HE'S A WINNER!
Allow me to be the first to congratulate Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio as the recipient of the 2009 Bull Connor Award, recognizing "outstanding achievement in the promotion of racial discrimination, disregard of human rights, abuse of power, and general hatred of the 'other.'"
Of course, Joe didn't go all the way to Houston this week to pick up this doozy. Heck, I'm not even sure Joe knows who Bull Connor is! But accept the prize he did from human rights activist Liliana Castrillón, who recently sat through a self-aggrandizing, snooze-inducing lecture from Arpaio at a Marriott in Houston, where about 250 varicose-veined, blue-hairs paid $30 a pop to get in.
Westboro Baptist Church
Castrillón, who is from Colombia originally, told me the plan was for her and some friends to sneak into the event, where Joe was pimping his 2008 book of tall tales, Joe's Law. You know, that's the memoir wherein Joe claims he once pulled over Elvis Presley, that he was responsible for busting the French Connection (though the real NYC cop who really did end the French Connection says that's wrong), that the Mexican mafia, along with Phoenix activist Elias Bermudez and some rogue Minutemen, plotted to off the sheriff (another bogus yarn).
But once Castrillón and her pals got to the door, they were told they'd have to pay $30 each to get in. She and her friends pooled their cash, and she had to go it alone as one of the few people of color in a mostly ofay crowd. After the address, she approached our geezer lawman to hand him the faux honor.
"He looked like a big baby," Castrillón said. "And he said something like, 'I didn't know you would be here.' It didn't make any sense. Of course he wouldn't know I would be there. He's such a coward. He looked afraid."
Castrillón then told the stunned sheriff that he was a racist and yelled the same to the others in the audience before leaving. She claimed she was so disgusted by the event that she vomited as soon as she left the building.
My colleague Liana Lopez at New Times' sister paper the Houston Press covered the event and reported in her blog post that about 100 protesters waved signs outside the Marriott and yelled stuff like, "Racists go home."
Inside, some of the old people followed Lopez around. One wrinkled biddy told Lopez she didn't belong there — apparently because of Lopez's ethnicity. The ancient ones cheered whenever Arpaio talked about lockin' up illegals. And when Arpaio wondered sarcastically why Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia didn't show at the shindig, one denture-wearer shouted, "He's only sheriff because he's Mexican."
The overt prejudice was to be expected, perhaps, because the two groups sponsoring the event, Texans for Immigration Reform and U.S. Border Watch, are listed as "nativist extremist" groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
This is one more example of Arpaio's interacting with extremists and racists. I detailed Arpaio's links to such groups in my May 14 cover story, "Ja, Joe!" The sheriff's spoken to local nativist extremist groups such as United for a Sovereign America, which has accepted neo-Nazis into its ranks, and is also on the SPLC's list of far-right anti-immigration groups.
Joe's had his pic taken with a local neo-Nazi. And he has contacts inside United for a Sovereign America who work closely with the Sheriff's Office, taking instructions from the MCSO and, apparently, receiving preferential treatment from it.
Also, a recent perusal of the roster provided by the MCSO of sheriff's posse members revealed the name Michelle Dallacroche, the nativist firebrand and founder of Mothers Against Illegal Aliens, known in the past for railing against so-called "anchor babies" — you know, kids born on U.S. soil to illegal immigrant parents (children otherwise known as American citizens).
Though Arpaio appeared at a community meeting in Fountain Hills recently to announce the arrest of vandals involved in racist graffiti there, don't be fooled. As this Houston fundraiser shows, Arpaio continues to court the support of the far right, and they continue to love him back.
Something else interesting about the Houston wingding: Joe was introduced by disgraced former Border Patrol Agent Ignacio Ramos, who, along with fellow ex-agent Jose Compean, was convicted in 2006 of shooting a fleeing, unarmed man in the fanny and of trying to cover it up after the fact. Ramos and Compean became a wing-nut cause celebre because the unarmed man they plugged was an illegal alien, running marijuana.
In one of his last acts as president, George W. Bush commuted the sentences of both men but did not pardon them. On its Web site, the Justice Department notes: The "sentence of imprisonment [was] commuted to expire on March 20, 2009, leaving intact and in effect the three-year term of supervised release with all its conditions and the fine."
That means Arpaio was introduced to a bunch of extremists by a felon and ex-con.
Nice. To cop a line from Will Ferrell's Anchorman character, Ron Burgundy: You stay classy, Joe.
Members of Kansas Pastor Fred Phelps's cult-like, gay-bashin' Westboro Baptist Church regularly roll through the Phoenix area to protest soldiers' funerals (their deaths are the result of God's judgment on America for its gay-friendly ways) or anything else that doesn't conform to their Cyclops-like worldview.
I've been, admittedly, fascinated with Phelps' insane tribe of haters since seeing BBC journalist Louis Theroux's 2007 documentary about the WBC, The Most Hated Family in America.
Even before seeing Theroux's documentary, there was an episode of Michael Moore's TV show, The Awful Truth, in which Moore fills a pink RV (dubbed the "Sodomobile") with gay men, who party and make the bus rock before Phelps' bulging eyeballs as he attempts to preach about how "God hates fags."
Phelps dispatches members of his clan all around the country to demonstrate, and I thought I'd run into them in November, when they were expected to picket Glendale Community College on the last day of a run of The Laramie Project, a play by Moises Kaufman depicting the town of Laramie, Wyoming, in the wake of the brutal 1998 slaying there of gay college student Matthew Shepard.
(Interestingly, the Phelpses actually picketed Shepard's funeral, with signs proclaiming "Matt Shepard Rots in Hell." And since Shepard's death, Phelps and his family have railed against the gay icon every chance they've had.)
But about 1,000 counter-demonstrators, led by local activist Annie Lloyd, showed up to confront the WBC, and the group punked out. The church members never even got out of the car.
Recently, the WBC was in town to hit two locations: the Mesa funeral of Captain Cory Jenkins, who was felled by an IED in Afghanistan, and Tempe's Temple Emanuel synagogue. The demonstration at the Jenkins funeral was, of course, disgusting. But it was in keeping with the WBC's wacky modus operandi, which holds that America's soldiers are dying in foreign lands because homosexuality is countenanced at home.
But a synagogue? That seems a new leaf for the WBC. According to a recent report on the group by the Anti-Defamation League, the WBC has been spewing bile at Jewish institutions since April.
"Since then, WBC has targeted dozens of Jewish institutions around the country," states the report, "from Israeli consulates to synagogues to Jewish community centers, distributing anti-Semitic fliers to announce planned protests at these sites. WBC has also been sending volumes . . . of faxes and e-mails with anti-Semitic and anti-gay messages to various Jewish institutions and individuals."
The WBC announces demonstrations in advance on its Web site, www.godhatesfags.com (what else?). Emanuel's temple-goers had been alerted that the WBC would be picketing during Friday-night services. And when I arrived, some worshipers were milling outside, on the lookout for the WBC. It was obvious the group was a source of consternation; several Tempe black-and-whites were parked on nearby side streets, keeping a watchful eye.
About 6 p.m., three WBC members appeared, each bearing multiple signs with weird slogans like, "God Hates Jews," "You Will Eat Your Babies," "Jews Stole the Land," "Some Jews Will Repent," "America Is Doomed," and the capper, "God Hates You."
There were no counter-demonstrators and, oddly, despite the vileness of their signs, the WBC-ers were polite, even somewhat personable, in the case of 28-year-old Sara Phelps, one of Fred Phelps' granddaughters and an unofficial spokeswoman of the event. After noting that her first name is a traditional Jewish name from the Old Testament, I asked her the big question: Why the Jews, Sara?
She admitted that, though the WBC has picketed synagogues in Kansas before, Jew-bashing's a relatively new thing for the group.
"We are equal-opportunity preachers," she told me. "But what the Lord does is, he shows us things. And he opens doors for us that we could never imagine would be open for us, so this fell on the landscape."
She went on to give me some Revelations-type jazz about how we're in the last days, and 144,000 Jews will be saved — but only if they "mourn for that most grievous sin, killing Jesus Christ."
And all this time I thought it was the Romans who nailed the Man from Galilee to a cross. And wait a sec, wasn't Jesus a Jew? Sara reluctantly admitted that he was, but apparently that doesn't count because he was — you guessed it — the Messiah.
Essentially, Sara says, the WBC's witnessing to Jews with those crazy signs of theirs. She insisted that she wasn't interested in converting anyone, but that the WBC's purpose was to represent for the Lord.
"We've seen how angry these Jews are," she told me, referring to reaction the WBC's gotten to its new anti-Semitic crusade, "and how they whine about these afflictions they go through, which they deserve to go through, because everybody deserves to be punished for their sins."
So, what about the Holocaust? Did the Jews deserve that one, too?
"Of course they did," she replied. "Of course they deserved the Holocaust."
Jeez, women and children, too?
"Do you think God does not know what he's doing in those situations?" she asked, rhetorically. "God controls everything."
And the Nazis?
"They were a tool," she explained patiently, as if I were a child. "Just like Osama bin Laden was a tool, by the hand of God to destroy the Twin Towers, those Nazis were a tool."
Actually, I think I know who the real tool is — Fred Phelps, who's obviously brainwashed Sara. Later, Sara told me that she performs sonograms for a living and that she's unmarried and doesn't let herself even think of getting married. Why? Because Jesus is coming back real soon, so why bother?
"[Marriage's] not happening, dude," she told me, laughing. "The Lord is coming."
Sara didn't know much about Tempe's Obama-death-wish preacher Steven Anderson, so I told her that he believed the president was deserving of death for his abortion stance, as were gays, adulterers, and then some. Sara concurred, in general, but she seemed to part ways when it came to praying for Obama to die, as Anderson says he does.
"Obama is the Antichrist," she said, sounding a lot like one of those crackpot Tea Party types. "He is going to lead this nation to its destruction. This government is already too far gone . . . What I want to happen to him is exactly what the Lord has willed. So we wait patiently on our God to deliver his righteous judgments."
After Sara and her family members skedaddled, I ambled over to the sane side of the street. I spoke briefly with Sally Oscherwitz, president of Temple Emanuel's board of trustees. She told me that though she knew the WBC members were traditionally nonviolent, they still like to instigate violence by inflaming counter-protesters.
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"We're an inclusive community," she explained. "We're diverse. We have wonderful, beautiful relationships with mosques and other churches and synagogues in the Valley. And what [the WBC does] is foreign to us. It's not what we're about."
Others present worried about me covering the demonstration, about giving ink to the WBC, which is notoriously media-hungry. I considered not writing up the group's visit, but then I saw Channel 3's footage of Captain Jenkins' funeral the next day, in which the reporter showed one quick shot of Sara Phelps, saying that "protesters lined the streets" without explaining there were only a few, and that they were emissaries from this deranged Kansas pastor, not anti-war lefties.
I reckoned it was better for people to know what these WBC idiots are actually about.