Last month, Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona's Maricopa County visited nearby Pima County for a book signing ("Joe's Law: America's Toughest Sheriff Takes on Illegal Immigration, Drugs and Everything Else that Threatens America") at a Tucson Barnes & Noble. The event drew protests against the controversial and reactionary lawman, who has been running immigration sweeps in heavily Hispanic sections of the Phoenix area. Several immigrant and human rights groups, including the Coalición de Derechos Humanos, or The Human Rights Coalition, wanted to send a clear message that "Arpaio's racist and divisive policies are not welcome in Pima County."
The demonstration, which turned out about 100 protesters, was energetic but peaceful, highlighted by teenagers whacking a piñata effigy of Arpaio - a calm and fairly common protest practice in Southwest. Afterward, local attorney and Derechos Humanos co-chair Isabel Garcia told the press that Arpaio's trip to Tucson "to promote a book filled with lies, fear and ignorant perspectives about immigrants was especially appalling to us." Garcia, who is employed as Pima County's Legal Defender (akin to a public defender), was also videotaped picking up the decapitated piñata head and carrying it around.
Local talk radio host "Jon Justice" was also present at the piñata protest. He took the footage of Garcia holding the head and used it to launch a campaign calling for her head, intent on getting Garcia fired -- and even disbarred. Justice plies his talk trade at KQTH 104.1 FM, which calls itself "The Truth" and boasts a daily lineup that features several of "America's 10 worst hate talkers" including Laura Ingraham, Neal Boortz and Michael Savage.
Justice, who reportedly lost a previous on-air slot in Michigan when he pretended to drown a dog on-air, posted the Garcia videotape online and followed it with two YouTube videos (video 1, video 2) that showed him caressing a life-sized doll of Isabel Garcia. Saying, "I want to take her home" while pawing the model, Justice joked about how Garcia's form was really light because "Chorizo's not that fattening."
Blogger D.J. Waletzky supplies more detail:
"As Justice canoodles with his Garcia doll, he voices her responses in a shrill faux-Chicano accent. Justice has his effigy saying things like, 'No, you did not fondle me at all. As a matter of fact, when you held me, it felt so warm. So nice. Having you hold me in your arms made me feel warm like the inside of a freshly cooked chimichanga. And I thank you for that. And I would really love to go home with you.' He then proceeded to make out with the Isabel Garcia 'mascot' as his cameraman protested that the whole thing is 'totally creeping me out right now.'"
Although Justice has taken down the videos of him feeling up the Garcia doll, the controversy continues to rage. A recent blog post revealed his dismay at the blowback against him:
"Welcome to the hypocrisy as Isabels Garcias [sic] group DERECHOS HUMANOS has launched a campaign against me! Do I work for the government? Does the taxpayer pay my salary? What what [sic] about my 1st Amendment rights? No one ever said that Isabel and Derechos never had the "right" to protest. It was and is still about a lawyer and public servant acting inappropriate per the AZ State Bar Rules and Pima County Policy."
Derechos Humanos has responded by calling on sponsors to pull their ads from KQTH -- part of the Journal Broadcast Group, which operates three other Tucson radio stations, along with television outlet KGUN. The group invited supporters "to contact these businesses to let them know that you are concerned about their support of hate radio, and encourage them to promote their businesses with media outlets that stand behind the principles of dignity and respect." But the effect of the boycott call is unclear - in part because Journal executives are holding to a no-comment-to-the-media stance.
Jim Thomas, VP, Marketing, Programming & Interactive Media for the Journal Broadcast Group, declined to speak to me, saying only "Thank you for the invitation. I'll pass on the opportunity." Radio talker Jon Justice wasn't talking much either... Contacted via email, Justice referred me to Thomas, noted that "Despite what may have been written, the story was never about me apart from the fact that I put up for viewing the video of the protest that the local media didn't show," and repeatedly declined requests to be interviewed.
Well known, both nationally and internationally, for her work for immigrant rights and border issues -- specifically the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border -- Garcia has often been a target of the right wing in the past. In the last few weeks, however, she has received more hate calls and e-mails than ever before.
"We've been facing down the forces of hate for years," Garcia told me. "But it has never been like this before - until Jon Justice and hate radio 104.1 FM came around and began making derogatory comments and using hateful language while regularly fomenting lies, fear and misinformation about immigrants."
Although Garcia has been threatened many times in the past, and admits that she is now "facing extreme pressure on my life," she says she doesn't see herself as "being brave." Instead, she says, "I'm privileged - I'm a citizen, well-educated, an attorney...The situation of many migrants is actually far more dangerous than the one I'm now facing."
The larger threat, Garcia maintains, is the "chilling effect" that the attacks against her may have on others. "They are trying to silence any voice that speaks out on behalf of immigrants," she explained.
Garcia's colleague Kat Rodriguez is less sanguine about the danger to Garcia. "Isabel is under direct attack," Rodriguez says. "They say that she was using children to incite violence against law enforcement (we've never had violence at our events, and always coordinate with the police) and that she is a Mexican agent and all of the other Reconquista crap that many have heard before (that we are here to reconquer the Southwest for Aztlan, as Mexican agents). The problem is, a fair number of people are buying into this spin, and it is obviously an orchestrated attempt by the right-wing to chill any resistance to racism and xenophobia that is going on here."
Rodriguez says she "would usually shrug this off as idiotic, but it has actually gained traction. This right-wing jerk, whose show is a constant stream of anti-immigrant, racist, and homophobic rhetoric, is leading the charge, even commenting the other day that we need 'bloodshed in the polling places.'
"Nobody outside of Arizona knows what is going on, and the madness continues," concludes Rodriguez. "I don't know what else to do except to reach out to outside allies and media to see what is going on. Nobody cares about the abuses and deaths that are happening in Maricopa County, nobody cares about the hundreds of bodies recovered on the border every year, and nobody cares about the witch hunt that is taking place against Isabel Garcia. She has been the voice of resistance for many years here, and this is a strategic attempt to take her down, a warning to anyone who challenges the likes of Arpaio and his goon squad."
Is it "The Truth" that no one cares? Is it "justice" that Isabel's career -- and her life - is being threatened? Or is this just the American way? Having already been branded a lesbian, a communist and a terrorist, and likened to Al Qaeda, Garcia is now being targeted by a local anti-Mexican immigration activist named Roy Warden. After threatening those he terms "Left Wing activists and Pendejo Thugs" that he will "draw my weapon and blow your freaking heads off," of late Warden has warned that he might "turn their skulls into red mush" in an attack that "will make the Shootout at the OK Corral look like a Sunday school picnic."
"I am absolutely concerned about Roy Warden," admits Isabel Garcia. "I've brought him to police attention several times in the past. After all, I've been called a traitor, accused of sedition and of working for a foreign government... What if someone hears this kind of talk and decides to act on it?
Given Roy Warden's pronounced proclivity toward violence, and the recent Tennessee church shooting, such speculation seems warranted. It's not a stretch to ponder whether on-air remarks such as Jon Justice's call for 'bloodshed in the polling places' could one day prove to be the spark that turns such ominous hate speech into real-life acts of hatred - and real people's skulls into - yes -- real red mush...