Welcome to the Wild Wild West
Arizona has officially passed into that shadowy realm known as "truth is stranger than fiction". When I look back at all that has occurred in this state since Jan Brewer stepped into the governor's role (and even before with the antics of Sheriff Joe Arpaio) it's a wonder there hasn't been a contemporary movie made about this place.
After all, one need only look at some very recent history for some splendid material.
Of course this state has always been conservative but once unfettered by the pesky veto of former governor Janet Napolitano, the Republican-led legislature went to town passing bills that leave sane people shaking their heads in wonder: no permits necessary for concealed weapons; a bill that allows carrying guns—concealed or otherwise—into bars; a bill banning animal-human hybrids (What? No centaurs or Minotaurs?); a repeal of healthcare for low-income children; selling off of the Capitol building to raise money and the now infamous immigration crackdown known as SB 1070.
Of course SB 1070 was the real kicker that rocketed Brewer to fame and reelection and elevated Russell Pearce to his newfound power position as president of the State Senate. However the report showing that the boycott which occurred as a result of this discriminatory law has cost the state some $140 million in lost tourism revenue somehow didn't surface until after the election. But hey, it's only $140 mil, no biggie, right?
Other states experienced Republican losses in the last election because the campaign tactic of demonizing Latinos backfired, as was evident in Nevada and California. But Arizona is still ruled by the white folks and they plan to hang onto that power for a while longer.
Russell Pearce's idea of denying marriage licenses to couples who could not prove their citizenship didn't fly the first time around but it's probably simmering on a back burner somewhere. The next plan is to prevent the children of undocumented people born in this state from becoming citizens and *gasp* future voters.
Of course we can scoff, except for the fact that "Anchor Baby Madness" has spread like a disease to numerous other states and into the U.S. House of Representatives, where the word has come down that birthright citizenship is going to be a first order of business for the new Republican majority.
How anyone can think this non-issue is one requiring time and debate in the higher levels of government is beyond comprehension. Hey Congress, don't we have a flagging economy that needs tending to here? I thought stripping us of healthcare reform was first on the list… after you get your own government-sponsored health insurance in place, of course.
As should be expected, the Arizona climate of dry hate has attracted, like flies to carrion, more than its share of lowlifes in the form of Neo-Nazis and skinheads. There are now 16 hate groups identified by the Southern Law Poverty Center in Arizona.
Emboldened by the anti-immigrant sentiments and lubricated by the underlying racism that supports it, a small group of National Socialist Movement members, complete with shaved heads and swastikas decided to march on the Federal Courthouse in downtown Phoenix recently.
Their reason? To protest the judge who put the kibosh on vital portions of SB1070. What better way to show off your group as just another bunch of good 'ol boys than to join forces with the majority in supporting the state's most notorious law? They were met by a far larger number of protesters, a varied gathering ranging from anarchists to Latino rights groups to members of the Unitarian Universalist congregation and everyone in between.
The resulting Kabuki theater of riot police, tear gas, anti-personnel spray, rubber bullets and Nazis yelling, "Gas the Jews!" left many wondering why Nazis get to march in the streets spouting filth while those who disagree have to wash pepper spray out of their eyes.
But even with this three-ring circus going on, there are stranger things happening in the Grand Canyon State. Joe Arpaio is forming posses just like the good old days and immigrants are on the wanted posters.
Maricopa County's Sheriff Joe has been keeping a somewhat lower profile than his media-hungry self usually permits. The fact that a secret duplicate payroll log and database has been discovered in his offices and the feds are gaining on their investigations of his abusing those pesky human rights may have put a damper on his pink underwear parties.
After all, $80 million in misappropriated funds can be hard to explain . Add in the recent need for the county supervisors to approve an additional $10 million for Arpaio's legal defense fund — which ironically is to defend him from lawsuits stemming from his unjustified arrests of county supervisors — on top of the over $50 million in claims filed for prisoner abuses and, well, things aren't looking too rosy right now. Perhaps just a few tiny cracks are finally showing up in the shiny veneer that has fooled his adoring public for far too long.
So what better way to distract people and show who's really in charge than announce a return to the wild wild west? And like the use of the word "terrorist" in days gone by, shouting "Illegal" still seems to work at firing up a crowd.
Now call me an East Coast liberal or whatever, but I've never lived in a state before where posses are still in vogue. While there really is a modern day posse program that dates back to the 1930s, this one seems more reminiscent of the late 1800s when "hang 'em high Sheriff" was the favorite saying of the day and the word posse was synonymous with vigilante.
Arpiao's new posse, sworn in just a few day ago is specifically tasked with providing support in rounding up undocumented immigrants, whether by bringing arrestees to jail, raiding drop-houses or handling protesters at the immigration sweeps. Many of these men are armed and supposedly "trained"… though exactly what and how extensive is their training is anyone's guess. My speculation is that it's probably pretty minimal and the men who join this kind of enterprise are packing not only guns but also agendas that are suspect at best.
There are other posses throughout the Southwest, mostly in Texas and Arizona, but I ask you, just how many can boast a washed up superhero, a descendent from the OK Corral shootout, a 1930s comic book policemen and one very bad actor as part of their lineup?
So all you undocumented people out there better watch out 'cause Sheriff Joe's posse has come to town, featuring Lou Ferrigno as the Incredible Hulk, Wyatt Earp' nephew (named Wyatt Earp), some dude calling himself Dick Tracy, and Steven Seagal. I'm just waiting for Yosemite Sam to make an appearance.
Now getting back to my movie idea, here's the deal. All we need is Ted Nugent to write the score and we've got a sure-fire blockbuster on tap here, featuring real-life Nazis, backroom deals with money going astray and Republicans gone wild. We can bring in some of Harry Potter's Minotaurs and Elmer Fudd can play the part of Arpaio leading his all-star posse off a cliff.
The final scene will be Donald Duck and Goofy riding in to save the day and a massive shootout at the OK Corral… (Unfortunately the cameo role of the heroic Afghani dog who fends off the bomb-strapped terrorist had to be reassigned because the real pooch was accidently euthanized at the local pound… which is doubly sad because it happens to be true ).
I used to think that politics in Arizona were just plain depressing. But now I see we have approached a state of riveting bizarreness. As is always the case with any particularly gruesome car wreck, I simply can't tear my eyes away.
I sometimes wonder if other people in the nation look at us and think, "There but for the grace of God goes my state"… I sure hope so because trust me, with twenty-five states now considering SB 1070 laws, nobody is immune from the insanity that is Arizona.
And by the way, if any producers are reading this, I'm available to write that screenplay…
Amy is an Arizona resident whose passion about human rights has evolved into activism since the passage of SB 1070. She’s originally from Maine, where she was part of the tourism industry for over 20 years. Her writings have appeared in the Tucson Sentinel, Truthout, and Open Salon. Her full-time work is as a volunteer and clinic director at a nonprofit free clinic she co-founded in downtown Phoenix.