In a startling turn of events, Sheriff Joe Arpaio has cut ties with the local nativist organization Ban Amnesty Now over a controversial e-mail that many Latino and liberal groups assumed was a voter suppression effort.
As I detailed in a blog post yesterday, the e-mail claimed (falsely) that illegal aliens are poised to steal the midterm elections. Signed by Sheriff Joe, an honorary co-chair of the group, the e-mail put out a call for a "grassroots army" of volunteers to keep illegal immigrants from the polls.
BAN's president Sean McCaffrey, admitted to me yesterday that Arpaio's name at the bottom of the solicitation was a mistake. The e-mail should have been signed by him, he said, not the sheriff, as he did not have Arpaio's permission.
Also, he stated that he was simply sending volunteer names to the counties and states involved as prospective, legal poll watchers. There was no plan to suppress the vote, he insisted.
Still, McCaffrey's rhetoric rocketed around the Internet, attributed to Sheriff Joe. This prompted the progressive group One Arizona to fire off a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, asking for an investigation of Arpaio and for the U.S. Department of Justice to send observers to monitor the elections in Arizona.
McCaffrey told me when I called him today that he had spoken with Arpaio and apologized for the brouhaha. Late last night, he posted a notice to the BAN Web site explaining that Arpaio would no longer be an honorary co-chair of the group.
Arpaio's political consultant Chad Willems jumped into the fray this afternoon, issuing an angry press release denouncing McCaffrey and announcing that Arpaio "will no longer be associated with such a group."
Willems accused McCaffrey of being difficult to reach, and for not removing Arpaio's name and image from the BAN site. He also took exception to the content of the e-mail.
"The allegations in the email distributed earlier this week were baseless and reckless," writes Willems. "It's clear that McCaffrey is out there acting on his own and using Arpaio's name and others' to raise money. What exactly that money is being used for is a mystery."
(You can read the Willems release, here.)
McCaffrey denied the accusations made by Willems.
"The Willems statement is completely contrary to the conversation the sheriff and I had," he said.
"When I talked to Sheriff Joe and apologized to him, he was understanding and forgiving. You know, the Sheriff Joe we all know. But I think I made his consultant's day worse than I made his day."
McCaffrey said Arpaio had been affiliated with the group since June or July. Neo-Nazi-hugging state Senator Russell Pearce remains one of BAN's honorary co-chairs.
In the past, McCaffrey's told me that what Arpaio and Pearce get in return for their endorsements is access to BAN's now-massive mailing and e-mail list.
BAN's message was objectionable before Arpaio bailed, so I don't buy Willems' fake outrage. Instead, I suspect Arpaio already has enough worries with the feds, and didn't need another one involving voting shenanigans, on which the feds do not look kindly.
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