National media coverage of Arizona's toughest-talking sheriff's contempt trial paints a subdued portrait of Joe Arpaio, infamous for his ruthless opposition to illegal immigration, describing him as a "quiet, almost deferential," "humble and weary retiree."
While some suggest the personality flip may signal the fall of a hero for the states' rights movement, others, pointing to Arpaio's enduring popularity, maintain faith he will be back to himself in no time.
The Atlantic's David A. Graham gave Arpaio a virtual pat on the back for showing "toughness" when he decided to hire a private detective to investigate the wife of the federal judge overseeing a racial-profiling lawsuit against him. While many conservatives "talk a good game about how citizens should resist federal control and devolve power to local governments," he wrote, "few of them are willing to put their convictions into action in quite the same way that Sheriff Joe Arpaio is."
As tension over the division of power between states and the federal government has increased in recent years, Graham says, Arpaio is "fighting back using his own executive authority, mixed with street-fighting moves. And when the federal judiciary has smacked him down, he's simple ratcheted up those efforts."
Now that those tactics have landed Arpaio in front of a judge, accused of contempt of court for allegedly disregarding a court order to stop carrying out immigration patrols after a judge determined in 2013 that his office routinely racially profiled Latinos during traffic stops, Graham wrote, he's not looking "particularly bright."
The way he sees it, there's little question that Arpaio violated the law.
"The federal government has authority to enforce immigration laws; Arpaio's racial profiling was unlawful; intimidating a judge, if that's he's found to be doing, is unlawful too; and yes, Barack Obama was born in the United States," he wrote.
But for all of Arpaio's outlandish behavior, Graham wrote, Maricopa County voters have liked the sheriff.
"Maybe Washington doesn't want him enforcing federal immigration laws, but a majority of Phoenix-area voters apparently do," he wrote.
Over at The Blaze, meanwhile, Wayne Root, a former Libertarian vice presidential nominee, penned an editorial suggesting Arpaio as a candidate to head up U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as part of the "GOP dream team" of "street fighters" that would "take on the evil that is destroying America by making us all dependent on big government."
"It's time to kick ass and take no prisoners," he wrote.
After nominating Arpaio for the task, Root gave no explanation. Beneath the sheriff's name he wrote simply: "Need I say more?"
At Arpaio's contempt hearing, supporters razed the federal government for blaming the sheriff for doing what the voters asked of him.
The sheriff was "uncharacteristically contrite," wrote Los Angeles Times reporter John Glionna. A seemingly different man from the one that, with bravado, forced his inmates to wear pink underwear and served up rotting, blue and green meat in jail cafeterias, the 83-year-old grandfather slouched in his chair as he told the judge, "It really hurts me . . . after 55 years to be in this position. I want to apologize . . . I should have known more about these court orders that slipped through the cracks."
Under grueling cross-examination, Glionna wrote, Arpaio "was often reduced to one-word responses or falling back on a faulty memory. Sometimes he contritely admitted failing to carry out the judge's orders."
In an article for the Associated Press, journalists Jacques Billeaud and Ryan Van Velzer, posited that Arpaio's political "invincibility" may be coming to an end as a result of this latest entanglement in court.
"I don't know if blowing off the court would be such a sin in the eyes of voters as much as going after the judge's wife with a private investigator," David Berman, a senior research fellow at Arizona State University's Morrison Institute for Public Policy, told the AP. "That's something people can relate to."
Still, the AP wrote, "Arpaio has repeatedly defied predictions over the years that his legal troubles would cost him his job."
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