By Using The Classical Definition, Sheriff Joe Is Not A Fascist, But He Just Might Be A New Breed Of Political Operator: A Nuevo Fascist
Sheriff Joe Arpaio in a parade in Fountain Hills, Ariz. Image by Gage Skidmore and used under the terms of a Creative Commons license.
By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine
Jan. 21, 2012 — Fascist!
That simple one-word statement is one of the most common insults protesters, rioters and other critics hurl at law enforcement officers. Since most of us are used to hearing this type of critique in the heat of a demonstration, we are likely to shrug off the comparison as nothing more than rhetoric.
There is no epistemological data — the fancy way to describe the branch of philosophy dealing with the study and theory of knowledge — supporting the argument. But using the power of the state to enforce one’s will onto the population has become culturally synonymous with fascist regimes of the past.
Typically, that isn’t a very accurate assumption. Police may deserve many labels, but usually, “fascist” is not one of them. Yes, certain law enforcement entities in the United States use undue force when policing the public — the Occupy Oakland law enforcement resonse comes to mind. But these actions still do not justify the unique and specific “fascist” designation.
The acts are deplorable but the fascist phenomena — which first arose in post-World War I Italy — goes far beyond the realm of policing and extends into many different areas of politics and law, including a perpetuation of xenophobia, governmental power struggle, and the creation of a cult of personality.
Most law enforcement agencies do not even approach such levels. More often than not, they are merely blunt force representations of the status quo. They enforce the rules as seen from the perspective of those that control money and power. In the United States, that is done through a republican system. Fascists are people who desire a totalitarian regime.
Prof. Joseph Grcic of Indiana State University defines fascism this way: “Fascists seek rejuvenation of their nation based on commitment to an organic national community where its individuals are united together as one people in national identity by suprapersonal connections of ancestry, culture, and blood through a totalitarian single-party state that seeks the mass mobilization of a nation through discipline, indoctrination, physical education, and eugenics.”
Clearly, most police are not fascists. Most of them are former high school football players who finally found more ‘nerds’ to harass. So, most of the time, law enforcement agencies and officials get peppered with this barb a little unfairly.
About 99.99 percent of law enforcement agencies across the U.S. would not meet any part of the definition of fascist. The 0.01 percent? Only one lawman is even comparable. That's right ladies and gentleman. Maricopa County's own Sheriff Joe Arpaio may, in fact, be a new breed of politician that uses certain fascist-like political manuevers.
Let’s call him a ‘nuevo-fascist’ — much like a relatively small time political operator much like the Mexican generalissimos of old — that prospers on a much smaller stage than his historical counterparts while managing to wield an insane amount of power. Arpaio’s ability to pull such political stunts in these modern times is due, in part, to his knack for successfully navigating many of the pitfalls and legal struggles historically associated with fascist rulers.
In order to separate facts from perception, let's take a look at Arpaio's nuevo-fascist track record.
The two benchmark leaders by which all other fascists are measured, Mussolini and Hitler, utilized xenophobia in order to cultivate the ardent nationalism needed to justify and increase their powers. Every would-be fascist or ‘nuevo-fascist’ needs an "other" that he can blame when times are bad. The “others” are then blamed for everything from crime to economic stagnation. The people rally around this “hero” as he or she furthers their own celebrity and popularity within the community by fighting to remove this supposedly seedy and unwanted element.
Mussolini had the communists, socialists, and the liberal government. Hitler had the Jews. Both men blamed their scapegoats for their country's defeats in World War I and the economic stagnation. Both men made names for themselves and their parties by fighting to destroy these elements in the name of nationalism and prosperity.
Does Arpaio fit this mold? Let’s review the evidence. Sheriff Joe's war on illegal immigrants is the stuff of lore. They are taking our jobs. They cause crime. They need to be stopped.
Odds are if you ask Americans across the country what they know about Arizona, Joe's tactics and position on immigration and deportation will be a common answer.
On the xenophobic front, Arpaio’s blame game earns him the nuevo-fascist label. Throughout his tenure a sheriff, he has used the immigration issue to divert attention away from a variety of ills within his own department (overspending, DOJ investigations, uninvestigated child abuse, etc.) and then actively persecuted the Arizona Latino population in order to rally public right wing support.
Cult of Personality
Another piece of the fascist puzzle that might support Arpaio’s nuevo-fascist credentials revolves around a cult of personality. Every successful fascist movement has a central leader for the masses to rally around. Not only does this leader function as a political and governmental head, but he also acts as a sort of cultural demagogue. Because of the efforts made by Mussolini and Hitler to remove the "unwanted" elements from their respective countries in order to initiate a sort of national renaissance, they gained respect and admiration from large swaths of the population who saw these efforts as central to the reinvigoration of the nation.
Chalk another one up for nuevo-fascist Sheriff Joe. No local law enforcement official in the country has done a better job gaining public support due to perceived worth than ol' Joe. Arpaio's propaganda machine is right up there with Hitler and Mussolini's. The Teflon Sheriff deflects criticism with the best of them.
Whether he's using a puppy for a photo op or throwing a subordinate under the bus, Joe is a master at keeping his public image clean enough in the public eye to garner support for re-election. In the 2008 Maricopa County Sheriff election, Arpaio faced his most formidable foe yet in democrat Dan Saban, yet still managed to win by a margin of 13 percent, according to the Maricopa County Recorder's election results.
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