We Need to Talk About What a Monster Joe Arpaio Is, and What That Means About Donald Trump

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Until last week, Joe Arpaio wasn’t a name that was on many casual news consumers’ radar. At least, not outside of Arizona, where he served as the Sheriff of Maricopa County from 1993 until 2016. Trump’s sudden pardon last week brought Arpaio into the national spotlight, but I’m guessing a lot of people still only know him as ‘the racist Sherrif Trump pardoned.’ That’s about all I knew of him–that he represented the most racist, unjust elements of law enforcement. But the more we learn about the details of his career, the more it becomes apparent that Arpaio isn’t just an awful man; he’s a monster wearing a human’s body.

While he may not have been known by many outside of Arizona, the Phoenix Sun Times has been covering Arpaio for more than 20 years, and following Trump’s pardon, they wanted to make sure all of America knew who this man was.

I have to warn you now. This thread, like the man, is disturbing.

You may have heard of Arpaio’s infamous “Tent City” jail, which he himself referred to as a “concentration camp.”

He opened the camp in 1993 to ease jail overcrowding. Accounts of the inhumane treatment inside the camp are horrifying. During the Arizona summers, temperatures in the outdoor complex could reach or pass 120 degrees. (Arpaio himself once seemed to brag that thermometers hung high inside the tents, where heat rises, could pass 140 degrees.) Prisoners died often, sometimes with no explanation.

Inmates in Arpaio’s jails were often denied medical treatment, including those with chronic illnesses, as well as pregnant women.

The stories from inmates are harrowing.

Arpaio also utilized humiliation and other forms of emotional torture.

Unsurprisingly for a man who built his career on what was eventually deemed illegal application of immigration laws, he cruelly targeted Latino inmates.

And then there are the crimes he willfully refuses to give a shit about.

Oh, he also once staged his own assassination attempt. The man he framed spent four years in prison and his settlement cost tax payers over a million dollars.

Those who worked under Arpaio seem to follow in his despicable footsteps.

I mean really despicable.


But of all of these crimes, the one he was found guilty of, and then pardoned for, was contempt of court.

The judge ordered Arpaio to stop racially profiling. No more pulling over Latino drivers for no reason or otherwise investigating and detaining people based on nothing but their race. But he’s not going to let some judge stand between him and his racist ways. (He also hired a PI to investigate the judge and his wife.)

Over the course of his career, he cost tax payers tens of millions of dollars in settlement payments.

This is the man Trump pardoned. And it wasn’t just a regular pardon. Not only did Trump skip all the typical steps involved in issuing clemency (like a review by the Justice Department), but–and this is truly baffling–Arpaio didn’t even ask for the pardon. Trump just decided to give it to him. That is not how that usually works.

So why did he do it, and what does this tell us about Trump other than that he’s just as awful as we already knew he was? Well, it sets the stage for a number of things. To start, it’s a clear message to racists in law enforcement that they’re doing a-okay. No one is going to stop them from abusing their power, especially when it comes to targeting immigrants.

It’s also hard not to see this as an attack on journalists, as Arpaio hates the media maybe as much as Trump does. He’s had to pay millions in settlements after having reporters arrested.

This also creates a far-reaching, incredibly dangerous precedent for future abuse of Trump’s power to pardon. We’ve already seen the sort of incestuous nepotism that guides this administration. Trump has given jobs and opportunities not just to his actual family, but to former business associates. If he built his business empire on back scratching, a lot of those favors seem to be getting cashed in on as Trump builds policy and tax codes designed to favor his billionaire business friends. Now a precedent has been set that not even actual convictions can stop Trump’s friends from whatever illegal activity they want to partake in.

There’s even been question of whether this could extend to those involved in the Russia investigation, like Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn. What is to make them comply with subpoenas to testify if Trump will simply pardon them for doing so? Would Trump do that? It would almost certainly constitute obstruction of justice, clear grounds for impeachment. But could he do it? Sure. It seems like every day he’s setting new precedents for previously unthinkable behavior.

(via Phoenix New Times, image: Shutterstock)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.