Anyone recall the flap of about a year ago, when Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu went on a white supremacist radio show in Tennessee called "The Political Cesspool"?
PCSO spokesman Tim Gaffney took the spear for not vetting that one for his boss. And I couldn't help but recall that little brouhaha when it came to my knowledge that Gaffney may have used a photo from National Socialist Movement member Harry Hughes in official correspondence to a trio of border mayors who had asked Babeu to tone down his rhetoric on illegal immigration.
Hughes has owned the pic as his on various Web sites that reported on the matter. And indeed, Hughes has the original photo on his Facebook profile. It's of some steel barriers in the desert.
There's also a photo of Hughes and Babeu together that's made the rounds and has been used as anti-Babeu propaganda. The original photo was apparently taken at a Tea Party rally in the city of Maricopa back in 2010.
As for the pic of the barricades, Gaffney told me that he was not sure if it came from a citizen or had been taken by the sheriff. Gaffney explained that citizens send the PCSO pics all of the time. He said neither he nor the sheriff knew Hughes or were aware of Hughes' fascist inclinations.
Gaffney looked through his e-mails and he did discover a couple from Harry Hughes, but stated that there was "no mention I can see of any hate group affiliation."
Scrolling down the page on the second e-mail Gaffney sent me, which was mostly about stray dogs, I noticed that at the very end of it, Hughes had an NSM Web banner and he identified himself as "NSM-AZ Executive Officer/Media Spokesman."
I pointed this out to Gaffney via e-mail. This was his response:
"Never read all the way to the bottom I guess. I receive over 300 emails per day from citizens and media. I answered this as I would any citizen request for assistance. Once again I do not support any hate groups."
Concerning the photo of Babeu and Hughes, Gaffney initially told me via phone that the PCSO was aware of the photo, but believed it had been "photoshopped."
Gaffney stated that the sheriff told him, "I've never seen that guy."
However, Hughes has the original on his Facebook account, along with other pics from that day. The full photo does not look photoshopped. I sent the full photo to Gaffney asking him if he wanted to walk back on the "photoshopped" statement. Gaffney agreed with me that the full photo did not look altered.
Gaffney offered that the sheriff takes photos with a lot of folks and he can't run a background check on them before consenting for a photo.
Still, as Hughes and other open neo-Nazis have been actively patrolling the Vekol Valley, and as there have been numerous stories in the media on them, I was a little surprised that neither Gaffney nor Babeu had heard of Hughes.
I contacted Hughes and he stated the pics were legit.
"It's a real picture," he told me of the one of him and Babeu. "Everything there is the real deal."
Basically, Hughes was at the same event as Babeu and a friend of Hughes snapped a quick photo of the pair.
"I don't hang out with the sheriff," Hughes admitted. "He doesn't hang out with me...We're not working together."
Hughes also said that he never gave the photo of the metal barriers to Gaffney. He suspects Gaffney or someone at the PCSO swiped it off his blog, Just another day...
"I've got stats for who comes to my site," he explained. "I can see Pinal County's been there. [Gaffney] should have asked."
I've often written that Hughes is the nicest neo-Nazi I know, though he doesn't like the term "neo-Nazi," and prefers "National Socialist."
To be fair, I noticed in one of his Facebook galleries that he has a photo of me taken when I was covering a rally down at the Capitol. Hughes is in it, too. Though you'll notice there's at least some sunlight between us. I ain't no Joel Fox, you see...
(Hughes also has a funny pic on his Web site of him standing behind the New Times sign at night. Kinda looks like he's flippin' the Hitler salute.)
I'm not aiming to make too big of a deal out of this Babeu-Hughes thing. Guilt by association works so much better when there's a substantial association to exploit, as there was with neo-Nazi J.T. Ready and now-state Senate President Russell Pearce. In that case, they worked an anti-immigrant rally together, and they were well acquainted with each other, friends even.
Actually, after reviewing the PCSO letter, I'm more disturbed by the photos of corpses Gaffney placed therein. Sure, Gaffney was trying to make a point, but using photos of deceased victims without any context smacks of exploitation and, at the very least, poor taste.
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