Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County is relishing the opportunity to host Donald Trump at a rally on his own turf Saturday — and serve as the muscle at the same time.
After taking a few days off from his long streak of attention-grabbing rallies, Trump is cranking back up this weekend, and has scheduled one of his events right in the backyard of the long-serving and controversial Arizona sheriff.
“Here I’m gonna be kinda wearing two hats — in charge of the security there in the town and also participating, I would imagine, with Trump in the rally, so it makes it interesting,” Arpaio said in an interview with POLITICO, adding that it “is going to be a lot of fun taking care of business there.”
Arpaio, who officially endorsed Trump back in January, said that he’s expecting protests at Saturday’s event. But the 83-year-old sheriff who has repeatedly been accused of racial profiling Hispanic residents says Trump’s clashes pale in comparison to his own.
“I’ve had demonstrations against me constantly,” he said. “He hasn’t had that many demonstrators compared to me.”
While it’s not clear how much of a protest presence there will be for the mid-day rally, some of Trump’s recent events have descended into chaos. Just last Friday, his rally in Chicago was abruptly canceled after skirmishes started breaking out both inside and outside the venue. In North Carolina, a Trump supporter was arrested after sucker-punching a protester and later saying, “The next time we see him, we might have to kill him.”
Trump’s critics have accused him of inciting violence. They point to his comments telling supporters that he’ll pay the legal bills of anyone attacking protesters and warning that “riots” will break out if he’s unfairly denied the Republican nomination. He’s also lamented not being able to punch back at protesters and reminisced about the old days when “they’d be carried out on a stretcher.”
But Arpaio said Trump is getting a bad rap.
“They always repeat little minor things, what he said in the rally ‘oh you gotta carry him out on a stretcher, blah, blah, blah,’” Arpaio said. “I just thought that when you have a rally, you’re supposed to rally people and kind of say things that are exciting.”
Arpaio said in the interview late Thursday that he wasn’t yet sure what role he will play on stage in Saturday’s rally in Fountain Hills, which is about 40 minutes outside of Phoenix proper.
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for confirmation that Arpaio would be speaking at the event, but Arpaio’s office confirmed he would at least be in attendance.
Arpaio has long been a controversial figure both in Arizona and nationally. The sheriff and his deputies were found to have violated the constitutional rights of Latinos in 2013, and in 2015 the federal ruling was mostly upheld. And he’s been sued multiple times. Since he took office in 1993, he’s cost taxpayers $142 million in legal expenses, settlements and court awards, according to the Arizona Republic.
Yet, the man who calls himself “America’s toughest sheriff” has been reelected six times and he’s going for number seven. Trump, who deals with nearly constant protesters and is no stranger to legal fights, has reveled in Arpaio’s endorsement, bringing him up almost constantly on the trail.
“Sheriff Joe Arpaio endorsed me. And if he endorses you, believe me, you are the strongest, from Arizona,” Trump said during the March 4 debate in Detroit.
The feeling is mutual.
Arpaio told POLITICO that he’s endorsed many Republicans over the years, but “this is probably one of the endorsements that I’ve really been excited about because of the nature of his character and being different. So I’m getting more, and you know, it’s very exciting compared to all the people that ask for my endorsement.”
“This one I got a little special excitement,” he added.
Multiple groups are planning to protest Trump’s appearance on Saturday, and the fact that Arpaio will be there in multiple capacities is adding to their motivations.
Carlos Garcia, the director of the civil rights group Puente Arizona, is helping to organize one of the protests, which he said is designed to show that Trump is not welcome in Arizona, which is holding its primary on Tuesday. He’s tying Trump’s rhetoric to other Arizona officials past and present – including Arpaio.
“I think it’s something we’ve heard here before with Joe Arpaio, [former Gov.] Jan Brewer and [former state Sen.] Russell Pearce, and those are folks that are on their way out and did a lot of the damage to the state,” Garcia said.
Garcia said he’s planning for the protests to be peaceful, but is concerned over the fact that Arpaio is in charge of law enforcement.
“I think Fountain Hills is obviously hostile territory for our community. It’s where Arpaio lives. No one in our community trusts Joe Arpaio,” he said.
Garcia said that they’re trying to tell protesters to stay calm and stay away from violence. “Not only will we have to watch ourselves for folks on the Trump side…but also the sheriff’s department,” he said.
Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva, who is a supporter of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, told POLITICO that given the political climate at Trump rallies and Arpaio’s controversial role, “I would suggest that there has to be some oversight.”
Arpaio is “not impartial and that worries me,” Grijalva said.
He added that he expects protesters are going to show up in force because people “are going to want to say something.”
Veterans for Peace, a veterans advocacy group, is also having members protesting Trump, particularly against his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States.
Executive director Michael McPhearson told POLITICO they’ll have members out there “to express disapproval of his Islamophopic rhetoric.”
“We have to stand up where we see people speaking this way,” McPhearson said.
The sheriff’s department wouldn’t disclose details about their security plans. Courtney Palma, a public information officer with Arpaio’s office, confirmed they’d be on the ground and were ready for any disturbances.
“Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department is prepared if anything is to happen,” she said.