Tim Steller

Tim Steller

For a few days, the regular critics of Rep. Martha McSally have demanded that we find out where she stands on the violence in Charlottesville.

Everyone else was making a statement condemning the white-supremacist terrorist attack and the marching Nazis. What about her?

I bristled a bit. Why does everybody need to make a formal statement denouncing whatever atrocity has occurred in the country? Then finally, on Tuesday, McSally made a formal statement, and it hit me. Here’s what McSally said in an email from her office to my colleague Joe Ferguson:

“White supremacy or any form of racism, bigotry, violence or domestic terrorism have no place in our society and run counter to our values as a country.”

What hit me was that taking a verbal stand on the issues of the day may matter, especially on potent issues like white supremacy, but what matters even more is action.

Now, McSally, Gov. Doug Ducey and President Trump, among others, have all issued statements condemning white supremacy. The words were pro forma, but there is one way to judge their sincerity: By the speakers’ actions.

In McSally’s case, there’s a pretty simple thing she can do to demonstrate she meant what she said. Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee are asking for hearings and investigation into right-wing extremist groups like the ones that marched in Charlottesville over the weekend. McSally is a leading member of that committee — a chair of one of its six subcommittees.

Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, a Republican like McSally, has so far denied the Democrats’ efforts to hold these hearings. Using her leverage to cajole McCaul to hold them would be a demonstration of good faith, and potentially very useful. Violent extremism is obviously real and may be getting worse.

If she needs to demand that the hearings also cover the “anti-fascist” groups that sometimes instigate violence, that’s fine. Don’t leave out any violent extremists of any stripe. That seems like a condition Democrats should agree to.

What’s important is that she use her position to dig into what’s going on with these extremists, some of them anti-government types willing even to shoot police. Over the weekend, the FBI arrested a man who tried to blow up a bank in Oklahoma City with an inert bomb provided by an undercover FBI agent. It’s the latest of dozens of planned or carried-out right-wing extremist attacks that have occurred in the last decade.

If you think “domestic terrorism” and “white supremacy” “have no place in our society,” this is one place where you can take a stand.

Ducey was not as slow as McSally to come up with a statement on the Charlottesville violence. Late Sunday, he published a statement on Twitter: “I categorically 100% condemn neo-nazi, KKK, Klan, race/white supremacy groups+the violence & hate they preach. No place 4 it in #AZ or USA.”

It was a definitive statement, but he didn’t look good in light of the immediate controversy over Confederate memorials, which is what had initiated the Charlottesville protest in the first place. Pressed by reporters on the issue, Ducey said:

“It’s important that people know our history. I don’t think we should try to hide our history.”

The problem with that comment is this: Almost none of the six Confederate memorials on state property in Arizona actually represent Arizona’s history. As the Phoenix New Times ably reported in June, the one Confederate memorial that does have to do with Arizona history is at Picacho Peak, where there indeed was a small engagement between Union and Confederate soldiers.

Why would Ducey let stand something as absurd as a stretch of Highway 60 commemorated on a plaque near Apache Junction as the Jefferson Davis Highway? Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, had nothing to do with that highway or this state. What happened was, as the New Times reported, the Daughters of the Confederacy tried to piece together a coast-to-coast highway named after Davis early last century and failed, but they did erect the Davis memorial in 1943.

There’s nothing sacred or representative of Arizona’s history there, and it’s weak of Ducey to effectively defend the memorial by taking no stand.

Now, those aren’t the only race-related issues on which Ducey can take action. He has made various efforts at reducing recidivism and drug addiction among state prison inmates, for example. That’s good. But while he’s at it, how about ensuring that felons have their voting rights automatically restored once they’ve paid their debt to society?

Now for Trump, because he’s president, his words are almost equivalent to actions. They weigh more than those of McSally or Ducey, and yet he seems to consider them less.

Lately, his words are contradictory. He blamed both sides for violence in Charlottesville on Saturday, then under pressure condemned white supremacists on Monday. Then on Tuesday, Trump essentially cast as a bunch of innocents the people who chanted the Nazi slogan “Blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us” on Friday.

“Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch,” Trump said.

After his comments Tuesday, there is little question where Trump stands: He sympathizes with the alt-right.

There is an important Arizona-related decision that could highlight this perspective: The decision on whether to pardon former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

If you go back to the origins of the controversy over Arpaio’s immigration enforcement efforts, the problem was that it profiled Latinos without adequately distinguishing who might be in the country illegally. Innocents were swept up. Arpaio was ordered by a federal judge to stop the sweeps, and he didn’t, earning a criminal conviction for contempt of court.

A pardon of Arpaio — which Trump said he is considering — would put an exclamation point on the president’s comments on Tuesday. It would put his words of sympathy for white-supremacist demonstrators into action.

That’s the opposite of what we need.

Contact: tsteller@tucson.com or 807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter

Columnist

Tim Steller is the Star’s metro columnist. A 20-plus year veteran of reporting and editing, he digs into issues and stories that matter in the Tucson area, reports the results and tells you his opinion on it all.