schnozz.
It's not the first time Arpaio's tried to manufacture phony death threats against himself. A couple of years ago, he and his security team chased a bogus conspiracy supposedly involving -- laughably -- Latino activist Elias Bermudez, the Minutemen, and the Mexican Mafia. The MCSO spent half a million dollars running down this risible yarn spouted by a paid informant who later disappeared.
Then of course, there was the case of James Saville, the ex-con Arpaio's team framed for a phony murder plot against the sheriff. Saville beat the rap, sued the sheriff and the county, and scored a $1.1 million settlement.
In his truth-challenged 2008 tome Joe's Law, Arpaio claimed that, "So I've had a long list of would-be assassins appear on my metaphorical doorstep."
In reality, there has never been any evidence of a serious murder plot against Arpaio. How do I know? When I ran down the "facts" given in the 2008 book, I asked the MCSO for evidence of any conspiracies against Joe. The MCSO gave me a box of docs that revealed nothing more than a bunch of penny ante stuff -- prank phone calls, Internet threats and the like. Joe would love for someone to seriously plot against his person. But as far as anyone's aware, it's never happened.