Lie down with gutter mutts, and you get mange. This little nugget of wisdom certainly applies to Sheriff Joe Arpaio's recent photo-op with a local neo-Nazi, who goes by the handle "Vito Lombardi." Currently, there's a snapshot of Joe and Vito up on Stormfront.org, a white supremacist message board run by Don Black, a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
The picture was taken May 2, the day of the anti-Arpaio Walk for Respect, which saw 2,000 demonstrators march about seven miles from downtown Phoenix's Wells Fargo Bank building, where Arpaio has two floors of pricey executive offices, to 31st Avenue and Durango Street, just across the street from Joe's Tent City. The march took off about 9:45 a.m. and got to Tent City hours later. But before those protesting Arpaio's anti-immigrant policies arrived at their destination, Joe had already swung by to say hello to his supporters.
These included about 100 members from different groups, who'd positioned themselves on the sidewalk on the south side of Durango. Most were members of ex-Kia dealer Rusty Childress' anti-immigrant hate group United for a Sovereign America, a bunch that's accepted neo-Nazis into its ranks. One of U.S.A.'s former affiliates, J.T. Ready, was also present with about three other hardcore swastika-lovers, including one 20-year-old skinhead dressed all in black, the aforementioned "Lombardi."
When the marchers finally began to make their way down Durango, the first counter-protesters they saw were Ready, Lombardi, and the other neo-Nazis flipping the Nazi salute, screaming "Sieg Heil!" and stomping on the Mexican tricolor. Ready waved a giant Confederate flag, and yelled, "Look at the Jew!" over and over to someone in the crowd. Lombardi hollered words such as "scum," "rapists," and "murderers" to the mostly Hispanic throng.
The crowd became enraged by these taunts and similar actions on the part of the U.S.A. nativists, who wore surgical masks to "protect" themselves from swine flu and waved racist placards saying that Mexican immigrants bring disease.
Indeed, if it had not been for scores of Phoenix cops working the event — and keeping the two sides away from each others — the taunting and occasional tossing of water bottles and fruit might have escalated into violence. Arpaio's MCSO did nothing, other than secure its perimeter and protect the area set aside for Joe's press conference. On that day, the MCSO basically ceded command to the Phoenix PD.
Joe's arrival on the scene was captured by videographer and nativist Lynne Stevens, one of the armed U.S.A. members who has been protesting civil rights activist and march organizer Salvador Reza's Macehualli Day Labor Center in north Phoenix for more than a year now. In the footage Stevens posted to her YouTube account — now up on my Feathered Bastard blog — you see Joe's black car stop in front of a handful of neo-Nazis. Joe talks to them from the back seat.
In the video, Lombardi gushes, "If you pat our back, we've got your back." Then a neo-Nazi named Harry (who goes by "Vandal" online) asks whether he can take photos. Soon, Lombardi squats in front of the car's rear side door and gets his pic with Joe. Arpaio then informs the neo-Nazis that the demonstrators "won't be here for an hour," to which Lombardi replies, "Gotcha."
I'm already hearing the excuses. Joe didn't know the neo-Nazi was a neo-Nazi, even though the skinhead look and the black combat outfit would give most politicos pause. Then there was Lombardi's sign calling Mexicans "scum," and the fact Lombardi was standing on a Mexican flag. Maybe Joe didn't see that. Like they say, the eyesight's the first thing to go.
As for giving the neo-Nazis a heads-up on how far away the marchers were, well, Joe's chummy like that to everyone, whether you're wiping your boots on the Mexican flag, flying a Confederate pennant, or waving racist signs. If you support Joe, he'll show ya some love.
No matter what Arpaio or his apologists say, Joe has become a magnet for nativist and neo-Nazi kooks, and he apparently has zero qualms about it. For instance, back in 2008, after he spoke before a crowd of United for a Sovereign America members, I challenged Joe on why he was palling around with a nativist org that allows goose-steppers to enter its camp. He responded that he talks to "everybody," no matter what their affiliation. I got the same response from his top flack, Lisa Allen. Seems there's no shame in their game, even when it comes to Hitler-worshippers.
But according to Arizona Anti-Defamation League director Bill Straus, Arpaio should have some shame regarding the wanna-be-shutzstaffel in the sheriff's fan base.
"If [Arpaio] watches that video from Saturday," Straus told me, speaking of a video of the sieg heil-ing National Socialists circulating on YouTube (which can also be found on the Feathered Bastard blog), "and doesn't feel a slight burden of responsibility to the non-white-supremacist, non-neo-Nazi, non-racist community to say, 'Hey, I'm not looking for support from those groups,' then I'm more than a little disappointed with him."
I'd be disappointed, too, if it weren't so true to form for Sheriff Joe. But then, I'm funny that way. I don't like it when our elected officials play snugglebunny with racist extremists.
Channel 12 confronted Arpaio with video of the neo-Nazis doing their stiff-arm salute, though at that point, the pic of Joe and Lombardi had yet to surface. Arpaio told the TV journos that he doesn't assosciate with hate groups. (Um, excepting for U.S.A.)
His office released a statement to 12, saying, "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."
Lame response, Joe. Especially when you were caught red-handed cavorting with racists of all stripes at the event.
HOUSE OF PAIN
While the haters in the nativist and neo-Nazi camp were possessed by fits of rage and viciousness, the successful march of thousands, led by Rage Against the Machine/One Day as a Lion frontman Zack de la Rocha ended peacefully, in a sort of block party, right in front of Joe's massive incarceration complex.
At one point, Arpaio attempted to draw attention away from the stage set up at 31st Avenue and Durango with an open-air press conference. But protesters shouting César Chávez's old rallying cry of, "Si, se puede," sent Joe and a compliant press corps scurrying behind a ginormous MCSO truck. In general, Joe looked old and confused and lacked the energy of his previous struts before the cameras.
Indeed, the energy was on the other side of the street, with people of all ages, all races, all ethnicities banding together to protest Arpaio's anti-immigrant policies and the federal 287(g) program that empowers him. Despite the tension at the end between the protesters and counter-protesters, the Walk for Respect had been peaceful throughout its grueling march in the warm May sun.
A group of indigenous dancers, carrying incense, led the way. Protesters were in good humor as they made their way west on Van Buren Street, even as a black MCSO helicopter buzzed them at one point. They carried signs saying, "We are human," "Stop separating families," and "Silence is betrayal," this last one featuring a photo of Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted with Sheriff Joe.
Demonstrators chanted "Hey hey, ho ho, Sheriff Joe's got to go," and "Arpaio racista, eres terrorista," which means, "Arpaio racist, you are a terrorist." They were cheered on as they walked through Mexican neighborhoods lined with car shops, little mercados, taquerías, and beauty parlors. At one point, Phoenix artist Michael 23 met up with the marchers in a black "UFO" equipped with a sound system. He allowed marchers to chant into his microphone, and mentioned that he and others inside the UFO were illegal "aliens."
The night before, some of those in the anti-Arpaio army had been at Garibaldi's Real Mexican Grill for a fundraiser for Tonatierra and the Macehualli Day Labor Center, both of which are in dire financial straits and may be forced to close by the end of May if not enough money's raised. At Garibaldi's, donors ate spicy chicken mole while watching a video presentation by activist Dennis Gilman and organizer Carlos Garcia. Afterward, Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, Tonatierra's Tupac Acosta, and Macehualli's Reza spoke. Then, finally, the guest of honor, De la Rocha, rose to address the audience.
The rock star spoke briefly, thanking his guests. Then, following a short preamble, he read in entirety a letter from inside Joe's Estrella Jail, written by mothers, daughters, and wives separated from their families because of Arpaio's anti-immigrant sweeps and raids. The letter is heartrending and alleges cruel mistreatment by Arpaio's guards. It was first published on my blog, with the names of its authors removed to protect them from further abuse. De la Rocha had read it on Feathered Bastard and asked for a copy of the translation so he could read it at the fundraiser and, later, at the rally after the march.
At one point, De la Rocha choked up reading the missive. That's not surprising, considering passages like this:
"We find ourselves here in a tunnel without an exit, being treated like dogs that are not deserving of anything. We need help for our cases. Someone to listen to us and do something for the injustices that are being committed against us. Our children and our parents suffer our sentences the most. And we find ourselves with our hearts broken without knowing what's going to happen tomorrow."
Following this, De la Rocha signed pro-immigrant posters created by artist Shepard Fairey, he of the famous Barack Obama "Hope" poster, and Fairey collaborator Ernesto Yerena, with proceeds from poster sales to benefit the imperiled Macehualli center.
The poster-signing continued down at Tonatierra, on Seventh Street just south of Roosevelt, where a fundraising party got down, featuring local acts such as the punk band Automatic Self Destruct, folk guitarist the Black River Bandit, and radical Phoenix MC Grime. At first, De la Rocha planned to perform, as he did before the February 28 anti-Arpaio march, which drew some 5,000 souls. But the Rage Against the Machine star was worn out from his activities and all the autographs he'd signed through the night.
On Saturday, De la Rocha marched with thousands of ordinary Phoenicians, as well as notable locals such as Tucson firebrand Isabel Garcia, former state Senator Alfredo Gutierrez, Randy Parraz and Raquel Teran of Maricopa Citizens for Safety and Accountability, former Guadalupe Mayor Rebecca Jimenez, ACORN organizer Monica Sandschafer, Respect/Repeto's Lydia Guzman, cheeky Phoenix activist Adolfo Maldonado, and Supervisor Wilcox. Guadalupe's Socorro Bernasconi handed out water to marchers along the way, and William Robles, a Guadalupe activist, who on Thursday did his own march from Guadalupe to the Wells Fargo building, took up the rear, banging on a huge black drum.
Although the news channels and other media generally ignored what De la Rocha had to say at the walk's end, he offered an impassioned analysis of the situation in Maricopa County, before repeating the words of the Letter from Estrella a short distance from Estrella Jail itself.
"It is because of your efforts tirelessly in the streets," he told the crowd at one point, "marching and confronting [Arpaio's] racist policy, that his impunity is beginning to crumble. But it's not just about a bigoted and brutal man alone; it's about the federal policy that empowers him. Many of us are here today to confront the racism and the destructive policy of the 287(g) agreements. The practice of this policy has unearthed what I consider to be one of the most dire human rights crises in this country right now.
"So we need to confront also, and get into the specifics of this ugly and brutal agreement. We need to confront the legal lynching that has been systematically woven into this policy as the line between civil law and criminal law has been all but erased, tearing apart the constitutional protections of those of us working here with our without documents."
Well said, but I wonder how many more marches and demonstrations there will have to be in this country before the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security act? Does there need to be civil disobedience, or worse, before Arpaio is called to heel, his 287(g) authority jerked, and his civil rights abuses halted and brought before the bar of justice?
I know there were DOJ personnel monitoring the march. And, recently, both DHS and DOJ had investigators in town to look into Arpaio's actions. But the wheels are turning too slow. Those separated from their families and mistreated in Joe's gulags can't wait much longer.
Since the nasty demise of liberal talk radio network NovaM, and the resultant recriminations and finger-pointing, former NovaM talker Jeff Farias has been plugging along with his online Web cast, thejefffariasshow.com, which has got to be one of the only Webcasts of its kind locally, if not nationally, with a die-hard audience of listeners willing to log on every day at 3 p.m. to watch Farias' live feed from his garage studio.
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The good news for those locally who want and need some left-wing talk to counter the J.D. Hayworths, Rush Limbaughs, and other far-right tongue-flappers on the dial is that Farias has scored an on-air gig doing his lefty show on a local Christian station, no less, KXXT 1010 AM, where he'll be heard Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Those bound to their desks can catch streaming audio and video of the show at www.1280kxeg.com.
Seems 1010 AM, which owns another Christian station locally, is willing to play with its format a bit. Hence, Farias' recent salvation. However, being devoted to his craft, Farias tells me that he plans to keep doing the Webcasts from the garage at the same bat time.
Does this mean Farias will have to tone down his act for the Lord, play hymns as intros to the show, or preach a little about Jay-sus in between tirades against Republicans? Nah, says Farias, 1010 AM knows what they're getting into. And as for Farias, he says he's happy to be back on the air where anyone with a car radio can hear the program.
For those who think God's a Ronald Reagan conservative, better think again. If the Man from Galilee wants to lend a hand to Farias, maybe that means Christ was a lefty after all.