In a response to the tragedy today at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum where 88-year-old white supremacist James von Brunn allegedly opened fire killing a security guard before being severely wounded himself, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon called on Sheriff Joe Arpaio to distance himself from his neo-Nazi and racist supporters.
"I'm calling upon the sheriff of Maricopa County to denounce the neo-Nazis and the Nazis today," said Gordon during a press conference this afternoon."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."
In a statement later released by Gordon's office, Gordon cited several incidents where Sheriff Arpaio has interacted with extremist nativists, neo-Nazis, and groups that accept neo-Nazis into their ranks. Specifically, the Mayor cited reports that have appeared in this blog and in my recent cover story, Ja, Joe!, which detailed the various links between Arpaio and extremist groups such as United for a Sovereign America, as well as his recent photo op with former National Socialist Movement member Thomas Coletto, alias, "Vito Lombardi."
As regular readers of this blog know, Coletto recently renounced neo-Nazi-ism and told me that he now dislikes Arpaio for the way he violates the constitution. But he agreed that in general neo-Nazis admire Arpaio.
"It's an immigration issue," Coletto told me of Arpaio's neo-Nazi support. "Arpaio's tough on immigration. And they don't want Mexicans at all anywhere in the country to begin with."
For his part, Arpaio continues to shrug off calls for him to put a wall between himself and his radical right-wing supporters.
"The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified a number of Phoenix area residents as key figures in the national web of hate groups," Gordon's statement correctly points out. "The sheriff consorts with most of them and has denounced none of them. They are among the sheriff's strongest supporters and he has never rejected their support."
Indeed, after Arpaio stopped to talk to a group of neo-Nazis on March 2 that was part of a counterdemonstration to a massive pro-immigration march to Joe's jails, a photo taken of Arpaio and Thomas Coletto was posted by Coletto to Stormfront.org. Arizona Anti-Defamation League Regional Director Bill Straus publicly asked Arpaio at that time to make a statement disavowing support from neo-Nazis.
"The fact that it's posted on Stormfront is enough for Arpaio to say, 'Hey, I'm not looking for support from neo-Nazis,'" Straus told New Times of the Arpaio-Lombardi snapshot.
But all Arpaio's crack PR team could come up with was a middling statement, saying that, "Sheriff Arpaio does not have any control over who shows up to these public protests."
Arpaio just held a press conference in response to Gordon's statements. This is what KTAR has him saying:
"I do not support any neo-Nazi hate groups. He knows it. I don't have to apologize because I never have been connected with any of these associations, and the people know that."
Sorry, not good enough, Joe. The problem is you are directly associated with hate groups like United for a Sovereign America. In fact, there's evidence that the MCSO gives U.S.A. members advice, and offers them preferential treatment. U.S.A. has accepted neo-Nazis into its ranks. And you know this, Joe, because I've told you about it before, face to face. This is one you can't run away from.
Phil Gordon's remarks follow. Some of the specifics are off, but the main point is dead on:
(remarks by Mayor Phil Gordon)
I want to (talk about) something that far outweighs anything else we could talk about right now.
The seeds of hate. The politics of division.
But the seeds of hate grow into the actions of hate. We saw that today at the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.And we express our sympathy and concern for the Security Officer and his family.
James Von Brunn is a white supremacist who has long ranted against Jews. He posts his special brand of sick on neo-Nazi web sites.
Meanwhile, the Southern Poverty Law Center has warned us time and time again about the neo-Nazis, Nativists and White Supremacists who live right here in Phoenix...You can look them up. They're not hard to find.
And they're also not hard to disavow. I've denounced them time and time again. Chiefs across the Valley have. Most community leaders do. But ... you're sure to find pictures and a video on the internet of a Sheriff, posing for pictures, chatting, and passing along information to a neo-Nazi.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified a number of Phoenix area residents as key figures in the national web of hate groups. (Spring 2008 Intelligence Report published by SPLC). The Sheriff consorts with most of them and has denounced none of them. They are among the sheriff's strongest supporters and he has never rejected their support.
1. The sheriff has spoken repeatedly at meetings of United for a Sovereign America, attended by organizer Rusty Childress and neo-Nazis and actual Nazis like J.T. Ready and Elton Hall. At the March 2008 meeting at the Sunnyslope VFW Hall -- Hall and Childress were in attendance. [Note: See Dennis Gilman's comment below. Hall was present at the VFW Hall speech, as was Childress. Ready was not at this event, but Ready has attended other U.S.A. meetings in the past. I don't know if Ready's ever attended a U.S.A. event when Arpaio was speaking, but I have reason to believe Arpaio knows Ready by sight. SL.]
2. In an appearance on the Larry King show [Note: the mayor's office is likely referring to Arpaio's appearance on CNN's Lou Dobbs, where he made the KKK remark. SL.] in November 2007, Arpaio responded to his critics like this, "Well you know, they call you KKK. They did me. I think it's an honor, right? It means we're doing something."
3. More recently, at an immigrant rights march May 2, the sheriff spoke briefly with neo-Nazi counter-demonstrators, including JT Ready, allowed them to take photos, and gave them the estimated arrival time of the marchers. A photo of well-known neo-Nazi Vito Lombardi smiling next to the sheriff at the march has shown up on the racist Stormfront webpage.
4. When the Anti-Defamation league asked the sheriff to distance himself from the neo-Nazis, the sheriff refused.
5. Arpaio is quoted in New Times as saying he has "no problem" speaking for groups of Nazis and neo-Nazis. "I have no problem. You know what? I talk to everybody. I even talk to the demonstrators." When asked, "would you talk to the Klan?" he replied, "I talk to inmates. I talk to everybody. I'm the sheriff for everybody."
This isn't about criminal investigations or immigration. It's about basic decency. And so I ask the Sheriff - today - to publicly disavow his associations with these hate-mongers and apologize - so we can begin righting this ship.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.