Former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio might have flown under the radar into Arlington if it weren’t for social media. But now? Not a chance.
The controversial 86-year-old was slated for Arlington Music Hall in April, and Jambo’s Barbeque Shack restaurant owner Ashton Stauffer, who’s running for mayor, was ecstatic.
“A great patriot who protected our borders and loves this country,” Stauffer‘s Facebook post read. ”Very excited to see him at this event!”
Others, like Michael Win, weren’t as happy. Win countered that Arpaio, the ex-sheriff of Maricopa County (Phoenix), had targeted Latinos and blacks with illegal operations even after he’d been ordered to stop. Found guilty of contempt of court by a federal district judge, he was pardoned by President Donald Trump.
“He treated prisoners like trash and basically set up a concentration camp in the middle of the desert,” Win posted. “Unfortunately, he didn't get a taste of his own medicine, because he was pardoned by Trump.”
Arlington Music Hall has canceled Arpaio’s gig, and Mark Joeckel, who manages the place, says it wasn’t his idea to book the former lawman, whom a New York Times columnist described as a "true American villain" and "a sadist masquerading as a public servant." Music Hall owner Cary Moon, a Fort Worth councilman, told the Star-Telegram that it wasn’t his idea either, but the brainchild of a promoter.
Stauffer has vowed to bring Arpaio to Arlington herself and has scheduled an event for April 8 at Howell Family Farms on Division Street. She says she wanted an incredible venue to honor Arpaio.
“Even when he has had to stand alone against illegal immigration, he has had the grit and the gumption to do that,” she says.
News organizations give a different take, including decades of reporting by the Observer's sister paper, Phoenix New Times.
"For the uninitiated, Arpaio’s persona is one part Mr. Magoo, nine parts Augusto Pinochet — Chile’s bloodthirsty former dictator," the newspaper reported after Arpaio came in dead last in his effort to win the Arizona GOP nomination for U.S. Senate last year.
Arpaio is notorious for using his office to harass Latinos, and he was a leading figure, along with President Trump, in the discredited "birther" movement that falsely claimed President Barack Obama wasn't a U.S. citizen. Seemingly incapable of embarrassment, Arpaio showed little respect for the rule of law.
“… during the litigation that led to his conviction for criminal contempt, he hired a private detective to investigate the wife of a federal judge hearing a case against his office,” The Atlantic writes. “Any judge can understand the threat posed by law enforcement personnel who seek to strike back at judges and their families, perhaps for purposes of blackmail or revenge — and the deep arrogance of a president who regards such behavior as praiseworthy.”
Still, Stauffer says that when immigration status is mentioned, “radical people are quick to throw out the race card.”
“They’re also very quick to say that a sheriff that didn’t create a cushy, lovely place to be jailed in was a bad person,” she says. “No. He made criminals that were in his custody not so quick to commit a crime again.”
His jail was also known for having an unusually high number of inmate deaths.
Stauffer has been getting a lot of pushback, but she says she’s accustomed to it.
Chris Dobson, an educator who’s also running for mayor, even threw around the idea on social media of hosting an event in opposition of Arpaio’s upcoming visit.
“I know this is the single most important issue of our generation,” Stauffer says. “And I’m willing to take the heat to do the right thing.”
Mayoral candidate Ruby Faye Woolridge says Arpaio’s experiences and philosophy speak for themselves, but she is “concerned about bringing such a divisive person to Arlington.”
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“We’re strongest when we’re unified,” she says.
Brian Mayes, who noted he was speaking on behalf of Mayor Jeff Williams’ campaign, says what people really care about are things like potholes and public safety, not “political stunts.”
"Any attempt to bring national, partisan politics into Arlington will backfire on Ashton," he says. "[Arpaio] brings no solutions to the table in Arlington."
Stauffer says she plans to bring Arpaio to Arlington “come hell or high water.”