Phoenix City Council Member Sal DiCiccio is distancing himself from the anti-immigrant group Patriot Movement AZ after Phoenix New Times inquired about a staffer who asked the group to promote a political message.
Patriot Movement AZ is is known for yelling at church volunteers helping asylum-seekers, questioning the immigration status of dark-skinned legislators, and targeting the home of Congressman Ruben Gallego with a demonstration.
DiCiccio's move comes a year after Governor Doug Ducey received backlash for posing in a photo with members of the group. Ducey spoke out against Patriot Movement AZ after getting hit with criticism from both sides of the aisle.
"Before yesterday I had never heard of this group." Ducey said during his re-election campaign in April 2018. "I absolutely denounce their behavior."
On April 19, DiCiccio constituent services representative Merissa Hamilton asked a Patriot Movement AZ leader to promote the council member's Facebook statement against a proposal to study pedestrian deaths in Phoenix, according to messages obtained by Phoenix New Times through a public records request. DiCiccio opposed the proposal in his post, claiming it was nothing more than an attempt to lower speed limits citywide.
Earlier that day, Hamilton appears to have contacted Patriot Movement AZ founder Lesa Antone, sending her a link to DiCiccio's post via Facebook Messenger.
"They are trying to force everyone to use public transportation by making the speed limit on every road 25 mph," Hamilton said.
Vision Zero would not have implemented any policy changes. It only would have required the city to study pedestrian deaths and make recommendations for improvements.
Antone did not respond to Hamilton.
About 10 minutes later, Patriot Movement leader Russell Jaffe sent Hamilton a message saying, "Lesa is in FB jail. She can see you at [sic] messaging her but not what it is. If you need her send to me or you can text her." (The phrase "Facebook jail" refers to when the social media company restricts a user's access to site features due to a violation of policy.)
Hamilton responded with the link to DiCiccio's statement. "I need that blasted," she said.
"Oh yeah I saw that. I'll put it out," said Jaffe, who was arrested for assault during a November protest in Tucson.
"And people to show up on Tuesday to the city council meeting," Hamilton added.
Shortly after the exchange, the Patriot Movement AZ Facebook page shared DiCiccio's statement. The group urged followers to show up at City Hall to speak against Vision Zero. A moderator for the group noted that the message was from "our good friend Councilman Sal DiCiccio."
The friendship no longer appears mutual.
In response to questions from New Times, DiCiccio spokesperson Sam Stone said regarding Patriot Movement AZ: "Councilman DiCiccio does not condone their actions." Stone said Hamilton sent DiCiccio's Vision Zero message to "all her contacts that day."
He added that, to his knowledge, the council member's office has not directly communicated any other message to the group and that he has asked Hamilton to exclude Patriot Movement AZ from any further plans.
Hamilton, a former libertarian candidate for governor, did not respond to request for comment.
She spoke with New Times about her relationship with Patriot Movement AZ during the April 15 "Patriotism Over Socialism" rally for conservatives in Gilbert.
Hamilton said she met Patriot Movement AZ while searching for Republican groups to help a man she claimed was wrongfully incarcerated, who she said she met through the controversial activist Jarrett Maupin. Patriot Movement AZ was the only group that responded, she said.
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"Although their stance against Muslims is something I disagree with, although their stance against immigration is something I disagree with — in the way they carry it out and some other things — they were the only one who was there for" the man Hamilton was working with, she said.
Hamilton added: "We've had discussions on what my viewpoint is and what their viewpoint is. I have made a decision that I will work with people on things we align on and on the things we don't align on I will work to change their opinions on those issues."
An administrator for the Patriot Movement AZ Facebook page did not respond to request for comment. The Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group started to generate headlines after two women affiliated with it were arrested for burglarizing a Tempe mosque.
One of Patriot Movement AZ's former leaders, Jennifer Harrison, recently started a new group called AZ Patriots, which has been focused on making trips to the southern border.