We sat in the foothills kitchen of Tracy Thomas as the nanny waited to take his infant son. After our cup of coffee, he would climb into his Mercedes and depart for the men's grill at the Paradise Valley Country Club. It is a natural thing for a man who lives like this to think that he should run other people's lives.
With a few well-placed phone calls, this Arizona power broker attempted to kill a benefit for childhood amputees. Tracy Thomas feared the limbless seven-year- olds were Communists.
Some said that Thomas operated in the shadows. But Thomas explained his behavior more simply: "I do things in private. I prefer not to cause controversy, to be a guy behind the scenes and make things happen."
However Thomas polishes his creepy behavior, what he did was to terrorize those afraid of McCarthy Era smears. Twice a charity event had been scheduled in private homes, and twice the intimidation from Thomas caused the homeowners to back out for fear of being branded Reds.
The war in Nicaragua between the contras and the Sandinistas has left thousands of children permanently maimed because of the extensive use of land mines. C.C. Goldwater, the granddaughter of Arizona's most illustrious U.S. senator, organized a fund raiser to help purchase artificial limbs for the cripples, regardless of political persuasion. The prosthetics would be distributed by a religious organization, Walk in Peace, that is supported by America's major faiths.
Surely if C.C. Goldwater needed chastisement for her actions, the conscience of the Republican party, her grandfather, would have spoken up.
Instead, Tracy Thomas took it upon himself to do that which Barry Goldwater found unnecessary. Thomas tried to kill the event.
Larry Gunning originally agreed to host the February 24 fund raiser at his posh Paradise Valley home. But after a phone call from Thomas, C.C. Goldwater was informed she'd have to find another host.
Robert Burns, the head of a giant international development company with extensive investments in the Valley, then agreed to throw the charity event at his place. Once again, Tracy Thomas got on the phone.
When contacted, Burns explained what happened:
"I got a call in my car, on the car phone, and he asked if I was aware that this was a Communist cause. I don't want to get in a pissing match. I've got business partners in this community. I don't have the time. I don't want to get into a hassle if I think I'm doing something good. I told them [C.C. Goldwater and her mother Joanne, who also helped], `If you can get Tracy Thomas to tell me he was mistaken, then okay.'
"I don't know Thomas that well. I've met him maybe three times. But I don't want to hear I'm supporting a Communist cause."
And so for the second time, C.C. Goldwater lost a host.
Restaurants who'd agreed to cater the event also felt the pressure. At least one, Julio's Barrio in Scottsdale, backed out.
Who is Tracy Thomas?
Who is this man who feels so threatened by crippled children in Nicaragua? Who is this man who presumes to set a moral and political compass for Barry Goldwater's granddaughter? Who is this man who preaches against charity in Central America when even the U.S. government seeks an end to that region's hostilities?
Tracy Thomas is a born-again Christian who sells appliances.
In any other town, Tracy Thomas would understand that he is the definition of a small-potatoes shopkeeper who should thank his God for his money and spend it quietly. In Phoenix, Thomas is a big shot. Because he has been successful selling housewares he feels he is qualified to analyze world events and dictate how others ought to behave. Like a lot of other money changers, Thomas sat on the board of the Phoenix Country Club. Although the men who run this exclusive fraternity are always the loudest bellowers when it comes to the virtues of free enterprise, their private country club manages to avoid paying taxes to the City of Phoenix.
These are the sorts of lessons in capitalism that Thomas was able to teach the merchants of El Salvador through an exchange program set up by the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, where Thomas is a director.
Thomas' wife, Martha Taylor Thomas, is the vice president of external affairs for Grand Canyon College, the Valley's institution of higher learning for fundamental Baptists.
Thomas has also been the financial chair for archconservative Jon Kyl's successful congressional campaigns in District 4, as well as finance chairman of that bankrupt white elephant, the Phoenix Civic Plaza.
Thomas denied that he pressured anyone into canceling anything.
"Everyone has free will," he said. "I merely shared with them what I know."
Born-again Christians are big on terms like sharing. It allows them to avoid nasty terms like blackmailing. And isn't that what we're really talking about? After all, both Gunning and Burns knew the benefit was for the children of Nicaragua. Both knew the country is a client state of Moscow. What Thomas shared with both Gunning and Burns was the chilling thought that someone powerful was watching. Someone who would brand the hosts Communist dupes or sympathizers.
"I have some considerable knowledge about what is happening in Central America. I don't think anything we do to give aid and comfort to the enemy is right," explained Thomas.
The appliance salesman cannot grasp that America is not at war in Nicaragua. He does not grasp that our courts are prosecuting Oliver North for subverting a policy of peace. Thomas does not care that even President Bush's own son flew to Russia to lend moral support to the victims--Communist victims--of that country's devastating earthquakes.
"Communists are out to destroy everything we stand for and everything that allows us to sit here today and talk," said Thomas. "I don't ascribe bad motives to C.C. Goldwater. The children of Nicaragua--from a humanitarian point of view, it's a wonderful thing, I suppose. But from a macro sense of geopolitics in Central America, it's bad."
Macro sense of geopolitics--this is the sort of vicious gibberish that allows Thomas to bounce his healthy infant on his knee while he works to keep the crippled and maimed children of Nicaragua in hobbled hell.
Eventually, defense attorney Michael Kimerer stepped forward to defy Tracy Thomas. The lawyer agreed to host the $75-a-ticket benefit on February 24 that featured Grammy Award winners Take 6 as well as actor Martin Sheen.
So the benefit went on, thanks to the perseverance of C. C. Goldwater and the courage of Michael Kimerer.
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As I departed from Thomas' kitchen, he wanted me to understand that he was not insensitive. He made a point of saying, "I've personally spent what is for me a great sum of money for prosthetics for the children in El Salvador maimed by land mines."
You can see how this works. The children of El Salvador are good children, so they can have artificial limbs. The children in neighboring Nicaragua are bad children, so they must make do with their stumps and crutches. It is God's will.
Who is this man who feels so threatened by crippled children in Nicaragua?