Trump’s Pardon of Arpaio is His Most Recent Shout to White Supremacists

By Cecilia Wang

President Trump rallied his crowd in Phoenix on Tuesday night by invoking the name of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. The reaction was exactly as expected.

“Do the people in this room like Sheriff Joe?” Trump asked the crowd to thunderous applause. “I’ll make a prediction: I think he’s going to be just fine.”

With those words, Trump effectively promised to pardon Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt of court, publicly disgraced and voted out of office by the majority of Maricopa County, Ariz., voters. In doing so, the president of the United States sealed another deal with an emboldened white-nationalist movement in our country.

Trump claims Arpaio was convicted for “doing his job.” That’s false. After the community rose up to stop his policies of racial profiling and illegal traffic stops — represented by lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union and its partner organizations — a federal court ordered an end to those unconstitutional policing tactics.

Arpaio repeatedly showed “flagrant disregard” for a court order requiring him to stop illegal detentions and was again held accountable, first through a civil contempt-of-court trial in the civil rights case and then through a criminal-contempt prosecution by the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section before a different district judge.

Arpaio was duly convicted based on damning evidence that he violated court orders and did so deliberately — including Arpaio’s own statements to the press and the testimony of his former attorney and lower-ranking commanders that they had explained to Arpaio that his detention policy violated the court order but that he continued the policy anyway.

Arpaio is due to be sentenced for criminal contempt on Oct. 5. But now the president of the United States, who made a point of campaigning with Arpaio to crowds calling for more xenophobic policies, has thrown the power of his office behind Arpaio. The message to their mutual supporters is clear: The president would like law enforcement officials who pursue racist policies to be above the law.

Anyone who has paid attention to Trump’s policies knows that a potential pardon for Arpaio would not be his first expression of official racism. As a candidate, Trump made openly racist statements against Mexicans and Muslims. As president, he has followed through on those statements by promulgating policies that attack immigrants and communities of color.

In his first week in office, Trump issued a trio of discriminatory executive orders. On Jan. 25, Trump issued one to build a wall on the southern border and another to unleash a massive deportation force, including measures to force local police into Arpaio-style tactics that have led to racial profiling and damage to public safety. Two days later, Trump issued his infamous ban on the admission of all refugees as well as all immigrants and visitors from seven majority-Muslim countries.

When white supremacists marching in Charlottesville praised Trump’s policies, this is what they were praising. A pardon of Arpaio should be seen for what it is: the latest attack on people of color by Trump.

The same core of white-supremacist support that cheered Trump’s initial response to violence in Charlottesville — blaming people on “many sides” for the deadly incident — also fueled Arpaio’s racist policies. Arpaio supporters successfully demanded immigration sweeps based merely on the presence of Latino day laborers or Spanish-speaking employees in their neighborhoods. Arpaio spoke to this same constituency when, after being held in check by federal court orders, he defiantly said that no one could tell him what to do.

Neither Trump nor Arpaio can change the fact that federal courts held Arpaio accountable for his civil rights violations, or that the people of Maricopa County kicked Arpaio out of office. But if Trump follows through with the pardon, he will go down in history as the president whose first exercise of the pardon power was a shout to white supremacists: I’m with you.

Cecillia Wang is deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. She was one of the attorneys who litigated the civil rights case against former Maricopa County, Ariz., sheriff Joe Arpaio brought by the ACLU and partner organizations.

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      1. Jim Hoch

        Doesn’t look like much of an uprising… I suppose you could say “the community rose up” and elected Donald Trump who pardoned him. The ACLU press releases always read like a third grade diatribe.

        1. Howard P

          You wrote,

          I thought he was re-elected numerous times. Maybe I am confused.

          I gave you facts that supported your thought.

          [He did have a substantial reversal in 2016. a ~14% ‘swing’]

          Then you got a bit snotty… my mistake to give you facts to bolster your ‘thought’… sure won’t make that mistake again… if you have a valid one again…

        2. Jim Hoch

          “Then you got a bit snotty” Seemed to match the tone of the article. But no, not trying to be offense, I find amusement in polemic statements like “The community rose up” when clearly the community did not rise up.

        3. Keith O

          We all know how the game is played, if two leftists stand up that represents a community, where 2000 conservatives doing the same is called a small outpouring.

        4. Jim Hoch

          “I suppose it depends on which community you’re talking about”

          Clearly it is “The Community” so anyone who did not rise up is not a part of “The Community”. The ACLU is denying their existence. Should we care about the feelings of people who deny our existence? Maybe you can find someone to write an article about that.

  1. Howard P

    I know I won’t…

    Interesting to see that the Sheriff went from a 66.5% vote in 2000 t0 43.5% vote in 2016…the results over the years appear to be a ‘trend line’…

    Also interesting to see that in Maricopa County, it (Sheriff) is a partisan office…

    1. Jerry Waszczuk


      In November 2007, a group calling itself Arizonans for the U.S. Constitution and Recall of Joe Arpaio filed the paperwork to begin an effort recall Arpaio and County Prosecutor Thomas from office for allegedly disobeying and violating the  United States Constitution and abuse of power ]Their petition to get a recall question for the two officials onto the next general election ballot failed when the group was unable to collect the more than 200,000 registered voter signatures required. IN A SURVEY TAKEN BY THE  WALTER CRONKITE SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM WHILE THE PETITION WAS IN CIRCULATION, NEARLY THREE OUT OF FOUR RESPONDENTS OPPOSED THE RECALL, AND 65 PERCENT OF THE RESPONDENTS HELD A POSITIVE OPINION OF ARPAIO ON MAY 30, 2013, A RECALL ATTEMPT ON ARPAIO AGAIN FAILED ONLY A WEEK AFTER A FEDERAL JUDGE RULED THAT THE SHERIFF’S OFFICE HAD ENGAGED IN SYSTEMATIC DISCRIMINATION AGAINST LATINOS IN VIOLATION OF THEIR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS. Members of Respect Arizona and Citizens for a Better Arizona started the recall effort, but were unable to get the required 335,000 valid voter signatures by the 5 p.m. deadline.


      16 years in office is a quite long time . His age in 2016 and legal problems were  a probable causes  that his chance to sustain his popularity declined  . Even looking at 43.5 % vote  and his problems ,Arpaio in 216  was a  popular guy regardless that many hated him  and  viewed him as racist.

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