Arizona State Rep. Candidate Russell Pearce Distributes Article From Neo-Nazi National Alliance Website

Into the Mainstream

"Oops."

That might as well have been the re-election campaign slogan for Arizona State Rep. Russell Pearce. When the Republican pressed "send" on an E-mail to supporters in October, Pearce distributed an article from the neo-Nazi National Alliance website -- and unleashed a firestorm of controversy around an already embattled campaign.

Pearce later claimed that he never even read the entire National Alliance article in question, an anti-Semitic screed entitled "Who Rules America? The Alien Grip on Our News and Entertainment Media Must Be Broken." He told The Arizona Republic "the title and first few paragraphs" appealed to him, so he sent it around to a group of supporters.

It was the second time in two weeks the hard-line former sheriff from North Mesa found himself confronted with charges of racism and extremist views on immigration. Earlier that month, Pearce drew fire for endorsing a reprise of "Operation Wetback," a 1950s program of forced deportation.

"We know what we need to do," Pearce said on a Phoenix radio show. "In 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower put together a task force named 'Operation Wetback.' He removed, in less than a year, 1.3 million illegal aliens. They must be deported."

When critics jumped on the use of the derogatory word "wetback," Pearce defended himself with gusto, describing his critics, including fellow Republicans, as "sissies." "In the '50s, [the term] was common. In the '60s, it was common," Pearce said. "You don't use it today because people have tried to make it offensive. Things change, and you know what? Who cares?"

As a result of the twin controversies, Pearce lost several key endorsements during the run-up to the Nov. 7 election, including that of U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.), an anti-immigration hard-liner. Arizona State Sen. Carolyn Allen, also a Republican, told the East Valley Tribune that Pearce had "lost his moorings. He's driving himself mad about this [immigration debate]."

Pearce was not the only politician to get into seriously hot water over immigration. In Orange County, Calif., Tan Nguyen, Republican candidate to represent the 47th Congressional District, admitted in late October that a staff member had sent out Spanish-language letters to as many as 14,000 people with Hispanic-sounding surnames. The letters falsely warned that legal immigrants would be jailed for voting (naturalized citizens can vote) and falsely claimed that anti-immigrant organizations could access a database with the names of all new registered voters (no such database exists). They were printed on apparently forged letterhead from the California Coalition for Immigration Reform.

The Orange County Republican Party immediately withdrew its support for its candidate, calling for Nguyen to quit the race, while Republican Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger described the "extremely alarming" letters as a "hate crime." Nguyen, who campaigned mainly on opposition to immigration, fired the staffer who he claimed was solely responsible for the letters and vowed to stay in the race. Both the FBI and the state attorney general's office opened criminal investigations into the letters, which may have violated voting rights laws.