Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon scored a direct hit against nemesis Sheriff Joe Arpaio in the wake of the U.S. Holocaust Museum shooting spree by white supremacist James von Brunn that left a security guard dead.
Gordon, who is Jewish, took the occasion to do what no other political leader in Arizona had the gumption to do: put Arpaio on blast for his extremist associations with neo-Nazis and Mexican-hating nativists.
"I'm calling upon the sheriff of Maricopa County to denounce the neo-Nazis and the Nazis today," said Gordon during a press conference, catching reporters by surprise. "Not that I believe that the sheriff is a Nazi or a neo-Nazi. Let me be very clear: He has given the sense of recognition to the neo-Nazis and Nazis that he's associated with."
The tip of the far-right iceberg was, of course, Arpaio's May 2 photo-op with then-neo-Nazi Thomas Coletto. Arpaio posed with Coletto as he greeted neo-Nazi and nativist counter-demonstrators, who later taunted pro-immigrant marchers near Tent City with racist jeers, signs identifying Mexicans as disease-carriers, and — in the case of the neo-Nazis present — sieg heils.
I should point out that Coletto says he has since left the National Socialist Movement and has denounced his former comrades, particularly his ex-superior in Phoenix's small NSM contingent, Scott Hume, whom Coletto's outed as a wackjob Satanist.
Coletto says he was living in a fantasy world and has snapped out of it with the assistance of tough love from his family. Seems they threw him out on the street after I exposed his true identity in my Feathered Bastard blog. (He had been operating under the handle "Vito Lombardi" until that time.) Coletto's now reconciled with his 'rents and kicked his NSM buddies to the curb.
When Arpaio approached Coletto and other neo-Nazis on May 2, Coletto was dressed in official NSM "battle dress uniform," black military-style pants and shirt, with black combat boots. (The dress code is described on NSM's Web site and is familiar to law enforcement.) Coletto's hair was closely cropped, skinhead-style. He had a sign that read, "Deport all illegal scum," and he was standing on a Mexican flag. He was also known to the Phoenix cops as a neo-Nazi and had been instrumental in reserving the state Capitol lawn for an NSM march that's planned for November.
Despite all this, Arpaio allowed Coletto to snap a picture with him, a pic Coletto later posted on the white-supremacist Web site Stormfront.org, where Arpaio is already a hero to the prejudiced online puddin' heads for his stance on immigration. Arpaio also advised Coletto and his fellow neo-Nazis that the anti-Joe marchers were about an hour away.
A moment later, Arpaio thanked well-known Mesa neo-Nazi J.T. Ready by name when Ready admonished one of the nativists for littering. Ready was carrying a huge Confederate flag at the time.
Tut-tutters, such as local conservative pundit Austin Hill and radio personality Pat McMahon, both of whom can be heard on right-wing station KTAR 92.3 FM, have dismissed the photo-op as a one-off and not representative of Arpaio, in general. Hill took Gordon to task for "politicizing a national tragedy" in a recent op-ed piece for the East Valley Tribune. And McMahon, on his Sunday KTAR talk show, The McMahon Group, pooh-poohed the idea that Arpaio is somehow a neo-Nazi because of one photo.
Of course, no one I know of has said Arpaio is a neo-Nazi because of one photo. Certainly, Gordon did not say this. Nor did Arizona Anti-Defamation League regional director Bill Straus imply this when he publicly asked Arpaio to distance himself from his neo-Nazi supporters.
Nor would I argue that Arpaio is primarily a racist. Rather, he is a crass, cynical opportunist who has used the immigration issue to his advantage and, in doing so, has stoked the ovens of hate. As I detailed in my recent cover story on Arpaio's ties to right-wing radicals, Arpaio's dealings with extremist hate groups goes way beyond his snapshot with Coletto.
The sheriff has embraced local nativist and ex-Kia dealer Rusty Childress, leader of the most despicable anti-immigrant hate group in the Valley, United for a Sovereign America. Childress' organization has accepted neo-Nazis and other wild-eyed Hispanic bashers into its ranks, such as Ready, alter kocker storm trooper Elton Hall, flag-burning pagan Laine Lawless, convicted public urinator Buffalo Rick Galeener, and John Watson, a self-described member of the Tonopah-based White Knights of America.
Arpaio allowed Childress behind the yellow tape of the command center at a sweep in Phoenix last year. Galeener, one of U.S.A.'s most racist members, gathered a short list of signatures that Arpaio used as his pretext for another sweep at Cave Creek and Bell roads. U.S.A. member and pro-Arpaio fanatic Barb Heller has boasted of her contacts within the MCSO and of taking instructions from the Sheriff's Office on where the group should go and how it should act. Heller and other nativists were hobnobbing with MCSO deputies during the recent Avondale sweep.
Does Hill, McMahon, or any of the other Arpaio apologists address these facts? Of course not. It's so much easier to just state emphatically that ol' Joe's not a neo-Nazi. But the thing is, Arpaio is dealing with known quantities: individuals and organizations that openly espouse loathsome policies and views. And though they have every right to espouse them under our Constitution, do we really want the county's chief law-enforcement official playing paddy-cake with them?
As Gordon correctly pointed out in his statement after the Holocaust Museum tragedy, "The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified a number of Phoenix-area residents as key figures in the national web of hate groups . . . The sheriff consorts with most of them and has denounced none of them."
Indeed, during Arpaio's most recent anti-immigrant raid, at Phoenix's Lindstrom Family Auto Wash, Arpaio was filmed fraternizing with a supporter wearing the colors of two of the most notorious and thuggish nativist biker groups in Arizona, Riders Against Illegal Aliens and Riders U.S.A. The latter is the bike group formed by Rusty Childress after he was kicked out of the American Freedom Riders bike group for — get this — allegedly using an outside vendor that employed illegal aliens at his former car dealership! (Nativism and hypocrisy mix well together, you see.)
As for Riders Against Illegal Aliens, the group's Web site, ridersagainstillegalaliens.com, depicts undocumented immigrants as criminals and carriers of disease, repeating oft-debunked lies about an increase in leprosy cases linked to immigrants from Mexico. Also on the site is an animated cartoon depicting a biker chasing a jogging brown man. True to this, the Riders' presence at anti-immigration events is often colored by intimidation of those who oppose them.
That Arpaio associates with such nefarious characters should be troubling, particularly in light of a 10 percent rise in hate crimes in Phoenix and scattershot bursts of violence by right-wing radicals across the country.
Aside from the von Brunn incident, there's been the recent killing of Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller by a far-right anti-abortion nut. And in April, white supremacist Richard Poplawski , armed with an AK-47 and wearing a bulletproof vest, flipped out when Pittsburgh cops responded to a domestic-violence complaint at his residence. He has been charged with the murder of three Pittsburgh officers, and he reportedly said while in custody that he would kill more cops if he could.
In Arizona, Shawna Forde, leader of the group Minuteman American Defense, was arrested June 12 for what the Pima County Sheriff's Department said was her part in a home invasion in Arivaca that left a dad and his 9-year-old girl dead. Though the reputed motive was for money rather than ideology, and there was apparently a Latino in her gang of alleged burglars, the Forde arrest still illustrates what a nest of venomous rattlers the far right can be.
Over the past year, the Valley's seen its share of spray-painted swastikas and hate-based attacks on non-whites. If one of Arpaio's bigoted fan-boys goes ballistic and unloads a gun on unsuspecting citizens, will Hill, McMahon, and others pooh-pooh that as well, I wonder?
TRAIL OF TEARS
As mentioned above, while real cops were out hunting down murderers and rapists, Sheriff Joe Arpaio — true to his nickname, "Nickel Bag Joe" — was at Lindstrom Family Auto Wash in Phoenix recently hunting illegals. There, his thugs with badges chased down immigrants and non-immigrants employees, corralled them like animals, and sifted through them until they had those they wanted to arrest. The total haul was about 14 souls.
Participating in the raid on this family business were members of Arpaio's 160-deputy force, trained by the feds under ICE's infamous 287(g) program. Trained 287(g) officers such as the MCSO's Sergeant Brett "Shut Up" Palmer and Lieutenant Joe Sousa — known for their invidious remarks directed at elected officials — were present, along with numerous other junior G-men and members of Arpaio's alter kocker army (a.k.a. the sheriff's posse).
Most arrested were booked into custody for forgery, charges that may end up getting dropped if those arrested agree to voluntary removal from the United States or roll over and testify against their employers.
Fourteen people means 14 breadwinners. One of the families ruthlessly crushed was that of 9-year-old American citizen Catherine Figueroa, whose testimony was captured for a YouTube video by pro-immigrant activist Dennis Gilman. You can watch the video on the Feathered Bastard blog. Both Catherine's mom, Sandra, and her dad, Carlos, were collared. She saw her father on TV zip-tied.
"I never knew this would happen," said the girl, who begins fourth grade this year.
Later, when asked what she would tell President Obama if she could, she tearfully requested his assistance.
"I would tell him to help us," she cried. "I want to get my parents back."
She also noted that one of the president's daughters is close to her age. Indeed, Natasha Obama, his younger daughter, recently turned 8.
Catherine, an only child, is being cared for by her grandmother.
Given that those arrested were booked on state charges, you could argue that Arpaio could have done the raid without his ICE-trained gendarmes. But, he did, in fact, use his 287(g) men during the car-wash bust.
That means the federal government's fingerprints are on this raid. Barack Obama's fingerprints are on this raid.
During Obama's 2008 campaign, he borrowed a phrase from César Chávez and the United Farm Workers, "Si, se puede," which Obama offered up as, "Yes, we can." But as Hispanics in this country continue to suffer at the hands of tin-pot tyrants with 287(g) power like Joe Arpaio, Obama's commitment to that phrase must be questioned. His administration's cynical, laissez-faire attitude to those hell-bent on cleansing neighborhoods, cities, and states of all the brown people they can is painful to observe.
Sure, there are investigations, and investigations of investigations, and that is fine. But children such as Catherine need the Obama administration to act, and act now. How should the feds start kicking that can down the road? Immediately terminate Arpaio's 287(g) agreement. That's something Obama's Homeland Security czar Janet Napolitano could do with a quick snap of her digits.
The process of ethnic cleansing in Arizona moved a step closer to fulfillment, thanks to neo-Nazi-hugger and state Senator Russell Pearce and his allies. Pearce's Senate Bill 1175, which the Senate approved this week, would force law personnel in all cities, towns, and counties in the state to enforce federal immigration law, inquire about an arrestee's immigration status, and turn over undocumented people to the feds if local charges are dropped.
Even more insidiously, the bill would make it "unlawful for a non-U.S. citizen to enter into or be on any public or private land if the person is in violation of federal immigration law."
Essentially, the bill would criminalize an entire class of people and would, de facto, make everyone with brown skin a suspect. Actually, anyone could hypothetically be asked for their papers under this legislation, but in practice, no one expects the local constabulary to be interrogating Irish bartenders or Canadian grad students.
Hispanics are already second-class citizens in this state. This bill would codify the notion and make the parallels between South Africa under apartheid and modern-day Arizona even more blatant.
Another worrisome piece of lawmaking is SB 1280, which would make it a felony to "conceal, harbor or shield from detection in any place an illegal alien." Republican state Senator Jonathan Paton was the prime sponsor of this bill. Paton added an exception for family members, but the legislation is still so broad that it could possibly affect landlords and carpoolers. SB 1280 also passed the Senate and now goes to the state House and, potentially, Governor Jan Brewer's desk.
For both bills, there was precious little debate or discussion in the Senate's Committee of the Whole. State Senator Leah Landrum Taylor had a question for Pearce on the jurisdictional problems inherent with SB 1175, and Minority Leader Jorge Garcia offered a floor amendment to hold employers accountable under criminal law, but it was summarily voted down.
As to why the Dems were not more vocal in opposition to these two bills, Garcia suggested that in the case of Pearce's 1175, there had been more opposition last year. But this year, with a new political reality in Arizona and a new governor, fewer members were passionate about the issues involved.
"When you don't have the votes to stop it," said Garcia, "there's nothing you can do."
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Garcia said that the bills were essentially giving "myself and my granddaughter more reasons to hate Republicans."
Garcia comes across as a likeable guy, but he and his fellow Dems need to grow a pair of hind legs when it comes to racist legislation like this. For crying out loud, there was more debate on a bill dealing with non-partisan elections in towns and cities than this modern-day Jim Crow bull.
Not having the votes is no excuse. You have to make the Republicans pay a debt of shame for passing such bigoted legislation. Show you have some fight left in you, otherwise not only do the GOPers win, they figure you for milquetoast in the bargain.
The Dems need to learn that even if you go down, you need to get your licks in. In other words, if the Arizona Democratic Party cannot pitch a fit over such odious legislation, it is worthless as a political entity, and doesn't deserve anyone's vote.