Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Cozy Love Affair With an Extremist Group Backfires
Now that November 2nd is looming we are witnessing a tidal wave of fear mongering from the right with allegations of voter fraud echoing around the blogosphere. Sharron Angle in Nevada has accused Harry Reid of orchestrating a vote bribing scheme. Voter surveillance teams have been organized by the Tea Party in Texas and elsewhere to infiltrate polling places in largely minority neighborhoods. Elderly black voters in East Texas have complained of Tea Partiers coming to their homes to scrutinize their mail-in ballots while in Arizona bloggers have alleged that “thousands” of “illegal aliens” have registered to vote.
The obvious conclusion many of us have reached is that this amounts to nothing more than thinly veiled attempts to intimidate minority voters. The numbers of people who have been prosecuted for actual voter fraud are vanishingly small but, for some, facts are of little consequence during an election year.
Given the high-profile anti-immigrant sentiments and hate rhetoric that has infiltrated Arizona since its passage of SB1070, it is hardly surprising that the ugly specter of voter disenfranchisement would once again make its presence known in this state.
On October 26th a disturbing email was circulated by BANAMNESTYNOW (B.A.N.), a right-wing anti-undocumented immigrant group founded shortly after the signing of SB1070 by GOP consultant Sean McCaffrey. B.A.N has grown quickly and now boasts a self-proclaimed membership of 800,000+ members.
This letter called up some interesting and rather bizarre “facts” including allegations that President Obama is engaging in a “conspiracy” with Mexico’s Philip Calderon to “bring in newly registered illegal immigrants to register to vote.”
The letter also claimed as a “fact” that the “Illegal registration of alien voters has become pervasive… across the nation, bolstered by open-borders criminals determined to undermine our elections, including the unions, La Raza… even the White House.” It then goes on to accuse two voter outreach groups in Arizona, Mi Familia Vota and One Arizona, of voter registration fraud on a grand scale. These contentions (dressed up in a manner eerily reminiscent of the right’s attacks on ACORN during the 2008 elections) originally stemmed from a Tea Party group blog posting in Yuma County, Arizona. The allegations were soundly debunked by Arizona’s (Republican) Secretary of State Ken Bennett as well as the Yuma County Recorder (a point that B.A.N has yet to acknowledge on their website).
While the intent of the letter was ostensibly to raise money, it also put out a call for members to join a “grassroots army of voter fraud prevention volunteers” to “stand vigilant across the nation” and “ensure that only legal citizens vote on November 2nd” (and yes, that’s “vigilant” as in “vigilante”).
While this anti-immigrant screed would normally not be of too much interest--after all the Internet is full of such ravings by those whose hatred of the brown-skinned “invaders” is worn proudly on their digital sleeves-- this one stood out as somewhat extraordinary in that it was signed, “For America, your friend, SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO, Hon. Co-Chairman, BANAMNESTYNOW.COM”
It was well-known in the circles that keep an eye on Arizona’s most notorious sheriff that Arpaio was an honorary co-chair of B.A.N. and his involvement in their activities had caused much concern. Given his overzealous dedication to rounding up undocumented immigrants, it really was not too surprising that he would “pal around” with such a group and, indeed his signature had appeared on a B.A.N. letter in the past.
There is one overriding problem that arises from Arpaio signing his name to this fact-challenged missive, or even associating with a group like B.A.N. As the chief law enforcement officer at the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) he is directly responsible for security at the polling stations throughout the entire county (Maricopa is Arizona’s most populous county, which includes Phoenix and the surrounding cities and boasts 56-58% of all of the voters in the state). MCSO’s duties include responding to any problems or incidents that may arise during the election from voters, poll workers and poll observers. Arpaio’s office is also responsible for transporting and securing the ballots following the election. What this means is that MCSO is the very entity that a voter or concerned poll worker is supposed to be able to turn to if any, say, vigilantes show up and try to intimidate them at the polls. In other words, Arpaio has been cast as the king of foxes overseeing many little henhouses in one very large barnyard.
Several of us who tend to follow these things were alarmed at the turn of events and decided to write about this issue. The word spread quickly and soon a petition was circulated by the voter group America’s Voice, calling for Eric Holder at the Department of Justice to intervene.
It appears this outcry had an effect. Three days after Ban Amnesty Now’s letter was written, Sean McCaffrey backtracked on his blog:
““This email…was erroneously sent to a small number of recipients under Sheriff Joe Arpaio's signature. This email was from B.A.N. president Sean McCaffrey “
After referring to those of us who expressed concern about Arpaio organizing voter vigilante groups as the “liberal special interests, the pro-amnesty/open borders crowd, and certain segments of the media who believe that a conservative group recruiting individuals for Election Day volunteering is something just short of a sign of the apocalypse” he went on to say in a later blog:
"Sheriff Arpaio, one of the strongest defenders of America's anti-immigration laws, will no longer serve as an honorary chairman, but will continue to enforce immigration laws!"
"Said Sheriff Joe Arpaio today to B.A.N. leadership and grassroots supporters across the nation: “Keep up the good work!””
Later that day Joe Arpaio’s political consultant, Chad Willems issued a statement denouncing B.A.N.’s use of Arpaio’s name in their letter:
“In recent days it has come to our attention that an anti-illegal immigration group distributed an email purportedly signed by Sheriff Joe Arpaio that alleges ‘thousands’ of illegal immigrants are trying to influence this year’s mid-term elections. This email was never reviewed by the Sheriff or his campaign staff. And it certainly was not given approval to be distributed under the Sheriff’s name,”
"The allegations in the email distributed earlier this week were baseless and reckless. It's clear that McCaffrey is out there acting on his own and using Arpaio's name and others' to raise money. What exactly that money is being used for is a mystery."
And McCaffrey’s reaction to Willem’s statement? According to the Phoenix New Times:
"The Willems statement is completely contrary to the conversation the sheriff and I had,"
Still no word directly from Arpaio has surfaced yet on whether or not these warm fuzzy feelings with B.A.N are still mutual. Since Arpaio has signed a letter for B.A.N. in the past and was well aware of his honorary co-chairmanship it’s clear that they were a cause he heartily supported. But in the end, this may have been a good lesson for the sheriff—if you lie down with extremists, you get up with petitions to Eric Holder. If there’s one thing Arpaio doesn’t want right now, it’s more scrutiny from the DOJ.
However this whole flap has not overridden the fact that B.A.N. is still recruiting their “army of voter fraud prevention volunteers”. What tactics they plan to employ to determine who is an “illegal” voter-- and who is not-- is still unclear. My guess is they will be relying on skin color and accent.
The Department of Justice will be sending a “small pack” of election observers to Arizona. Just how many observers will monitor the voting stations in Maricopa County that may be at risk of intimidation is not clear. B.A.N. has stated they will be sending about 100 of their people to “stand vigilant” at the polls in Arizona.
As much as factions in the Tea Party would like us to think that undocumented people are lining up to steal votes, most of us realize that it’s the right wing extremists cloaked in American flags who present the real threat to our electoral process. So please people, if you can vote then do so. It’s one of our most precious rights and we mustn’t—ever-- let the bullies take that away.