Neo-Nazis and Extreme Right-Wingers Love Joe Arpaio, and Theres Evidence that the MCSO Keeps Them Close
Strapped with a sidearm, carrying an Arizona flag, and wearing a golf cap and ink-black sunglasses, the neo-Nazi insisted that he not be referred to as a Nazi of any sort. "I'm a National Socialist!" he declared proudly.
Though he would reveal his name only as "Harry," this particular neo-Nazi is known as "Vandal" on his Yahoo profile, where he lists late white supremacist leader William Pierce's racist, dystopian novel The Turner Diaries and Tenney Davis' The Chemistry of Powder and Explosives as two of his favorite books. Vandal waited patiently on the sidewalk near Tent City on May 2 as thousands of marchers approached Joe Arpaio's vast incarceration complex to protest the 287(g) program that empowers the sheriff to enforce federal immigration law.
More polite than his nativist compatriots in groups such as United for a Sovereign America and Riders Against Illegal Aliens, Vandal was just as virulently committed to Arpaio and his anti-immigration policies as his heavy-handed colleagues.
The issue, he claimed, is that the United States is giving "preferential treatment" to Mexican immigrants over American citizens.
Asked whether he thought the sheriff wanted him and a gaggle of, well, neo-Nazis confronting anti-Joe protesters in the "Walk for Respect," Vandal said: "He needs our support."
Standing nearby was J.T. Ready, ex-Mesa City Council candidate, former Republican precinct committeeman, and erstwhile associate of State Senator Russell Pearce. Ready was waving a huge Confederate flag and wiping imaginary "Mexcrement," as he called it, onto a real Mexican tricolor on the ground.
Ready is the most infamous neo-Nazi in Maricopa County, known for handing out anti-Semitic screeds at Republican Party functions, for his activism in anti-immigration circles, and for his occasional run-ins with law enforcement, which have included getting arrested in 2007 for driving with fictitious plates on his black Chevy Impala and possessing a pre-emption emitter, which allows him to bypass red lights. Also in his car at the time were a 9-millimeter Beretta, white-power literature, and binoculars.
"Obama's not my president," Ready told New Times as he flitted from topic to topic, waiting with Vandal for the arrival of the marchers. "He's ZOG's president."
ZOG is neo-Nazi shorthand for Zionist Occupation Government, the fictitious Jewish conspiracy that some neo-Nazis believe controls the United States. Ready continued his wide-ranging diatribe, segueing not very subtly into why he believes pogroms against Jews in Europe's past were a good thing.
"They [had] to expel an alien that's preying upon them. [They were] parasites," said Ready, a former Marine who was twice court-martialed and expelled from the military with a bad-conduct discharge. "C'mon, that's healthy. It's only when you're unhealthy that you've got parasites on you."
When New Times asked Ready whether he hated all Mexicans, he offered another dehumanizing metaphor: "I don't hate all of anything. I don't hate all scorpions, but I wouldn't want them crawling around in my house."
Ready then bragged about how Sheriff Arpaio had stopped by earlier in the day, said hello, and even called him by name. Another neo-Nazi, using the handle "Vito Lombardi," excitedly related how a photo was taken of him and his hero, Arpaio.
The conversation was cut short by the anti-Arpaio demonstrators, led by rock musician Zack de la Rocha, who were making their way east on Durango Street, from 35th Avenue toward Tent City.
The neo-Nazis were the first to encounter the mostly Hispanic protesters, saluting them with Nazi sieg heils, enraging them with Mexican flag-stomping, and haranguing them with cries of "scum," "murderers," and "rapists."
The Phoenix Police Department was out in full force to make sure violence didn't erupt between the neo-Nazis and nativists — many of whom displayed firearms — on one side of the street and the pro-immigration crowd on the other.
Still, the ugliness was pervasive, whether it was U.S.A. members holding placards linking Mexicans to diseases such as swine flu (many in the pro-Joe crowd wore surgical masks), or Vito Lombardi and J.T. Ready's teaming up to bait a local musician because they believed him to be Jewish.
After the march, it was revealed through an image posted on the white supremacist message board Stormfront.org that the neo-Nazi calling himself Lombardi really had scored his fanboy snapshot with Joe Arpaio. Indeed, the sheriff had stopped beside the neo-Nazis in an unmarked black sedan before the throng of anti-MCSO protesters arrived.
Captured on video and posted on YouTube (view here) by nativist Lynne Stevens (known online as "Jackie40d"), the sheriff speaks with the neo-Nazis briefly, allows them to take photos, and even gives them a little intelligence on the marchers.
The marchers "won't be here for an hour," he informs them in the video, which has now been viewed more than 800 times on Stevens' rarely watched YouTube channel.
Arpaio's flirtation with the fascists that day could be written off as a politically incorrect flub — if it were not for his pattern of courting extremist nativists over the past four years. It's the natural result of Arpaio's Johnny-come-lately stand on illegal immigration, his immigration sweeps (during which claims of racial profiling have been rampant), and his Archie Bunker-like attitude regarding racial and ethnic issues wrapped up in the immigration debate.
For instance, take Arpaio's now-infamous statement (view here) on a November 2007 episode of Lou Dobbs' CNN show that it was an "honor" to be called a KKK member. The clip has long since gone viral, giving ammunition to those who believe Arpaio to be an unrepentant bigot.
Yet the sheriff's involvement with extreme hate groups is not incidental. The relationship has been prolonged and intentional, arguably helping him get re-elected last year in a county where much of the electorate is hostile toward Mexican immigrants.
Since 2007, Arpaio has appeared at nativist events, accepted awards from groups such as the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, welcomed U.S.A. leader Rusty Childress into his immigration sweep headquarters, spoken at nativist meetings frequented by neo-Nazis, and used petitions circulated by extremists to justify his immigration dragnets.
Also troubling are indications that the MCSO, in some cases, instructs U.S.A. through member Barb Heller, who has bragged about her contacts with the Sheriff's Office to anyone who will listen, and who apparently receives instruction and advice on how U.S.A. should handle itself.
In the light of Arpaio's love affair with nativist groups, his photo with a neo-Nazi seems almost inevitable. But the implications of it are disturbing.
The presence of neo-Nazis at the march and Arpaio's snapshot with Lombardi were first reported by New Times on one of the newspaper's blogs. NBC affiliate Channel 12 later picked up on a YouTube video of Ready and Lombardi flipping (view here) sieg heils that New Times had already posted.
After seeing the video and photo, Arizona Anti-Defamation League director Bill Straus called on Arpaio to distance himself from neo-Nazis.
"The fact that it's posted on Stormfront is enough for Arpaio to say, 'Hey, I'm not looking for support from neo-Nazis,'" Straus told New Times of the Arpaio-Lombardi snapshot.
But the sheriff has yet to condemn his National Socialist supporters. All the MCSO public-relations team could muster was this lukewarm defense of their boss to Channel 12:
"It is not the sheriff's position to discourage groups on either side from exercising their rights. Sheriff Arpaio does not have any control over who shows up to these public protests."
A couple of days later, another jackboot dropped. New Times discovered that the National Socialist Movement member who scored the sweetheart pic with Arpaio was Thomas Vito Coletto, who was implicated in what some thought was a "Columbine copycat" plot against Coletto's high school, Desert Mountain, in 2007. Coletto and four others were collared for burglarizing chemicals such as ammonium nitrate, the same compound used by Timothy McVeigh in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
Coletto, now 19, ultimately pleaded guilty to criminal damage in a 2008 deal with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, which dropped the burglary charge against him. He received two years' probation and a hefty fine.
The Scottsdale teen claims the incident was merely high school shenanigans, misinterpreted by the authorities in the paranoia over the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech. However, a YouTube video of and by Coletto showing him using homemade explosives in an infantile effort to re-create the World War II experiences of his grandfather (who, ironically, fought the Nazis in Europe) is particularly eyebrow-raising in light of Coletto's neo-Nazi affiliations. (Coletto removed the video after New Times mentioned it in a blog post.)
This May 2 dalliance with Coletto and J.T. Ready wasn't the first time Arpaio has associated with the neo-Nazis. In March 2008, the sheriff spoke before a United for a Sovereign America meeting at a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Sunnyslope, where U.S.A. affiliate Elton Hall was in attendance. Hall, 75, is a legend in Arizona neo-Nazi circles, venerated by racist skinheads for his work as an organizer for George Lincoln Rockwell's American Nazi Party in the 1960s.
Hall has been around so long that he's actually mentioned in scholarly tomes about American neo-Nazis, yet U.S.A. members embraced him as a "patriot," a term they used to describe him in one of the organization's official statements. Hall has kept vigil with other U.S.A. protesters at armed demonstrations outside civil rights leader Salvador Reza's Macehualli Day Labor Center in north Phoenix. For more than a year, U.S.A. has protested at the center, which gives day laborers a place to wait for jobs without trespassing on other businesses' properties.
New Times exposed the septuagenarian storm trooper's participation in U.S.A. activities in February 2008, shortly after Hall was injured in a two-car collision as he picketed near the Macehualli center. He recovered in time to hear Arpaio speak at the VFW post on March 20.
If Arpaio could claim ignorance about Hall before the VFW appearance, the sheriff could not do so afterward. Following a press conference on March 21 to announce an anti-immigration sweep in the area of Thomas Road and 32nd Street, New Times confronted Arpaio about his ties to U.S.A. and about U.S.A.'s accepting neo-Nazis into its fold.
J.T. Ready frequented U.S.A. meetings when they were held at the Kia dealership Childress once owned on West Camelback Road in Phoenix. And Childress gave the maximum amount, $370, to Ready's 2006 Mesa City Council bid, as did Aron Mezo, Childress' partner in the now-defunct Scottsdale nightclub E4. Childress also employed Ready as a bouncer at the club, during the time Ready was running for office.
Ready's neo-Nazi leanings were first detailed by New Times in 2007 blog and column items discussing his Web page on NewSaxon.org, a social networking site "for whites, by whites," where Ready maintains a blog under the handle "Viking Son" and makes such anti-Semitic statements as, "The Jew is a two-legged cancer which corrupts and putrefies all that is natural and noble upon this Earth." But if there were any doubts about Ready's views remaining, he eliminated them by traveling to Omaha, Nebraska, for a rally sponsored by the National Socialist Movement on September 1, 2007. There, Ready was captured in photographs standing shoulder to shoulder with swastika-wearing brownshirts.
But back to the sheriff's March 21 press conference, which occurred inside a taped-off area that served as Arpaio's provisional headquarters for the anti-immigrant sweep. All anti-Arpaio protesters and U.S.A. counter-protesters remained outside the yellow tape, save for one: Rusty Childress.
Pressed about Childress' presence in the inner sanctum, Arpaio responded by saying Childress is "a good guy."
Arpaio was asked, "You don't have any problem with him accepting neo-Nazis into his ranks?"
The sheriff replied, "I have no problem. You know what? I talk to everybody. I even talk to the demonstrators."
"Would you talk to the Klan?" New Times asked.
"I talk to the inmates. I talk to everybody. I'm the sheriff for everybody," he responded, glibly.
If neo-Nazis did not give Arpaio pause, their presence later led to a mini-rebellion in U.S.A.'s ranks, with Republican activist and Vietnam veteran Bob Haran and anti-immigrant activist Anna Gaines walking out of an April 10 meeting where Hall was present.
Gaines accused Hall of hurting the group's image and suggested he remove himself from U.S.A. Hall was defiant, and the meeting turned into a shouting match. Hall remained, while acknowledging his National Socialist beliefs and his continuing activism as a neo-Nazi.
A week later, Hall offered the group an out: He would officially "step down" from U.S.A. yet still participate in some of its events. U.S.A. accepted his proposal, and Hall has been at subsequent U.S.A. demonstrations since last April. For instance, he was present at U.S.A.'s counter-demonstration to the February 28 anti-Arpaio march, which drew 5,000 marchers to downtown Phoenix. Like the smaller May 2 Walk for Respect, it was led by Rage Against the Machine/One Day as a Lion frontman Zack de la Rocha.
Aside from speaking to a group with neo-Nazi ties, Arpaio has also served as a "rallying point" for white supremacists, in the words of Arizona ADL director Straus. For instance, on the white nationalist site Stormfront.org, whole discussion strings are devoted to Joe Arpaio's so-called patriotic actions.
"I love to see a white man stand up for himself," wrote one Stormfront member recently under the handle "direct action."
In the same thread, a Stormfronter from Arizona named "DesertFox63" stated, "Sheriff Joe is my man, yes he is. I voted for him all 5 times."
As with neo-Nazis counter-protesting the Walk for Respect, Arpaio has never disavowed support from the racist right. And such radicals have flocked to demonstrations supporting him.
In late 2007, M.D. Pruitt's furniture store became a tinderbox as Pruitt's owner Roger Sensing hired off-duty MCSO deputies to patrol his property and keep away day laborers seeking work from motorists.
The MCSO not only guarded Sensing's lot, it scoured the area, stopping day laborers and drivers when possible, looking for illegal immigrants to arrest. Under the leadership of Salvador Reza, weekend protests of Sensing's business commenced, and counter-protesters from U.S.A. and other nativist groups showed up to oppose Reza's action. By the end of the year, the demonstrations and counter-demonstrations were drawing hundreds of activists from both sides. The pro-Arpaio supporters were armed with guns, pepper spray, and collapsible batons.
Several neo-Nazis joined the nativist side, including Scott Hume (a.k.a. Shawn Hughes), the "acting unit leader" of the Phoenix chapter of the National Socialist Movement. (Hume was outed by New Times during coverage of the protests.)
Also present were newbie skinhead Damon Ashenfelter and longtime local neo-Nazi Jerry Harbin, among others. The situation was tense, with nativist demonstrators stomping on the Mexican flag and both sides jeering each other. Phoenix police eventually separated the protest factions to opposite street corners, but violence seemed imminent for a time.
Arpaio visited Pruitt's on several occasions, treating the furniture store as his personal fiefdom. Occasionally, he ventured out to where the protesters were. The nativist side cheered him like a conquering hero, while the pro-immigration side hissed and booed him. Once, Arpaio walked down the street next to where Salvador Reza's group was lined up on the sidewalk and taunted the crowd. He was accused by some protesters of trying to incite the two groups.
If this was Arpaio's intention, he did not get his wish. By the end of 2007, the Pruitt's protests concluded with a proverbial whimper rather than a bang after owner Roger Sensing agreed not to hire off-duty MCSO deputies. But Pruitt's had given Arpaio a bold, new idea — sweeps to root out illegal immigrants that would continue to draw protesters and get the sheriff's face plastered across the media.
Its neo-Nazi participants aside, United for a Sovereign America has always included a rogues' gallery, accepting various extremists and questionable individuals into its meetings and activities in its ongoing effort to influence the immigration debate in Arizona and beyond.
Past attendees at U.S.A. assemblies have included John Watson, a.k.a. "John the Scot," who claimed to be a member of the White Knights of America, a white separatist group based in Tonopah, and Laine Lawless, a gun-toting pagan from San Francisco known for burning Mexican flags outside Mexican consulates in Phoenix and Tucson.
Scraggly ex-musician "Buffalo" Rick Galeener remains one of the group's most outspoken and active members, despite his pleading guilty in December 2008 for urinating in public in front of a woman and her 2-year-old child near the Macehualli Day Labor Center. Galeener, who is usually armed, regularly refers to non-whites as "monkeys" and maintains a Web site that offers T-shirts with sadistic and sometimes racist messages such as, "Attention Mexico: We Shoot Strays" and "Undocumented Illegal Alien Hunter."
Galeener also once made a vague threat toward U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver on U.S.A.'s Web site, www.immigrationbuzz.com, after Silver issued a temporary order blocking a Cave Creek ordinance against day laborers.
"Nothing is too 'good' for this traitorous judge," opined Galeener. "Remember her name when it comes time to mark an X."
As another example, plus-size erotic masseuse Brandy Baron, one of Sheriff Arpaio's most vocal supporters and a regular at the Macehualli protests, once suggested to videographer and pro-immigration activist Dennis Gilman that Mexicans should be shot as they tried coming over the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.
In retaliation for Salvador Reza's leading the protests at Pruitt's, U.S.A began the daily protests at the Macehualli center, near 25th Street and Bell Road, around the beginning of 2008. At a recent six-year anniversary ceremony for Macehualli, about 50 nativist protesters, in an attempt to disrupt the celebration, hurled obscenities at day laborers and their young children as they entered the center for the event.
On U.S.A.'s Web site, immigrants are portrayed as bringing crime, disease, and social decline. The Web site demonizes Mexicans through regular updates and commentary on current events. The reconquista conspiracy theory, which says Mexico is attempting to take back the Southwest by encouraging illegal immigration, is treated as gospel.
Also on immigrationbuzz.com, you can find video of the late Madeleine Cosman, a racist lecturer known for railing against "anchor babies" (otherwise known as American citizens born to undocumented parents) and proffering false claims that Mexican immigrants were responsible for a rise in leprosy cases. Every crime committed by an illegal immigrant earns headline treatment on U.S.A.'s site. As does every press release from Sheriff Joe.
For its anti-immigrant rhetoric and activism, U.S.A. has been labeled a "nativist extremist" group by the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report magazine. The label means the organization targets "individual immigrants rather than immigration policies." Both Rusty Childress and Buffalo Rick Galeener have been profiled as nativist leaders by the Montgomery, Alabama-based civil rights publication.
Despite its infamy, U.S.A. has drawn visits from such local, far-right luminaries as State Senator Pearce, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, and Arizona GOP Chairman Randy Pullen. But it's Sheriff Arpaio who arguably has the tightest ties to the organization.
Indeed, it was Galeener who instigated Arpaio to bring one of his anti-immigrant sweeps to Bell and Cave Creek roads, near the Macehualli center. Though the center is generally supported by local businesses in the Palomino neighborhood, Galeener was able to find eight businesses, out of hundreds in the busy Bell Road corridor, willing to request an MCSO sweep in writing. The meager support for Galeener from local shops was enough to get the sheriff marching in lockstep with U.S.A.'s agenda.
Not long after the MCSO set up its command center in a parking lot at Bell and Cave Creek Roads on March 27, about 700 anti-Arpaio demonstrators encircled the provisional headquarters, held back by MCSO barricades. About two dozen counter-demonstrators from U.S.A. and the motorcycle group Riders Against Illegal Aliens also showed up. These pro-Arpaio counter-demonstrators received special protection from MCSO deputies while they were there. Both sides threw water bottles and soft-drink cans at each other. At one point, a man with a shotgun slung over his back was arrested by the MCSO after appearing on the scene. Neither side claimed him as one of their own. He seemed to be one of the many disturbed individuals attracted to Arpaio's circus-like sweeps.
During a March 20 address at the Sunnyslope VFW post, Arpaio tipped off U.S.A. that the Bell Road sweep was coming on March 27.
"I appreciate your support," he told the U.S.A. crowd, including neo-Nazi Elton Hall. "You're on the right track. You're doing what you should be doing."
On that night, the crowd was whipped into a fervor when Arpaio informed them that undocumented immigrants were fleeing the state.
"The good news is, all these people are leaving," Arpaio stated. "They're going to other states, or back to Mexico."
The sheriff cemented his status as U.S.A.'s favorite politician with the VFW speech, and anyone speaking out against his policies met with U.S.A.'s wrath.
After Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon denounced Arpaio's racial profiling and links to bigots and neo-Nazis exposed by New Times, some U.S.A. regulars formed a group called American Citizens United, which organized a recall effort against Gordon. The effort was unsuccessful, even though U.S.A. members circulated petitions and drove cars around town pasted with signs demanding Gordon's removal from office.
The leader of the campaign against the mayor was Anna Gaines. Though she had stormed out of the April 10 U.S.A. meeting over the continued presence of neo-Nazi Hall, she was fully backed in her effort to recall Gordon by Rusty Childress and the U.S.A. faithful. Ironically, Gaines was cited on a trespassing charge by local police for gathering recall signatures at a bookstore where Arpaio was signing copies of his "autobiography," Joe's Law. She was later found not guilty of the charge.
Though the recall effort failed, U.S.A. members weren't finished with Gordon. On the afternoon of Sunday, October 26, they took the unusual step of picketing Gordon's residence. Gordon was not at home, but the nativists did manage to spook children at a Halloween party going on at a neighbor's house. One of their signs read: "Phil Gordon, you piece of shit!"
Gordon spokesman Scott Phelps offered a wry analysis after the demonstration:
"You know the saying, 'If you lift a rock, you'll find a snake?' Well, if you lift up a snake, you'll find United for a Sovereign America."
Days after the protest at Gordon's home, U.S.A. joined with Minuteman Civil Defense Corps founder and current U.S. Senate hopeful Chris Simcox to give the sheriff a plaque on the lawn of the Arizona Capitol. Actually, the plaque was given by a California group called the "National Veterans Coalition," a shill for the far-right Constitution Party, which is allied with the equally conservative John Birch Society. Still, the majority of those present were from U.S.A., including Galeener and Barb Heller.
Called the "America First Award," the engraved wooden plaque reads that it was presented to Arpaio for his "departmental policy against illegal immigration and standing up for America." Arpaio appeared in his full sheriff's uniform, including gun and badge, to accept the plaque.
In December 2008, Arpaio accepted a similar award from Simcox, after a speech the sheriff gave at Arizona's American-Italian Club in Phoenix before a crowd of U.S.A. members and Minutemen. Simcox, a nativist with a conviction for carrying a firearm into a national park, supported Arpaio's 2008 re-election bid. Many anticipate that Arpaio will return the favor by endorsing Simcox's challenge to U.S. Senator John McCain in the 2010 Republican primary.
During his speech at the American-Italian Club, Arpaio noted the presence of Anna Gaines in the crowd, and he offered her his special protection in the fallout from her failed Gordon recall and her trespassing charge.
"If anybody gives you any threats over this situation, call me," Arpaio informed her before the adoring crowd. "We'll take care of it."
Like Arpaio himself, the MCSO is quick to show favoritism to United for a Sovereign America, and there is evidence that they act in concert, with the MCSO sometimes instructing U.S.A. members on what to do and how to comport themselves.
Acting as a go-between is 52-year-old U.S.A. member Barb Heller, who reports to the group from contacts inside the Sheriff's Office. Heller, to put it mildly, is a Joe Arpaio fanatic, who attends almost every pro-Arpaio demonstration, and once (wearing a tank top) painted "Go Joe" on her upper chest for an event — a photo she proudly displays on her MySpace page.
On the first night of the sheriff's recent anti-immigrant sweep in Avondale, Heller was present with about 30 U.S.A. members and assorted nativists. Sharing the same sidewalk in front of the sheriff's command post were about 100 anti-Arpaio protesters. The MCSO provided no crowd control, though the two sides harangued each other incessantly.
Late in the evening, an MCSO sergeant placed an orange traffic pylon in the middle of the sidewalk and warned the anti-Joe side against passing this new boundary. When one activist playfully moved the cone, the sergeant returned with MCSO SWAT Captain David Letourneau, who warned that anyone who touched the cone would be arrested. Asked what the charge would be, Letourneau stated, "Whatever we can think of."
The entire exchange is captured in a video posted on YouTube and can be seen at www.phoenixnewtimes.com (view here). Neither Letourneau nor the sergeant advised the nativists not to cross the MCSO's pylon-marked boundary, only the anti-Arpaio faction.
The MCSO apparently was in contact with Heller via cell phone. After everyone dispersed, she and another nativist approached the deputies and spoke with them near their command post, a move that surely would have gotten the anti-Arpaio protesters thrown in jail. At a U.S.A. meeting following the exchange, Heller stated that she had received a phone call about 11:30 p.m. asking that she and the group leave so that the protesters would leave and the deputies could go home. She also mentioned that her "friend on the squad" called her later that night and informed her that MCSO deputies were called back out to investigate a home invasion in the area.
At another U.S.A. meeting, after the May 2 march, she told the group how the MCSO had complained directly to her about J.T. Ready's presence in the nativist camp. Apparently, if Arpaio was unconcerned about the presence of J.T. Ready and the other neo-Nazis on the pro-Joe side, someone in the Arpaio camp realized there was a problem with having Hitler-worshippers supporting the sheriff in front of cameras.
"Phoenix PD calls MCSO; MCSO calls me," she informed her fellow U.S.A. members, confessing that she wondered, "Okay, you guys are all cops, and you expect me to do something about this?"
Heller also discussed how Ready once tried to date her, and she asked other U.S.A. members to endorse a letter to Arpaio telling him that Ready and the other neo-Nazis had nothing to do with U.S.A.
"[The letter] was kind of suggested by the contact," said Heller, not explaining who this mysterious "contact" was. Heller continued, opining that the letter could give Arpaio some wiggle-room when it comes to rationalizing the neo-Nazis' presence on the nativist side during the May 2 march.
Later, when discussing President Barack Obama's visit to ASU this week, Heller mentioned that she promised "the department" that she would make an appearance at ASU to show support for Sheriff Joe while the president was in town.
Heller's comments suggest that the MCSO is attempting to influence U.S.A. and use the group as a political tool.
Does Arpaio's fondness for U.S.A. members, and the favoritism shown by the MCSO toward them, violate the professional ethics expected of a law enforcement organization? Tom Hammarstrom, executive director of the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, did not comment on the MCSO directly. But he pointed out, "Arizona peace officers are taught that they should perform all of their official duties without bias or favoritism."
Even so, clearly Arpaio and his office see nothing wrong with returning the love of anybody who supports them — even neo-Nazis or groups that accept neo-Nazis as members. Even at a time when hate crime is on the rise in Phoenix — up 10 percent in 2008.
To Mark Potok, editor of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report, the message from Joe Arpaio is chilling.
"When law enforcement officials sidle up to right-wing radicals," said Potok, "they are bringing contempt on all men and women who stand up for the law in this country. They are telegraphing a message that the law protects everyone except for certain groups."
Indeed, in the latest issue of Intelligence Report, Potok notes that, nationally, hate crimes against Hispanics are up 40 percent since 2003, and the number of hate groups is also on the rise across America, topping 926 last year. Arpaio's infatuation with extremists and the National Socialist Movement could not come at a worse time for those who are their targets.
"These are the people who are charged with enforcing the law equally," Potok told New Times, referring to police officers and sheriff's deputies. "It's critical that our communities be able to trust police officers. When the police are viewed as the enemy by certain segments of the community, I think ultimately all law and order breaks down."
It is open for debate whether Joe Arpaio acts in the manner he does because he is a racist or harbors neo-Nazi beliefs. But one thing is for sure: He is a politician who is always shilling for votes, always looking for ways to feed his ego by keeping himself in the public eye. Though the abuses are the same, he seems more a rabid opportunist than an extremist.
Going back to April 2005, Arpaio was a hero in Arizona's Hispanic community when his deputies arrested Iraq war veteran Patrick Haab for holding seven Mexicans at gunpoint at a Valley rest stop. Haab's vigilantism dovetailed with the Minuteman Project's launch on Arizona's border, and Haab quickly became a folk hero among nativists and Minutemen. The sheriff, however, saw Haab as nothing but a lawbreaker.
"You don't go around pulling guns on people," Arpaio said of Haab at the time. "Being illegal is not a serious crime. You can't go to jail for being an illegal alien . . . You can only be deported."
The sheriff was lambasted by the nativist right, while County Attorney Andrew Thomas received all the glory from that side of the political spectrum for dropping the charges against Haab. It was then that Arpaio's political antennae must have tuned in to a way to garner more support for himself and his campaign for an unprecedented fifth term as sheriff in 2008: go after illegal aliens.
Thomas helped grease the skids for Arpaio with a creative interpretation of Arizona's human-smuggling law, which allowed felony charges against those smuggled in, as well as the smugglers.
Arpaio sicced his 160-deputy force of 287(g)-trained deputies on the undocumented in Maricopa County. During a series of media-frenzied sweeps, he became the poster boy of the anti-migrant movement, and he was re-elected.
So now that he's safely into his fifth term, why does he persist in pursuing Mexicans, even if he is the darling of nativists? Why doesn't he let up, given that under way are a U.S. Department of Justice investigation of his activities and a review by the Department of Homeland Security of his 287(g) agreement?
The answer seems to be that whatever gets Arpaio's mug on TV is fine by him. And being the bogeyman on the illegal immigration issue earns the sheriff time on The Colbert Report, CNN, Larry King, Lou Dobbs . . .
As long as Arpaio senses a chance to score TV time, he'll continue to double-down on racially profiling Hispanics, anti-immigrant sweeps, and even photo-ops with National Socialists.