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Danny McBride Murders a Bunch of People in “Arizona”

If traditional comedy says “nothing is sacred,” too often black comedy says “everything is meaningless” and also “fuck you, Jack.” Every character is just the setup to a ghastly punchline, and the joke is on the audience. We attach to characters as a function of storytelling, and when their brains are splattered in the service of hilarity, the result is a mingled sense of horror and the feeling you’ve been punked.

Director Jonathan Watson’s super-violent Arizona is a well-done but chilly and essentially unlovable black comedy with one tiny spark of warmth — Rosemarie DeWitt’s performance as Cassie, a real estate broker who finds herself underwater financially after the 2006 housing market collapses. She’s a witness when Sonny (Danny McBride), another bankrupted homeowner, murders her horrible boss Gary (Seth Rogen).

In his haste to flee the scene, Sonny, a psychopathic knucklehead, knocks out Cassie and takes her to his house, a McMansion lost in a suburban Arizona wasteland of empty foreclosures. Watson cultivates a sense of isolation and dread as dimwit Sonny vacillates between murdering Cassie and forcing a promise that she won’t report him.

Screenwriter Luke Del Tredici’s best move is using the housing crash as a setting, and he peoples it with broad comedic stereotypes. The flatter the character, the more they’re like a paper target at a shooting range. As the kidnapping escalates to a series of brutal killings, Sonny murders his shrewish ex-wife (Kaitlin Olson), a hard-nosed cop (David Alan Grier), Cassie’s hapless ex (Luke Wilson), and a redneck subdivision guard, and even blows out the brains of a cute, heroic rottweiler as a visual gag. Life is meaningless. Fuck you, Jack.

Arizona
Directed by Jonathan Watson
RLJE Films
Opens August 24, AMC 34th Street

 

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A Remote Arizona Church Offers Followers Peyote-Induced Psychedelic Trips

A tall, heavyset man with shaggy blond hair and straight-cropped bangs stands in the middle of an empty gravel parking lot. He looks around aimlessly, hands shoved in his pockets.

When he sees a car pulling up, he turns, hands still stuffed in pockets, and hurries over to a small building with a satellite dish on the roof and a serape covering the door.

“Someone’s here,” he says into the darkened building.

A minute later, a small, wiry man wearing tight, black yoga pants, a fanny pack, and a baseball cap pulled over a graying ponytail appears in the doorway and moves across the lot with a mountain goat’s spring in his step.

“Hello, I’m Matthew,” he says, a grin touching the corners of his mouth. “Welcome to Peyote Way.”

This is Matthew Kent, one of the two primary spiritual leaders of Peyote Way Church of God near Safford, Arizona. On this afternoon, “Rabbi” Kent has just finished an interview with two filmmakers from California who are working on a documentary about his church. The blond man wandering around the property, he says, is preparing for one of the church’s “spirit walks.”

In the distance, the peak of Mount Graham, a Western Apache holy site, is dusted with snow.

Although not a house of worship in the traditional sense — there’s no steeple, no ornate architecture, no flowing robes or pulpit — Peyote Way is, in fact, a church. It was founded based on the beliefs of Peyotism, a Native American religion that uses the hallucinogen peyote as a sacrament and combines teachings from various other mainstream organized religions — including Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Mormonism, Hinduism, and Islam — in its doctrine.

The church’s 160-acre property, where Kent, his partner, Anne Zapf, and two of the couple’s three children call home, largely is undeveloped. There are a few rustic buildings, a pottery studio, and two or three small trailers clustered around an empty swimming pool in the main lot. The place looks more like a commune or a hostel than a church.

It’s hard to believe that people from across the United States and as far away as Korea, Russia, and Afghanistan come to the scrub-brush Arizona desert searching, as Kent says, for enlightenment, God, or simply a reconnection with nature. But they do — maybe because, according to Kent, it’s the only place in the country that does what it does.

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Kent and the “Reverend” Zapf are hippies — an endangered breed straight out of the counterculture movement of the ’60s and ’70s. Lean and healthy-looking 60-year-olds, they maintain a vegetarian diet and don’t drink alcohol and easily could pass for people in their early 50s. Their three children were born at Peyote Way and are in their late 20s or early 30s. Joseph, the couple’s middle child, lives in Sedona and sells church pottery.

Kent and Zapf say they adhere to their old counterculture’s main tenets — peace, love, and the use of mind-altering drugs to expand consciousness — to survive in today’s consumer culture.

Peyote, one of the most powerful and rarest natural hallucinogens, is key to the church’s spiritual practice. The holy sacrament peyote (Lophophora williamsii) is a spineless cactus native to the Rio Grande Valley of southeastern New Mexico and Texas, and to north-central Mexico.

Anybody who has read Carlos Castaneda’s books has an idea of what peyote is. Castaneda, a UCLA anthropology student turned prominent mysticism author, documented his experiences ingesting peyote. His first book, The Teachings of Don Juan, was published in 1968. At Peyote Way, visitors get a version of the experiences Castaneda wrote about.

But Kent warns that coming to Peyote Way with expectations is a recipe for disappointment.

“It’s hard to come here without expectations, but the more you can tamp them down the better,” Kent says. “When you read Carlos Castaneda, or hear about somebody else’s peyote experience, well, that was their peyote experience. Your peyote experience is going to be absolutely yours.”

Each year, about 120 to 140 people visit the church, which requires visitors to become members with a suggested donation of $200 to $300 each, including a one-time membership fee of $50. This qualifies new adherents for an eventual spirit walk. (All this is outlined on the church’s website, peyoteway.org.) The church’s annual income totaled about $60,000 for 2012, and the pottery business brought in about $30,000, Zapf says.

“Essentially, the way it’s done here is that [people] make appointments with Anne, and they come here and fast for a day — we sort of get to know them and figure out if they’re ready for the experience,” Kent says.

Kent says mentally ill individuals are turned away, and people with physical disabilities are required to stay near the compound’s main house while taking peyote. Determining a person’s physical condition is a judgment call by Zapf and Kent.

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Zapf and Kent’s children had their first spirit walks when they were 14 years old.

“I figure if you’re old enough to make babies, then you’re old enough to know the truth of life and spend some time in reflection about who you are and what you want to be in this life,” says Kent.

Those who venture into the middle of nowhere to find Peyote Way get a tour of its grounds, after which they are given a place to stay for the night so that they can fast. The next day, they pick out one of the three spots on the property, each with a rustic lean-to and a fire pit, where they will spend the second night drinking the church’s peyote mixture.

“When it comes time for the spirit walk, Annie will measure 21 grams of peyote — it’s the reputed weight of the soul — then boiling water is poured over it,” Kent says. “The mixture really is more gruel than a tea.”

In general, Zapf says, visitors report having three different types of reactions to drinking the potion: They get sick all night and nothing happens, they are sick half the night and then the most amazing things happen, or it is wonderful from beginning to end.

“The first four hours are the most physical, as the tea has a challenging taste and ingestion of it can cause nausea,” she says. “The next four hours are critical, as fear and nausea compete with the rational, curious mind. At this point, one can surrender to the experience or succumb to fear and fight it all the way.”

The taste of peyote is notoriously bad, and drinking the mixture is a lengthy and arduous process. Most visitors don’t make it through an entire quart-size container, says Kent. They typically vomit.

“Let’s just get it straight from the beginning: Peyote is not a recreational substance, it’s a re-creational substance,” says Kent, who sees peyote as a medicinal plant that can be used for psychological and physical healing.

Church members who have participated in a spirit walk typically refer to peyote as “medicine” rather than a drug. One such member, Dr. Joe Tafur, an integrative family physician in Phoenix and co-founder of Nihue Rao Centro Espiritual healing center in Peru, says he learned of Peyote Way in an old article about the church. He subsequently decided to experience a spirit walk and since has participated in seven such psychedelic journeys.

“The average person can benefit from the spirit walk,” says Tafur via email from the Amazon, where he works at his Nihue Rao foundation. “The spirit walk offers an opportunity for profound spiritual healing.”

Long-term, repeated use of peyote is safe, he says. He cites John Halpern’s Harvard-affiliated study on it as evidence of the cactus’s safeness.

“In my experience, it allows for healing of the subconscious and deep emotional traumas that often evade allopathic and psychological approaches,” Tafur says. “Healing of the mind and spirit then allows for a number of physiological benefits through mind-body connections, primarily through psychoneuroimmunologic and psychoneuroendocrine connections.”

Another church member, Robert McDermott, a former technology worker at University of California–San Diego, says he has experienced 15 spirit walks.

He embarked on one of his earliest in an attempt to overcome anxiety related to a “serious illness.”

Says McDermott: “The medicine was difficult for me to take, and I became very nauseous. Then [after about an hour] I began seeing my anxieties and my fears of death associated with my illness for what they were. My anxieties were preventing me from being present with my family and friends. I found a place of profound gratitude for my life as it was.”

McDermott says he wouldn’t be alive today “if it were not for this sacred medicine.”

The church’s late founder and Kent’s teacher, the Reverend Immanuel Pardeahtan Trujillo, started using peyote as a way to treat himself for post-traumatic stress disorder that resulted from his combat in World War II, according to Kent.

Far-fetched as it may sound, Kent credits peyote with reversing his vasectomy — after which he and Zapf had their three children.

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A mound of stones and gravel draped with an American flag and surrounded by discarded cattle gates holds a prominent place in Peyote Way’s dirt yard. It’s the burial spot of Immanuel Trujillo, who died in at 82 in small room at the church in June 2010.

With little prompting, Kent dives into an extensive biography of Trujillo, who went from New Jersey to Europe in World War II to New York City to Texas and eventually to Arizona. It’s clearly a story he has told many times.

Kent’s recounting of Trujillo’s life can seem implausible, even mythic, but in many ways, the church’s existence in the high desert of Arizona is just as outlandish.

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As the story goes, Trujillo was born to a Jewish mother of French-American descent and a Mexican-Apache father. Trujillo’s father had come to the United States from Mexico in 1917 and enlisted in the U.S. Army to gain American citizenship.

His father was exposed to mustard gas during World War I and suffered resulting ailments for much of his later life, Kent says. Trujillo was just a few months old when his father died.

Trujillo’s mother, 14 years old at the time of his conception, gave him up for adoption. For the first two years of his life, he was raised in an orphanage. Then, an Irish-Catholic family adopted him and renamed him Jimmy Coyle.

When he was 15 or 16, Coyle ran away from home to join the military. He wanted to fight the Nazis during World War II. Too young to join the U.S. Army, which would accept only recruits at least 17 years old, Coyle enlisted in the British Merchant Navy.

“The British were fighting for their lives, so they would take anybody,” Kent says. “The British gave him a gun and called him a Royal Marine.”

Coyle officially joined the British forces in 1944. In the last few weeks of the war, legend has it, he was sent on a mission to the North Sea island of Heligoland, where the Nazis maintained an ammunition dump. Coyle was assigned to take out a German-controlled radio tower.

The island was supposed to be deserted, but two members of the German Volkssturm still manned the tower.

“It was a knife operation, and as Immanuel got old, he would tell us, ‘I see them every night,’ ” Kent recalls. “Sixteen and 60 [years old], two guys; he survived, and they didn’t.”

While he was making his way back to the boat that had brought him to the island, a bomb exploded and Coyle was seriously injured.

“His face was rebuilt, his teeth were blown out; he had a piece of steel in his head and a piece of steel in his leg,” Kent says. “Immanuel had PTSD and traumatic brain injury. The brain injury would mean that he would have blackouts and that he would be functioning but not aware of what he was doing.”

Coyle recovered from his wounds and found himself back in America when he was about 19. It was when he returned to the States to an inheritance from his birth father that Coyle first learned he had been adopted as a young boy.

Learning about his biological father set Coyle, who began using his father’s surname, Trujillo, on a path that led finally to Arizona, to discovering his native heritage, and eventually to establishing Peyote Way Church of God (originally called Church of Holy Light).

Determined to track down his remaining family, Trujillo found several other names on his father’s will: Juan Trujillo, who had died; Eugene Yoakum; and Bill Russell (also known as “Apache Bill”), who lived in Tucson.

Trujillo traveled to Arizona, where he met Yoakum outside Courtland. Yoakum then introduced Trujillo to Apache Bill, who was the medicine man for the Native American Church in southern Arizona at the time. In those days, peyote use was illegal, but the Navajo and other Native American tribes, including the Huichol, continued to employ the hallucinogenic cactus in religious ceremonies.

Yoakum and Apache Bill introduced Trujillo to the hallucinogen.

“They took Immanuel up to Redington Pass and said, ‘Son, you stay here and fast for a day and then start eating this medicine, and we’ll be back on the third day.’ And that was Immanuel’s first spirit walk,” Kent says.

Like Trujillo, Yoakum and Apache Bill were military veterans. They had served during the Philippine-American war and had participated in the massacre of 600 people in the Moro Crater battle of 1906, Kent says.

“Part of each of their hearts was shattered by the violence they had done and had witnessed. It goes with any veteran,” Kent says. “They knew that the peyote helped them find some peace. And so they knew it would help Immanuel.”

After his first spirit walk under the guidance of Apache Bill, Trujillo began using peyote regularly for spiritual and therapeutic purposes. He joined the Native American Church and eventually became “roadman,” a leader of peyote ceremonies.

Trujillo remained a member of the church for nearly two decades, finally breaking away to establish an inclusive, multiracial church offering peyote to non-natives.

Trujillo’s experience with psychedelic drugs and his promotion of the use of peyote led him and prominent Harvard psychologist and LSD advocate Timothy Leary to become friends. Trujillo introduced the counterculture icon to peyote, and Leary in turn introduced Trujillo to LSD, Kent says.

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Eventually, Trujillo joined Leary’s League for Spiritual Discovery, which held storied LSD-fueled escapades at Millbrook Estate, north of New York City. After police raided Millbrook, Leary and “psychedelic yoga master” Bill Haines decided to establish the Sri Ram Ashram in Arizona, with the help of Trujillo.

Kent says Trujillo located the property in Benson, where Leary and Haines started their ashram. Trujillo lived at the ashram for several years and helped establish the center as he looked for property for Peyote Way.

Eventually, Trujillo left the League for Spiritual Discovery to have a family. Leary, who famously was called “the most dangerous man in America” by President Richard Nixon, was hounded by authorities and in and out of jail for years. Members of his organization faced similar scrutiny.

Off on his own, Trujillo hired an Arizona real estate agent to find him land with a water source, which is how he came to purchase the 160 acres near Aravaipa Canyon in a foreclosure deal. After purchasing the land, Trujillo focused on making pottery and establishing his church.

Trujillo and his wife, Jane, lived on the land with their 4-year-old son, Juan, while building their pottery business. Then the little boy was killed in a freak accident. As Juan and his father hauled pottery to Trujillo’s kilns for firing, the boy fell off the back of their truck and was run over.

“It broke their hearts, and that was the beginning of the end of Immanuel’s last marriage,” Kent says. “From the time we knew him until he died, he was celibate.”

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Zapf and Kent were introduced to Trujillo in October 1977. They were in their mid-20s at the time and recently had married in their home state of Pennsylvania.

They arrived at Trujillo’s fledgling church through circumstance.

A man they had caught a ride with while traveling across the country had rescued Trujillo’s elderly mentor, Yoakum, who had become trapped behind a refrigerator in his home.

“He would have died had our ride not entered his remote cabin and pushed it off him,” Zapf says.

The two had been at Peyote Way, still called the Church of Holy Light, for a few days when Trujillo showed them a tray of drying peyote and offered them an opportunity to go on a spirit walk.

Soon after their first experience with the drug, the two decided to stay and join the church. They were designated by Trujillo as the “Reverend” Zapf and “Rabbi” Kent, although they have no formal affiliations to Christianity and Judaism.

Over the next several years, Trujillo, Zapf, and Kent worked to incorporate the burgeoning business, Mana Pottery, and to formally found the church, which was officially registered as a nonprofit organization in 1981, according to public records.

The pottery business expanded with the arrival of the married couple. Back in its heyday, Goldwater’s Department Store carried Mana Pottery. Celebrities, including former NBA star and tie-dye-wearing big man Bill Walton, collected the colorful pieces featuring images of peyote and animal figures. And the Smithsonian Institution gave Trujillo’s work a place in its permanent collection at the National Museum of the American Indian.

But the road to establishing the peyote-based church wasn’t without obstacles. At various times, Trujillo, Zapf, and Kent each faced prosecution for possession of peyote, designated a Schedule I controlled substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

In the early ’80s, Zapf and Kent were arrested in Texas while on a “spiritual mission” to purchase peyote from an authorized dealer. Trujillo was arrested at least twice, once in Denver in the ’60s and again in 1986 in Globe for eating part of a peyote button in front of a police officer.

Trujillo was acquitted in 1966 of possession of peyote in the Denver case and again in 1987 in the Globe case. Dr. Andrew Weil, a Tucson guru of alternative medicine and health food who teaches at the University of Arizona, acted as an expert witness in Trujillo’s 1987 case.

During his testimony for the defense, Weil detailed his studies of peyote at Harvard University, the drug’s impact on health and well-being, and the hallucinogenic effects of ingesting the plant.

Mescaline (the ingredient that makes people hallucinate) is the most commonly known psychoactive alkaloid in peyote, but as Kent is quick to point out — and as Weil attests to in the court transcript — peyote has more than 50 different active alkaloids that make it unique.

“The effect of eating peyote is due to the interaction of all of these alkaloids. It can’t be equated with eating pure mescaline, and so I think that [this] creates a lot of confusion in research because most of the research had been done with isolated mescaline and not with peyote,” Weil stated. “I don’t think the two are equivalent.”

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Through his testimony, Weil described his observations of individuals who had taken peyote.

“The initial effects, if a sufficient dose is eaten, are — probably within 30 minutes to an hour — some feelings of physiological distress, nausea, discomfort, fullness in the stomach, sweating, chills,” he testified.

“These symptoms may last for one to two hours, and then usually subside and are replaced by . . . calmness, relaxation — during which the psychological changes occur,” he said. “The total length of effects of eating a sufficient dose of peyote are . . . in the range of 10 to 12 hours.”

The dosage necessary to experience hallucinations is hard to predict, Weil continued. But throughout his testimony, he explained that most people who take the drug need to ingest more than six cactus buttons to have a measurable effect. (The 21 grams used for Peyote Way’s spirit walks is much more than six buttons.)

Weil, who admitted taking peyote on at least three occasions, testified that the drug isn’t harmful, particularly in the right setting.

“I think these are safe drugs if they’re used in the appropriate context,” Weil told the court, “much safer than many drugs we routinely administer to people for medical purposes.”

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Inside a small greenhouse at Peyote Way, thousands of button-size cacti cover the room’s dirt floor like a rumpled green carpet. Kent estimates that there are 8,000 to 10,000 individual plants ranging in age from 10 to 100 years old. It’s hard to imagine that each of the fragile-looking plants represents, technically, a felony if cultivated, distributed, or consumed.

Because the DEA classifies peyote as a Schedule I drug (along with LSD, heroin, ecstasy, even marijuana) the penalty for “unlawful distribution, possession, or intent to distribute” any amount could result in up to a $10 million fine and 30 years in prison, although this rarely happens. Special Agent Ramona Sanchez, with the Phoenix division of the DEA, says she’s not aware of any recent peyote cases in Arizona.

Congress’s 1978 passage of the Native American Religious Freedom Act doesn’t protect Peyote Way from federal law enforcement because it’s not affiliated with the Native American Church. That law has been challenged several times (including by Peyote Way) based on the free-exercise clause in the First Amendment, but the courts have struck down each attempt.

Peyote Way is able to avoid prosecution mainly because Arizona is one of six states where the use of peyote for bona fide religious purposes has been legalized without deference to race — meaning individuals don’t need to be part of the Native American Church to legally take the drug for religious reasons.

According to the nonprofit organization Erowid, which specializes in documenting the use and effects of psychoactive plants and chemicals, only Arizona, Oregon, New Mexico, Nevada, Minnesota, and Colorado have such exceptions.

Arizona’s revised statute, Title 13-3402, states: “A person who knowingly possesses, sells, transfers, or offers to sell or transfer peyote is guilty of a class-six felony. In a prosecution for violation of this section, it is a defense that the peyote is being used or is intended for use: In connection with the bona fide practice of a religious belief, as an integral part of a religious exercise, and in a manner not dangerous to public health, safety, or morals.”

Still, there’s much controversy surrounding the legality of taking peyote, and if federal authorities wanted to prosecute Peyote Way for its use, cultivation, and distribution of the plant, they probably could make a case. Peyote Way Church technically is in violation of federal law, as neither Kent nor Zapf is a Native American. Special Agent Sanchez, however, deferred to local and state authorities when asked about Peyote Way, suggesting that the DEA has taken a hands-off approach regarding peyote use, in the same way the Obama administration recently has backed off going after medical-marijuana distribution in states including Arizona.

Any inherent possibility of prosecution never deterred Kent and Zapf from pursuing their church’s mission or deterred people from making the trek out into the desert wilderness of Aravaipa to experience the effects of the hallucinogen.

Kent makes clear that the church doesn’t sell peyote, and he says the plants it grows on the property never leave it.

“As far as the state of Arizona is concerned, they understand that in order for us to practice our religion, we need our sacrament,” he says. “The feds aren’t going to sell it to us, so we grow our own.”

The DEA licenses a small number of peyote distributors who must be authorized annually to cultivate and sell the plant.

“These distributors are permitted to sell peyote to the [Native American Church] and its members for traditional religious rites,” Sanchez says. “There are a handful of distributors in the Southwest region.”

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Instead of Native American Church principles, Kent and Zapf’s church uses a tenet of the Mormon religion to justify peyote as a sacrament.

Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants of Joseph Smith, also known as the “Word of Wisdom,” states in part: “Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving.”

States Peyote Way’s website: “Adherence to a dietary discipline, like the one suggested in the Word of Wisdom, goes hand in hand with the spiritual awakening produced by the Holy Sacrament Peyote.”

Kent and Zapf think their 35-year relationship with Graham County Sheriff Preston J. Allred has helped smooth the way for the church.

When they were selling Mana Pottery to Goldwater’s, the couple would take chipped pieces to the courthouse in Safford, their intent to give it away.

“The secretaries would give us $10, and the deputies would [give] a little less,” Kent says with a laugh, adding, “They saw that whatever we were up to, it wasn’t criminal or dangerous.”

But being out of sight, out of mind is the biggest reason the church has avoided hassle from the authorities through the years. From Phoenix, it’s a four-hour drive east on U.S. 60, past Superior and Globe, and onward to U.S. 70. Twenty-five miles of washboard dirt road outside Safford lead to a remote area of desert wilderness. A large red mailbox — painted with the word “Mana” — alerts visitors that they’ve arrived.

“You don’t need to worry . . . about your neighbors. They’ve all got plenty of property,” Kent says. “They think we’re kind of strange, but cowboys are kind of strange, too.”

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Kent’s tour of the church takes about three hours. Outside, near one of the campsites, the large blond man is chopping wood for his spirit walk. He pauses just long enough to wave and smile.

Asked what kind of future is in store for Peyote Way, Kent — as with his lengthy explanation about Trujillo’s life and the spiritual importance of peyote — has a rehearsed answer.

His greatest hope is that someday, he and Zapf can grow peyote legally and educate others about how to grow it.

“When we plant peyote, I’m not thinking of personal ingestion. I’m thinking about my grandkids,” Kent says. “I think that’s pretty healthy to think in big chunks of time — 20, 40, 60 years. If we thought that way about our planning for society, then we might not be having so many of the problems we’re having now.”

That night, on the way to a hotel in Safford, “Peyote Way Church of God” flashes on an Arizona “Adopt a Highway” sign.

Email eric.tsetsi@newtimes.com

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LIGHT FANTASTIC

It’s tough to think of a better museum to showcase the light and space experiments of James Turrell than the spiraling rotunda of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum. Best known for his ongoing transformation of the Roden Crater in Arizona into a massive naked-eye observatory, Turrell will present Aten Reign, a new work that will play with light, color, space, and the museum’s sweeping curves to create one of his breathtaking Skyspaces. Other works from the artist’s career will also be included in this exhibition, Turrell’s first in a New York museum since 1980 and a part of a retrospective happening in museums across the country.

Mondays-Sundays, 10 a.m. Starts: June 21. Continues through Sept. 25, 2013

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Good Cop Story: NYPD Officer Larry DePrimo Drops $75 On Boots For Barefoot Homeless Man

Believe it or not, not all cops are racist, donut-eating thugs who want nothing more than to hassle innocent citizens. In fact, the vast majority are good people who put themselves in harm’s way to keep the rest of us safe.

The good ones, however, tend to get the least amount of ink. But NYPD Officer Larry DePrimo deserves a nod.

The photo above was snapped by a tourist from Arizona. It shows DePrimo giving boots and a pair of socks to a barefoot homeless man in Times Square on November 14.

The woman who took the photo, Jennifer Foster, says she was walking around Times Square when she saw the homeless man begging for change. She gives the following description of DePrimo’s generosity:

“Right when I was about to approach, one of your officers came up behind him. The officer said, ‘I
have these size 12 boots for you, they are all-weather. Let’s put them
on and take care of you.’ The officer squatted down on the ground and
proceeded to put socks and the new boots on this man. The officer
expected NOTHING in return and did not know I was watching*. I have been
in law enforcement for 17 years. I was never so impressed in my life. I
did not get the officer’s name. It is important, I think, for all of us
to remember the real reason we are in this line of work. The reminder
this officer gave to our profession in his presentation of human
kindness has not been lost on myself or any of the Arizona law
enforcement officials with whom this story has been shared.”

Our thanks to the Fosters for their attention and appreciation, and especially to this officer, who remains anonymous.

According to DePrimo, the man told him he’d never had a pair of shoes before. So DePrimo went to a Skechers store on 42nd Street and dropped $75 on a pair of insulated winter boots and socks for the man.

“I didn’t think anything of it,” DePrimo tells Newsday.

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Arizona Pol: Middle Easterners Look Like Mexicans And Don’t Belong Here “Legally Or Illegally”

Arizona is known for a few things: the Grand Canyon, its beautiful sunsets…and for having some of the dopiest, gun-loving, hillbilly politicians in the entire country.

Enter Arizona Congressional candidate Gabriela Saucedo Mercer, who said in a recent interview that A) Middle Easterners look like Mexicans, and B) she doesn’t want them in the country “legally or illegally.”

Even worse: there’s video — which you can see below.

Saucedo Mercer, a Hispanic immigrant who became a citizen in 1991, has the backing of the Tea Party and the state’s foot-in-mouth governor, GED Jan Brewer.

You’d think blatantly racist comments would put an end to a Congressional campaign. Not in Arizona — Saucedo Mercer handily won her GOP primary last night and stands a decent chance at beating her Democratic opponent, Congressman Raul Grijalva, who once called for the boycott of his own state, and isn’t the most popular congressman out there in Sand Land.

(Sigh).

Without further ado, watch Saucedo Mercer say she doesn’t want Mexican-looking Middle Easterners in the U.S. “legally or illegally” below. Then laugh. Then cry.

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Supreme Court Upholds Key Portion Of Arizona’s Breathing While Brown Immigration Law

The United States Supreme Court moments ago handed down a ruling on whether Arizona’s controversial “breathing while brown” immigration law violates the Constitution.

Details of the Court’s decision are unclear at the moment — it literally just happened a few minutes ago — but according various media reports, the court ruled 5-3 to uphold the most controversial portion of the law, which allows the state to check the immigration status of anyone stopped by police if there’s “reasonable suspicion” that the person is in the country illegally. In other words, it gives local cops the power to act as immigration officers, despite the fact that immigration enforcement is currently the responsibility of the federal government — regardless of whether the feds actually enforce it.

The court, however, struck down three other provisions of the law.

The law — which was introduced by ousted state Senate President Russell Pearce, who was given a voter-assisted boot from office during a historic recall election last year — was passed by the Arizona Legislature in 2010 in response to the opinion by many in the Grand Canyon State that the federal government isn’t doing enough to enforce immigration laws.

The case quickly became a state’s rights issue, which is what landed it in the Supreme Court.

The law started an international firestorm, with those opposed to it claiming that it’s racist because it gives cops the power to unlawfully stop Hispanics.

At the time of its passage, we were working for the Voice’s sister paper in Phoenix, and had a front-row seat for the fallout, which included thousands upon thousands of immigration activists storming the state in protest of the “racist” law.

Following the bill’s passage, several immigration activists — including Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva — declared a boycott of all things Arizona. Grijalva, however — after apparently realizing that calling for a boycott of his own state isn’t the best move — withdrew his support of the boycott.

The two-sided nature of the Court’s decision is likely to spark more protests from immigration activists, as well as reignite the debate over whether state’s have the right to go over the head of the feds when it comes to immigration enforcement — so you can look forward to Arizona’s resident ding-bat, Governor Jan Brewer, appearing on all the national news talk shows over the next few days.

We’ll add to this post as more details of the Court’s ruling become available. Check back for updates. Meantime, click here to watch our favorite “Jan Brewer moment” — and keep in mind that this woman is in charge of an entire state (sigh).

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Bordering on Revolution

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wasn’t merely skeptical; he appeared contemptuous of the Justice Department’s argument trying to stop Arizona’s cops from deporting undocumented Mexicans.

“But if, in fact, somebody who does not belong in this country is in Arizona, Arizona has no power?” asked the incredulous Scalia. “. . . Are you objecting to harassing the—the people who have no business being here? Surely you’re not concerned about harassing them?”

God forbid.

Nor did Scalia suffer cara de culo alone.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts concluded an observation by noting, “It seems to me that the federal government just doesn’t want to know who’s here illegally or not.”

With these comments, the United States Supreme Court signaled that its expected ruling this month will, in significant part, validate Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070.

If that happens, being brown will permit cops across America to ask: Which brown are you?

A journalist I work with, Monica Alonzo, grew up on the hardscrabble west side of Phoenix with brown skin.

Although she is an American, something as simple as stopping to fill her gas tank could prompt a cruel refrain: “Go back to Mexico.”

She remembers the white school board members who voted themselves out of paying taxes to support the mostly Latino school in the town of El Mirage. Her cousin was routinely pulled over if he ventured into a neighboring white community.

But these are memories, not complaints. This treatment did not stop Monica Alonzo. She made herself into an award-winning investigative reporter.

Today, she buys gas where she chooses.

She put the petty meanness behind her and made something of herself.

But SB 1070 changed everything.

In Arizona, brown people, citizen and immigrant, must now prove their papers are in order. We sic badges and dogs on people of color. Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s men wear ski masks and arm themselves with automatic weapons to stop Mexicans with cracked windshields. Families are separated, with parents deported and children left to fend for themselves. Those who remain are terrorized.

After one Arpaio sweep through the town of Guadalupe, children were too frightened to attend their Catholic confirmation lest relatives be arrested.

Like the pre–Civil War era of free and slave states, America is about to divide along color lines.

Six states already have a version of Arizona’s bill and are awaiting the ruling for implementation. In all, 16 states filed amicus briefs urging the Supreme Court to support SB 1070.

Where once we depended upon the federal government to protect minorities from firehoses and segregated schoolhouses named Booker T. Washington or George Washington Carver, this month, the Supreme Court is poised to tell us how far local cops can go to detain brown people.

As if the federal government hadn’t gone far enough.

In fact, President Obama has deported 1.5 million Latinos, more than any president. Such a massive displacement of humanity does not come without brutality.

In the first six months of 2011, 46,000 mothers and fathers were shipped back to Mexico and left their children in America. And more than 20,000 other parents were ordered out but have yet to depart. Roughly 22 percent of all deportees were forced to abandon children—children who are American citizens.

What SB 1070 does is criminalize the undocumented. The law forces all police officers to ascertain a person’s immigration status whenever a cop interacts with a brown person. Lights on a license plate too dim? A call about domestic violence? If an officer harbors any suspicion, he or she must ask for proof of citizenship. And if a cop doesn’t do that, any citizen can sue the cop for not taking deportation seriously. To protect against lawsuits, the cautious cop must question all Latinos.

The stated purpose of SB 1070 is “attrition through enforcement,” a chillingly efficient phrase.

How does the cop on the beat tell a Mexican from a Mexican-American?

And so, the 74 percent of all Latinos in America who are, in reality, U.S. citizens must be harassed about their origins. Unlike everyone else, they must carry papers.

Why?

Obama sells the roundup of brown people through a program called Secure Communities. The alternative is clear enough.

Have we forgotten that the Irish, Italians, Jews, and Cubans generated almost as many mug shots as American dreams?

Polls show that SB 1070 and similar laws in other states are supported by voters at rates between 60 to 70 percent nationally.

In states that have passed laws allowing local law enforcement to hunt the undocumented, the financial impact has been devastating.

Last August, Monica Alonzo examined labor shortages in the farm economy, where an estimated 80 percent of the workforce is undocumented.

She learned that efforts to recruit Americans to pick crops have failed abysmally.

In the late 1990s, Alonzo reported, “California launched a ‘welfare to farmwork’ program in the Central Valley at a time when regional unemployment was as high as 20 percent. . . . A massive campaign addressed training, transportation, and other obstacles to getting workers in the fields. Though there were more than 100,000 potential workers, only three jobs were filled.”

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Things weren’t any easier in Washington state. There, “a labor shortage for the 2006 cherry harvest prompted an advertising blitz to recruit about 1,700 needed workers, particularly for the much larger apple harvest that was just around the corner. Only 40 people took jobs.”

According to Alonzo’s research, things were even worse in the East. “The following year, in North Carolina,” she wrote, “farm officials set up a statewide hotline to fill crop and livestock jobs. Two calls were received.”

Things have only gotten worse with anti-immigrant legislation.

In 2007, more than 90,000 migrants fled Oklahoma, causing a loss of $1.9 billion to the state’s economy. Since passage of SB 1070, Arizona has shed 200,000 migrants, who fled to friendlier states.

Agriculture is the largest sector in Georgia’s economy, yet lawmakers passed stiff anti-immigrant legislation projected to cost the state $391 million in lost crops. The governor suggested that farmers hire ex-cons to work the fields. The ex-cons refused. More than 70 percent of Georgia’s restaurants had labor shortages and lost, on average, $21,000 per eating establishment.

Last year, Alabama one-upped Arizona and passed a tougher, meaner anti-immigrant measure.

Research at the University of Alabama said the state could lose up to $10.8 billion and 140,000 jobs.

The governor demanded that the statehouse reconsider. Alabama legislators responded by making the law tougher.

Why, in the middle of a recession, would statehouses vote to cripple their economies by driving Mexicans to flee?

Why, with President Obama deporting more Latinos than at any time in the nation’s history, would legislators demand local cops inspect citizenship papers?

The inescapable answer: race!

The guiding proponent of these statutes is Kris W. Kobach, who helped author SB 1070.

At the time, Kobach was senior counsel to the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

In 1986, John Tanton, FAIR’s founder wrote: “As whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night? Or will there be an explosion?”

Not surprisingly, the Southern Poverty Law Center called FAIR a racially driven organization.

Alabama’s copycat legislation was penned by State Senator Scott Beason, who has called blacks “aborigines” and declared that when it came to immigration, folks ought to “empty the clip.”

In Arizona, the bill drafted by Kobach was sponsored by then–State Senator Russell Pearce.

In 2006, Pearce forwarded to his followers a screed he’d read entitled, “Who Rules America.” The essay took exception to race mixing and a “world in which every voice proclaims the equality of races, the inerrant nature of the Jewish ‘Holocaust’ tale, the wickedness of attempting to halt the flood of non-White aliens pouring across our borders . . .”

The essay, which originated from a neo-Nazi newsletter, went on to ask: “And who are these all-powerful masters of the media?”

The answer was obvious: “As we shall see, to a very large extent they are Jews.”

Eerily, the message Pearce forwarded to political supporters in 2006 foreshadowed coming bloodshed.

“On the other hand, a White racist—that is, any racially conscious White person who looks askance at miscegenation or at the rapidly darkening racial situation in America—is portrayed, at best, as a despicable bigot who is reviled by the other characters, or, at worst, as a dangerous psychopath who is fascinated by firearms and is a menace to all law abiding citizens. . . .” read Pearce’s send-along.

Last month, Pearce acolyte J.T. Ready slaughtered his girlfriend, her daughter, her daughter’s boyfriend, and a 16-month-old infant before turning the gun on himself.

Ready was a neo-Nazi who was photographed at white supremacist rallies in full National Socialist regalia. Following the passage of SB 1070, Ready formed an armed militia that hunted Mexicans in southern Arizona.

After the multiple homicides, Pearce tried to distance himself from Ready. This sleight of hand was complicated for Pearce: He’d endorsed Ready’s failed run for the Mesa City Council and, in fact, had ordained Ready into the priesthood of the Mormon faith and attended his baptism.

These, then, are the miscreants who have stirred this nation’s darkest prejudices.

None of this was grist in the Supreme Court. The Obama administration opted to argue only the narrowest of issues: State immigration laws trampled federal domain. With an election looming, the president chose not to confront nativist anxiety.

Latino groups and civil rights organizations have filed lawsuits that challenge what Obama ducked. These suits recount what happens on American streets when brown people are detained, when Mexicans and Central Americans are crowded into detention centers, when families are ripped apart.

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When law enforcement cordons off brown communities, the law, as applied, is apartheid.

Perhaps you can understand, after a wave of hateful legislation and a galling discussion by justices and attorneys in the country’s highest court, that there are those not content with jurisprudence.

You see, all this legal eloquence comes after generations of families picked crops on their way to citizenship, only to encounter lawyers and lawmakers who are worse than any field boss.

Monica Alonzo’s father crossed the border from Mexico. His family worked in the cotton fields. They earned less, picked more, and kept their mouths shut. Kids in school were slapped if they were overheard speaking Spanish.

“They mistreated the Mexicans the worst in El Mirage,” Alonzo says. “Mexicans went straight to jail or were roughed up for minor offenses.”

“They were made to feel like worthless people,” Alonzo recalls. “Many Mexicans instilled in their children the importance of speaking only English. Not in my house. For my father, the treatment created a lot of resentment towards whites. We weren’t allowed to speak English at home for some time. We would get in trouble if he knew we were mixing with the Anglos.”

There was a common warning in her home: “Beware of the blue-eyes.”

Alonzo says her family and their friends feared deportation, even after they were living here legally.

“They didn’t want to draw attention to themselves.”

That’s done and gone.

In Arizona, thousands have taken to the street in protest against SB 1070. Abuelas are joined by kids without papers. Together, they commit civil disobedience and force arrests.

The Supreme Court doesn’t grasp that its decision is not the final word on the subject.

Media everywhere erupted with the recent news that whites now account for a minority of births in America for the first time. Latinos have the highest fertility rate and are already the largest minority.

“If (reform) doesn’t happen as part of a revolution,” Alonzo says, “the sheer numbers will eventually force change.”

See that little roly-poly, hija rock ‘n’ rolly, wearing pull-ups, sporting earrings, and sitting on her mama’s lap?

She is your future.

Michael Lacey is the executive editor of Village Voice Media.

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In Arizona and Texas, A Planned Parenthood Free-for-All

“Family planning:” The wholly innocent term infuriates the pro-life community. To them, it connotes Big Government abortions, the movie Juno and everything that is “morally wrong” with women’s reproductive health (apparently, there is a lot). Since the female health service organization Planned Parenthood is the epitomization of this catchy phrase, it goes without saying that the pro-lifers would try anything they can to shut it down. And that’s exactly what has been been happening this weekend.

On Friday, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, whose recent achievements include Bible lessons in public schools, a ban on abortions after twenty weeks and the controversial “ID please” immigration law, signed the “Whole Woman’s Health Funding Priority Act.” Like any solid piece of legislation, the title runs completely opposite to its content.
The bill, in effect, will close all direct and indirect funding from any government entity to the family planning group. As a result, 4,000 Arizona women on Medicaid, or about 10 percent of the state’s Planned Parenthood population, will be tossed overboard.
But, for politicians like Brewer, that’s not what matters.

By instantaneously cutting the organization’s lifelines, Brewer and others have proven that their stance against Planned Parenthood does not exist in pragmatic reality. The fact that 4,000 women are left stranded is never part of the pro-life worldview – it’s the primary point that taxpayers are paying for these ladies in the first place.

This seems to be the main flaw with cultural wedge issues: the concentration on the Big Picture and the subsequent decisions that result from it overshadow the real-life human beings that are affected. In this unfortunate case, lower class women who cannot afford reproductive services.

At least this was what a Texas court argued yesterday when Governor Rick Perry tried to pull a Brewer in the Lone Star State. When the state passed a ban identical to the one in Arizona, the Planned Parenthoods across Texas saw $30 million in federal funding from the Obama administration vanish. So, all 49 operators took Perry to court on the grounds that denying abortion was dutifully unconstitutional. And they won. Why? Because, as mentioned before, the ban did not take into account the human consequence.
According to the Austin federal judge, the “potential for immediate loss of access to necessary health services by several thousand Texas women” was enough reason (and logic) to throw the ban out. It is a well-known argument in constitutional law: if a ban leads to the “immediate” widespread possibility of injury, its enactment is a danger to public safety. While the appeals court agreed to hold off on oral arguments until next month, a spokesperson for Perry said he still stands by its legality.
What’s interesting about the two cases in Arizona and Texas is what they both represent in the Planned Parenthood calamity all together. In Brewer land, the “Whole Woman’s Health Funding Priority Act” is the idealistic ethos of the pro-life stance on the organization and the intersection between government and Roe v. Wade‘s legacy. The legal decision made by Texan judges is its alter ego or yang: realistic logos.
In other words, the cost of people.
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Friends Of Nazi Hillbilly Behind Arizona Massacre Try To Blame Murders On Mexicans

By now you’ve probably heard about J.T. Ready, the Nazi hillbilly who killed four people in Arizona before — like a coward — turning the gun on himself yesterday afternoon.

At this point, it’s fairly clear Ready was the shooter — our former colleagues in Arizona have confirmed with police that they suspect it to be a case of quadruple murder/suicide. However, Ready’s racist hillbilly buddies are attempting to blame the murders on Mexicans (natch) — despite there being nothing to suggest anyone but Ready was the shooter.

We met Ready several times during our five years in the desert while working for the Voice’s sister paper the Phoenix New Times — he’s one of the more charming National Socialists we’ve had the displeasure of meeting. Subsequently, we “liked” his Facebook page to keep up with what he and his Nazi buddies were up to. Below is what’s currently posted on Ready’s page:

Reports are unconfirmed that a cartel assassination squad murdered JT Ready and several of his friends and family this afternoon in Gilbert Arizona. This page’s admin will keep you updated of the situation as soon as possible.

Law enforcement officials never publicly suspected a cartel hit squad had anything to do with the murders — and there has been no update.

Naturally, Nazi scum like Ready and his cronies would initially try to blame the shootings on Mexicans (yes, “cartel” — in the world of racist hillbillies — translates to “Mexicans”). But the Facebook status was posted after it was confirmed that Ready was the shooter — and it seems his comrades are too embarrassed to admit that their messiah (not a Mexican hit squad) was the trigger-man.

Ready got his name in the papers several years ago when he organized packs of armed nativists and neo-Nazis to patrol the Arizona desert in search of illegal immigrants and drugs. He carried a Nazi flag during white-supremacist rallies and is widely regarded as Arizona’s most prominent racist. At the time of his death, he was running for sheriff in a county just south of Phoenix. See our former colleague Stephen Lemons’ — who knew Ready much better than we did — take on the neo-Nazi here.

Yesterday, it’s presumed Ready murdered his girlfriend, his girlfriend’s daughter, his girlfriend’s daughter’s boyfriend, and the couple’s 15-month-old daughter before taking his own life. As a friend said yesterday, it seemed “only a matter of time” before Ready killed somebody.

It’s undoubtedly a sad story — a family (including a baby) is dead. But it would be hard to argue that the world is not a remarkably better place now that J.T. Ready is no longer in it.

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Medical Marijuana: Is Andrew Cuomo A Weed-Bully Or Is “Cuomo 2016” On His Mind?

As we reported yesterday, a bill will soon be introduced into the state Legislature that would legalize medical marijuana in New York. Governor Andrew Cuomo, however, says he won’t sign the bill — despite overwhelming public support for prescription pot. It seems as though maybe — just maybe — the gov might be a little more concerned with running for president in a few years (and having to explain signing a medical marijuana bill) than he is with doing what makes sense.

“There are tremendous risks [associated with legalizing medical marijuana],” he told reporters in Utica on Monday. “I think the risks outweigh the benefits at this point.”

We asked Cuomo’s office what specific “risks” came with allowing people to treat various health problems with marijuana rather than other powerful/dangerous legal narcotic drugs. We were ignored. So until the governor’s office tells us otherwise, we’ll go ahead and assume Cuomo doesn’t know of any “tremendous risks” associated with legalizing medical marijuana, and that’s because there aren’t any — it’s weed, not crystal meth.

Last time we checked, nobody’s died from a marijuana overdose…ever. And if medical marijuana is legal — and regulated by the government, like, say, alcohol (which can be lethal) — it’s a way for sick people to best treat their illnesses without having to deal with a sketch-ball drug dealer who may try to A) rob them, or B) give them crappy weed.

If Cuomo considers food tasting better, movies seeming funnier, and an unhealthy obsession with the Planet Earth series (oh, yeah — and relieving excruciating pain) to be “risks,” then he might be on to something.

If not — and there aren’t actually “tremendous risks” with letting people who already are smoking weed do so legally — it seems the governor might want to stop worrying about how he’s going to explain on the campaign trail why he signed a bill legalizing medical marijuana, and start worrying supporting something the majority of New Yorkers want.

In addition to the “tremendous risks,” Cuomo says there isn’t enough time in the current legislative session to iron out a medical marijuana bill. However, as assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried pointed out earlier this week: “The legislature and governor have sorted out much more complicated issues in less time over the years. I think the governor would find this is very doable.”

Unfortunately, here’s the reality: if Cuomo backs a medical marijuana bill, you can pretty much count on a few “Andrew Cuomo’s soft on drugs — he led the charge against the Rockefeller Drug Laws AND legalized weed (gasp!)” GOP campaign ads if he runs for president.

We spoke with a few medical marijuana advocates yesterday. See our previous story here. As we all agreed, it’s “odd” that an uber-conservative state like Arizona currently has medical weed, but a “progressive” place like New York doesn’t. And, again, the overwhelming public support (anywhere from 60-percent to 80-percent of New Yorkers support medical marijuana, depending on which poll you look at) makes it seem as though an incumbent governor might want to embrace something so popular amongst his constituents — unless, of course, he plans to seek higher office.

Obviously, this is our theory on Cuomo’s “uncharacteristic” (as described by a medical marijuana advocate) opposition to something “progressive” like medical weed. But we want to know what you think: Is Cuomo’s opposition to medical marijuana political posturing?