The Bipartisan Homeland Security State

For two years, Bart McIntyre was deeply involved in the insignificant, thinly populated white supremacist movement.

Though it may be difficult to believe, this actually represented something of an improvement in McIntyre’s social circle, since his paying job was a position in one of our country’s most repellent criminal syndicates, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, Explosives, and Persecution of Unsanctioned Political and Religious Minorities (or ATF, for the sake of convenience).

Unsavory as their personal beliefs may be, most adherents of the white supremacist movement actually work for a living, unlike the tax-engorged parasites of the ATF. Tiny though that sub-population is, I’ll bet that less than one of every 1,000 white supremacists ever commits a crime against the person or property of another human being. The core mission of the ATF, on the other hand, is to commit various kinds of aggression against gun owners and other harmless people, and the agency is indelibly tainted by its role in the 1993 mass murder at Mt. Carmel.

But this is simply the predictable fruit of a very evil tree. The ATF’s progenitors were the properly despised 18th-century “Revenuers” whose haughty impositions helped precipitate the Whiskey Rebellion; the agency also played a key federal enforcement role during the demented quasi-puritanical social experiment called “Prohibition.” In that role the agency’s immediate ancestor was an appendage of the federal Bureau of Internal Revenue, as the IRS was known at the time.

It was only with the enactment of the Nazi-derived U.S. Gun Control Act of 1968 (the German National Socialist pedigree of that measure has been capably documented by Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership) that the ATF blundered into its present role as chief persecutor of law-abiding gun owners and firearms dealers. So it was in his day job as an ATF Special Agent, rather than his part-time deployment undercover in the white supremacist milieu, that McIntyre forged his connections with those devoted to keeping Nazi ideals alive.

As he prepares to retire, McIntyre has taken the opportunity to warn that the ongoing economic collapse may re-invigorate the moribund white supremacist movement. “In society, you have a very small number of people who are going to push the envelope and take it to the next step” beyond grievance and intemperate talk and into criminal violence.

This is emerging as a standard narrative among federal law enforcement agencies: A plummeting economy + the election of a black president = a racist renaissance and a surging tide of hate crimes. The Regime’s publicity arm has already treated the public to several variations on that theme, even though the evidence to support it is thin to the point of translucency.

The point of all this is not to address a plausible threat, of course, but rather to provide the proper reductionist framing device so that any tremor of organized resistance to Obama’s Neo-New Deal can be interpreted in terms of racial resentments.

Given the prominence of federal informant/provocateurs among white supremacist groups it’s quite likely that federal seed money is the only thing keeping that movement alive; it’s simply too useful an antagonist for the Feds to permit it to die outright.

The political conquest of America by white supremacist ideology is about as likely a prospect as a winning streak by the Washington Generals. This doesn’t prevent collectivists of a certain ilk — Philip Roth being a suitably loathsome exemplar — from peddling the notion that America must always be caught up in a foreign war or similar undertaking in order to domesticate the white population’s resilient racism and direct it outward, rather than letting it coalesce into an American Reich. People preoccupied with such concerns don’t object to the mechanisms of fascist rule; they simply prefer that those mechanisms be controlled by, and for the benefit of, their faction.

Ironically, or perhaps not, the incipient Obama Regime seems prepared to consolidate many of the fascist-flavored innovations of its predecessor. One very interesting illustration of this continuity is the apparent selection of Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano to serve as the next Commissar for Homeland Security.

Napolitano, who first attracted public attention in 1991 as a legal adviser to Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, is widely perceived as a mildly “progressive” Democrat. But in her career in Arizona, first as a federal attorney and then as Governor, she has displayed an uncanny ability to exploit the racially charged issue of immigration for her political advantage.

Michael Lacey, publisher of the Phoenix New Times, refers to Napolitano’s career as a “cocktail of mediocrity,” made up of roughly equal parts of incompetence and “rank opportunism.” As a state bordering Mexico, Arizona has a very large population of immigrants, both those who arrived through legal channels and those who didn’t. It also has a very large and politically organized constituency for immigration reform.

Most — actually, nearly all — Arizonans concerned about unchecked immigration are entirely innocent of racial prejudice. A handful are entirely consumed by it. And the state’s most successful politician has ruthlessly capitalized on the issue as a way to deflect public attention from his spectacular incompetence and unvarnished corruption, and the cost those attributes have imposed on the taxpayers. The politician in question is Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who would likely be in prison were it not for a favor done long ago by Janet Napolitano.

As the elected head of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO), Arpaio has cultivated a media image as “America’s Toughest Sheriff.” He has made himself famous by creating and maintaining a county detention system in which various forms of petty belittlement — such as forcing male inmates to wear pink underwear and eat green bologna — are inflicted on the inmates, most of whom have yet to be convicted of an actual crime.

Both male and female detainees are forced to work on chain gangs, and those consigned to Arpaio’s “Tent City” are deliberately exposed to extremes of climate, which in Arizona can mean temperatures in excess of 110 degrees. (Arpaio seems to take a perverse pleasure in making life especially difficult for female inmates: Until a federal lawsuit forced him to stop, he maintained a jail netcam broadcasting female detainees using the toilet. That fact provides a certain nauseating subtext to Arpaio’s publicly expressed desire to have authorities in L.A. extradite Paris Hilton to Arizona to serve out her jail term for DUI-related offenses.)

During the past decade, while Arpaio has labored to make himself a household name, people have been dying in the custody of his deputies. Lawsuits resulting from the death of inmates at the hands of Arpaio’s brown-shirted homeboys have cost the county more than $13 million in legal settlements, and a five-fold increase in insurance premiums. Last September, the National Commission on Correctional Health Care revoked its accreditation of the MCSO jails owing to Arpaio’s refusal to provide adequate health care to inmates. The following month, U.S. District Judge Neal Wake (a George W. Bush appointee), ruled that the MCSO detention system violated legal standards of inmate treatment. Both the revocation and Judge Neal’s ruling will probably result in additional lawsuits.

In 1996, four years after Arpaio was first elected and while Janet Napolitano served as a Clinton-appointed federal prosecutor in Arizona, a petty drug offender named Scott Norberg was attacked and beaten to death by nearly a dozen county correctional officers. Much of the lethal violence was committed while Norberg was shackled to a torture device called a “restraint chair”: Bound and unable to defend himself, Norberg was beaten by the brave men of the MCSO until he died.

Arpaio didn’t order the murder of Scott Norberg, but he was deeply involved in the cover-up. “Notes taken the night of the killing were destroyed,” writes Phoenix New Times’ Michael Lacey. “Critical X-Rays were destroyed. County authorities, under the watchful eye of the sheriff, hid the fact that Norberg’s larynx was fractured.” What evidence did exist was forwarded to the FBI. The Norberg family’s attorney, Michael Manning, provided Napolitano — by way of her assistant US attorneys — with much of the evidence that had been suppressed by the MCSO.

And that’s where the case died.

Before the investigation found traction, Napolitano was dismissive of Arpaio’s critics, insisting that he ran “a strict jail but a safe one.”

The Justice Department’s final report, which was issued two years after Napolitano punted on the issue, fleshed out the skeletal term “strict” in interesting ways, noting that excessive and abusive use of force was common and often involved unjustified use of restraint chairs, hog-tying and beating of inmates, and other forms of deadly restraint.

The report likewise scored Arpaio’s staffing decisions, which left the jail “below levels needed for safety and human operations.” The Justice Department, as former Arizona Republic reporter Tom Zoellner pointed out in Slate, “filed suit and settled with the sheriff the same day” in exchange for promises of various reforms.

Napolitano was at Arpaio’s side when the sheriff called a press conference to call the settlement a personal vindication. Napolitano, recall, had been handed clear evidence of murder committed under Arpaio’s authority, and a criminal conspiracy led by his office cover up that crime; she simply threw it out and refused to prosecute.

The Sheriff would eventually reciprocate by crossing party lines to support Napolitano’s subsequent political career, first endorsing her bi to become state attorney general and, in 2002, throwing his support to her in a gubernatorial race that was decided by a handful of votes. But this was the least Arpaio could do for the woman whose malfeasance of office not only saved his career, but probably kept him out of prison.

In 2005, Napolitano became the first governor to sign what is called a 287(g) agreement with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) — the component of the Homeland Security Department in charge of border enforcement. Agreements of that kind permit state and local law enforcement agencies to take the lead in border enforcement.

And this handed Arpaio a new use for his Tent City: It could now hold immigrants collected during high-profile sweeps conducted by Arpaio’s office, in which people of Mexican ancestry — citizens, legal residents, and illegal immigrants alike — are subject to pretext stops and searches by MCSO deputies. These anti-immigrant sweeps are hugely popular with a large segment of Arizona’s electorate. It’s likely that the popularity of the sweeps would suffer somewhat were the public adequately informed of one very troubling cost incurred by them.

A recent study by the Goldwater Institute entitled “Mission Unaccomplished: The Misplaced Priorities of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office” documents that Arpaio’s project of turning the MCSO into an immigration control agency has effectively crippled it as a law enforcement entity.

“MCSO’s massive diversion of resources into policing illegal immigration … coincides with growing rates of violent crimes, plummeting arrest rates, and increased response time to citizens’ calls for help,” notes the report. “At the same time, [an investigation done by the Arizona Republic newspaper] found that crime rates in areas that were the subject of saturation [immigration] raids were largely unchanged after the sweeps.”

Arpaio’s office is the depository for all warrants issued to law-enforcement agencies in Maricopa County. As of September 2008, 77,949 warrants were outstanding, including 42,297 felony warrants. Many, perhaps most, of the felony charges dealt with violent crimes against persons and property.

The soi-disant “toughest sheriff” in the land boldly sends his deputies to drag Mexican mothers from their cars while their children scream in terror, and deploys paramilitary units to seize janitors while their children scream in terror, or their jobs at Mesa City Library or City Hall.

Meanwhile, actual violent criminals remain free and the crime rate continues to climb — and Arpaio capitalizes on that latter fact by describing it as a product of unrestricted immigration, rather than a reflection of his own politically opportunistic priorities.

Two recent developments prompted Arpaio to discover, however tardily, the merit of enforcing felony warrants. The first was Napolitano’s grudging decision to withhold some state funding from the MCSO until something was done to address the backlog of outstanding warrants. The second was the development of a “reality television program” featuring the MCSO entitled “Smile! You’re Under Arrest.”

The program — a product the Fox network, natch — features people subject to felony warrants (involving non-violent offenses for the most part) being “punk’d” through elaborate on-camera ruses before being arrested. The process is long, expensive, needlessly complicated, and self-indulgent. To Arpaio, an insatiable publicity whore who cannot resist an opportunity to thrust his unsightly mug in front of a camera, the opportunity to star in his own television show outweighed any practical liabilities.

Endlessly vain and incurably power-intoxicated, Arpaio doesn’t venture out in public without being surrounded by a phalanx of grim-faced bodyguards. This is supposedly made necessary because of purported death threats received by the sheriff, at least one of which was a “bomb threat” that was actually contrived by the Sheriff’s Office itself.

In October 2007, Arpaio sent his Selective Enforcement Unit to arrest Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, the owners of the Phoenix New Times, which has produced a steady stream of critical stories examining the sheriff’s empire of authoritarian corruption. Lacey and Larkin were charged with publicizing secret grand jury proceedings by publicizing a subpoena they had received from the local prosecutor, a priggish authoritarian and Arpaio ally named Andrew Thomas, that demanded, inter alia, “Every note, tape, and record from every story written about Sheriff Arpaio by every reporter over a period of years” as well as “detailed information on anyone who has looked at the New Times Web site since 2004” as well as every individual “individual who looked at any story, review, listing, classified, or retail ad [in the publication] over a period of years.”

All of this was part of a campaign of official harassment and intimidation provoked by a New Times investigation into Arpaio’s personal real estate holdings. One story published by the paper gave Arpaio’s home address, thereby supposedly posing “a serious and imminent threat” to his personal safety. The charges against Lacey and Larkin were dropped, and the New Times is pursuing a lawsuit against the rogue sheriff and his ally in the County Prosecutor’s office.

Arpaio continues to use the powers of his office to punish and intimidate his critics, whether this involves threatening to arrest reporters for seeking public records about the MCSO or arresting citizens who politely applaud his critics during meetings of the County Board of Supervisors. (People who applauded other speakers at the same event were left unmolested by Arpaio’s minions.) Arpaio’s preferred tactic is to file “disorderly conduct” charges against people who confront or criticize him or his office; in fact, he’s been captured on video trying to provoke a citizen into some act, gesture, or vocal inflection that could be construed as “disorderly”: