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By signing Kris Kobach to his transition team, President-elect Donald Trump sent a message to the US. An architect of the notorious “papers please” bill, Arizona’s SB 1070, Kobach stands to prepare the way for Trump’s promise to deport 3 million migrants in his first year in office. While SB 1070-like bills were passed in other states around the US, it would likely have to be universalized through congressional legislation for such an increase of deportations to occur.
SB 1070 effectively required police to inquire into legal residency when noticing possible indicators of foreign citizenship, such as Mexican flags, skin color and foreign accents. It was known as the “papers please” bill because its hard line on immigration seemed comparable to many a fascist policy. This comparison was not exactly off target.
Kobach himself is tied to the white nationalist Tanton network, which runs a whole system of groups that fund and lobby in favor of anti-immigration and population control efforts. It was through his work with this network and the “model legislation” group, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), that SB 1070 was produced. Then-president of the Arizona State Senate Russell Pearce sat on ALEC’s board, and sponsored SB 1070 through the Arizona legislature in 2010.
What we know about Pearce, Kobach and their connections to white nationalism and fascism in Arizona is portentous with regards to the future of the US.
“Father Figure” to a Nazi
Pearce had already achieved infamy in 2007, when his ties to known fascists in Arizona became inescapable. These connections were, specifically, to a group known as National Vanguard and a neo-Nazi named J.T. Ready.
Pearce took a shine to Ready, a former marine who faced two court martials in one year before being discharged. In the early 2000s, the two became so close that Pearce ordained Ready into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 2004, Ready aligned himself with the Protect America Now initiative that Pearce had drafted. Virginia Abernathy of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CoCC) led the charge.
The next year, the former contact for the Arizona chapter of the CoCC, Jerry Harbin, became the point person for the Arizona branch of a new neo-Nazi group called the National Vanguard. It came as a shock to many of Pearce’s supporters when they received propaganda from this Harbin-backed neo-Nazi group. Specifically, Pearce had mass-emailed them an article from the National Vanguard’s days as the National Alliance’s propaganda arm about curtailing Jewish influence in media.
While National Vanguard emerged in Arizona, ostensibly with the support of Pearce (although he apologized for the inappropriate letter to his supporters), Ready joined in, attending gatherings like the 2006 Winterfest, during which Harbin performed a theatrical Odinist skit. However, after the National Vanguard leader Kevin Alfred Strom was arrested for child pornography the next month, Ready and Harbin appeared to move over to events hosted by the National Socialist Movement (NSM) under 20-foot-tall burning swastikas. Ready and Harbin’s son, Jeffrey, cultivated a friendship.
Ready also created his own border militia, distributing NSM flyers at Tea Party meetings advocating landmines at border crossings. Despite this behavior, by the mid-2000s, when border deaths were becoming a globally-recognized human rights crisis, border militias were sanctioned by the state government under Pearce’s watch.
In 2007, Pearce and Ready were photographed together arm-in-arm. Pearce’s paternal expression was confirmed when Ready publicly called him a “father figure.” This would seem adequate to the facts, given that Ready bragged of being present when Pearce’s son received a Nazi iron eagle tattoo. Pearce returned the sentiment, calling Ready a “true patriot” in a campaign ad. After Ready’s white supremacist social media profile was outed by the Anti-Defamation League, Pearce began to openly distance himself from a man he had brought into his faith about five years prior.
During this period, Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s infamous Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office engaged in neighborhood sweeps, saturation patrols, workplace raids, and traffic stops in order to locate and detain undocumented migrants. Backing Sheriff Joe — often compared to Birmingham’s Sheriff Bull Connor — was Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas. His leading legal adviser was Kris Kobach, who also received $300 per hour to advise Arpaio’s officers, along with a $1,500 per month retainer. Facing investigation for joining Arpaio in illegally prosecuting the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, Thomas stepped down in order to run for attorney general of Arizona. He failed and was indeed disbarred, but that didn’t slow Kobach down.
With his notorious ties to the Tanton network, and especially the Immigration Reform Law Institute, Kobach spearheaded the drafting of SB 1070 for ALEC’s board, and Pearce spent 2010 championing the bill. For Ready’s part, he attempted to lead contingents of the NSM on “Americans First” rallies through the streets of Phoenix. Although police marched in lock-step with Ready’s shield-wielding neo-Nazi contingent, going so far as to issue them marching orders, fierce opposition from anti-fascist demonstrators thwarted Ready’s aspirations in the streets. Opposition to the formalization and enfranchisement of legislation produced and pushed through by white nationalists did not fare as well.
To begin the year after SB 1070 was implemented, Ready’s friend Jeffrey Harbin would be caught by US Border Patrol with several IEDs and a dozen more at home, likely intended for use on the border. During the course of the year, non-criminal deportations increased from just over a third of all deportations to slightly less than one half. These were the mothers stopped on the street while taking their kids home from school and whisked away to deportation centers without passing Go.
With the Occupy movement beginning in the fall, Ready tried to join in the protest with a contingent of NSM and Border Guard compatriots brandishing AR-15s and wearing camo gear. After a debate over whether or not National Socialists counted as “the 99%,” the neo-Nazis were forced to leave the encampment.
Shortly thereafter, Russell Pearce was recalled from his post at the State Senate, and a few months later, J.T. Ready met his sticky end with a bullet to the head after massacring his entire family. Much of SB 1070 was eventually pulled based on constitutional protections, and Sheriff Arpaio continued to fall under federal investigation until his ouster in the November 2016 elections.
Kobach, the last man standing in this wild west saga of intrigue, fascism and corruption, watched similar bills throughout the US either fail or get watered down in federal court. Today, Kobach and Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, a supporter of that state’s version of SB 1070, are working together for a White House that views Japanese internment as a possible precedent for the treatment of Muslims in the US. With potentially two upcoming Supreme Court nominees and a plethora of fascist connections binding the Trump administration to a cesspool of white nationalism, neo-reaction and “race realism,” it appears that the intense climate of Arizona in the late 2000s will reemerge on an unprecedented scale. Only a mass movement of civil disobedience will stop them.