Bill Straus, Executive Director of the Anti-Defamation League of Arizona, talks about Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon’s call for Sheriff Joe Arpaio to apologize for what Gordon calls the Sheriff’s associations with neo-Nazi groups. Straus also discusses hate groups in Arizona.
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. An 88-year-old white supremacist, who opened fire immediately after entering the U.S. holocaust memorial and museum, was charged today with murder for shooting a security guard to death in Washington, D.C. The shooting by James Von Brunn sparked a renewed war of words here in the valley. Phoenix mayor Phil Gordon says Maricopa county sheriff Joe Arpaio should denounce and apologize for appearing with neo Nazis. Gordon says the sheriff spoke at a meeting where a self-avowed Nazi and neo Nazi were in attendance. The sheriff also had his picture taken with a white supremacist. Arpaio says Gordon is lying. Here now to talk about that and the spread of hate groups is Bill Straus, Arizona regional director of the anti-defamation league. Bill, good to see you, thanks for joining us.
Bill Straus: Always a pleasure to see you, Ted.
Ted Simons: Generally your thoughts on what the mayor said and was he justified in saying those kinds of things?
Bill Straus: You know, I'm not getting involved between the mayor and the sheriff. On May 2nd there was a protest, and neo Nazis were out in force, for neo Nazis to be as public as they were with the sig-heils and they were acting in support of the sheriff. When I saw the video, my immediate feeling was, I hope the sheriff shares my feeling that he has a responsibility to denounce these groups. I know the sheriff, and I know the sheriff is not a neo Nazi. But people that saw that video emailed me from all over the country and, you know, they're wondering what is up with your sheriff? What's the deal? Joe and I talked after that. And I said to him, I'm telling you, the ball's in your court on this. You have a responsibility to denounce these groups, you know, it's not that you're -- he said to me I don't tell people what to believe. I don't tell people to support me or not. That wasn't the point. Neo Nazis happen to cling to an ideology that poses a threat, as we saw yesterday at the holocaust museum.
Ted Simons: Arpaio says he has no reason to support them. I'm sure he told you the same thing. He doesn't support them. So there's no reason to apologize. How far do you go when people cling to or associate with a certain, you know, one crowd associates with another crowd, how responsible is that other crowd to say get away from me?
Bill Straus: It's a great question. I think that you have to -- it's not a personality thing. You have to denounce the ideology. You have to denounce the belief system. And anyone familiar with the neo Nazi belief system, as much as there is variance within different sects in that ideology, I think you have to distance yourself from that kind of thinking.
Ted Simons" The sheriff's department also says he has no control and the sheriff's department has no control over who shows up at protests. Do you think the sheriff's department should have done a better or different job in controlling that protest?
Bill Straus: You know, the A.D.L. is very strong on supporting people's first amendment right to express their political beliefs. The first amendment only becomes important when somebody's offended. Otherwise we really don't think about it much. And I don't know that the sheriff has a responsibility to say who's there and who's not. I'm talking about once that video is made public and goes viral to the extent that it did, talking about millions of hits, at that point I think he needs to step back and say, you know what? I don't want a connection between me and them.
Ted Simons: Going back, and I know you want to not get between the two gentlemen, but the mayor and sheriff, if someone that you considered an opponent and someone you considered, you know, you were targeting, you were targeted by, say it's me, say I'm always criticizing you, saying you're doing this, that, and the other and you're just getting sick and tired of it and we just don't get along, something along those lines. Let's say this happens. If I say you need to do X, Y, and Z, if we're political enemies, do you do X, Y, and Z, even if it is the right thing to do? In other words is the sheriff and mayor don't get along. The sheriff wants the mayor to do something and the sheriff says, you know, there's no reason for me to do it. It's just political.
Bill Straus: I think to an extent that's true. You know, I -- the mayor, I think the mayor would have been wiser to express his comments at a different time. You know, yesterday I did interview after interview and the questions I was asked were about the shooter, the Holocaust museum, the hate groups, their activity. And then the mayor and sheriff thing.
They're on two totally different planes of importance, as far as at the moment, yesterday.
Ted Simons: Right. Let's talk about that different plane. Let's talk about hate groups. How common are they in Arizona and compare and contrast what's happening here with other parts of the country.
Bill Straus: We're pretty representative of what's going on all over the country. A.D.L. has observed there seems to be a wave of hate that's been evidenced since the beginning of the year, just recently. I don't have to enumerate, but I would certainly urge your viewers to go to our website, adl.org and read about the four or five recent incidents which lead us to believe, we think that a lot of it is ideologically driven but certainly some driven by current events. The economic crisis and Israel's military efforts in Gaza emboldened the anti-Semites not just in the valley but around the country to a level I have never seen in my adult life.
Ted Simons: Who are these people? People that are emboldened, are they young, old, rich, poor?
Bill Straus: There's no demographic. I cannot give you a general descriptor. They're rich, they're poor, they're young, they're old. Here's an 88-year-old man taking a rifle into the Holocaust museum, and people at the scene said, well, I saw an older man getting out of his car, I didn't give it a second thought.
Ted Simons: Last question here, the mayor says something provocative. The sheriff almost can't help but be provocative, that's his nature. Does this debate help shine a light on some of these hate groups? Could something good come out of this little brouhaha?
Bill Straus: Ask me the question in three or four months. I don't know. You know, I think we tend to emphasize the presence of hate groups and yet we look at the recent incidents, they've been lone individuals. The conclusion at this point in the investigation is he acted alone yesterday. That's what we find more and more often. The groups are there and a lot of these individuals had a tie with a group at one time or another. But it seems like when the words translate into acts of violence, it's an individual acting on his own.
Ted Simons: And you think the sheriff denouncing these people publicly in front of a whole slew of microphones would help?
Bill Straus: Yeah. I heard him do it last night, and I was glad that he finally did it. Absolutely, yeah.
Ted Simons: All right Bill, always a pleasure, thanks for joining us.
Bill Straus: Thanks, Ted.
Bill Straus:Executive Director, Anti-Defamation League of Arizona;