Mayor Phil Gordon Torpedoes Arpaio Over the Sheriff’s Neo-Nazi and Nativist Pals, and One More Reason the Democrats Need to Take Boxing Lessons


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, 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.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons