Not to be outdone by the Arizona secretary of state’s recent flirtation with birtherism, Sheriff Joe Arpaio escalated his probe into President Obama’s birth certificate this week by dispatching a deputy from his “threats unit” to Hawaii.
Both the Arizona Republic and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported deputy Brian Mackiewcz traveled with Arpaio’s volunteer posse member Michael Zullo on Monday to try to get an official confirmation that Hawaii has the president’s birth certificate on file.
Earlier this year, the Arizona sheriff fanned the flames of the birther conspiracy theory when he announced that Zullo and other posse members had determined a copy of the birth certificate released last year by the White House was a fraud. More recently, Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett has said he is following the sheriff’s lead and considering keeping the president off the state’s ballot in November unless he gets confirmation the document is real.
Both Arpaio and Bennett are Republicans and the latter is co-chairman of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in Arizona. In their efforts, they have essentially caved to pressure from a small but vocal fringe of writers and activists unwilling to believe the president is a natural born citizen of the United States no matter how much evidence they get. The conspiracy theorists say a fake birth certificate would mean Obama is ineligible for the presidency because it would show he was not born a citizen.
The Star-Advertiser reported that Zullo and Mackiewcz flashed badges on Monday when they showed up at the Hawaii Department of Health. Mackiewcz apparently also handed over a business card showing he is part of the Arizona sheriff’s “Threats Management Unit.”
Before now, the unit was perhaps best known for its role in a criminal investigation into Arpaio’s opponent during the 2004 Republican primary for sheriff. Arpaio’s investigators accused the challenger of sexually assaulting his adoptive mother 30 years earlier when he was in his mid-teens. (The challenger later said it was his mother who assaulted him and ended up suing Arpaio.) It’s unclear whether Mackiewcz was part of the unit at the time.
Arpaio declined to explain to the Arizona Republic why the threats unit was involved in the birth certificate investigation, instead making only a vague reference to “security issues…that I can’t got into.”
He said taxpayers were footing the tab for the airfare and hotel for the investigators, but he hopes the agency will be paid back through private donations. Before now, Arpaio has said the investigation was funded entirely through donations, which are being encouraged by the conspiracy website WorldNetDaily.
Arpaio’s volunteer investigator, Zullo, has even gone as far as to link up with WorldNetDaily’s top conspiracy theorist, Jerome Corsi, to co-author an e-book about the birther probe. The two men have said they’re splitting the profits from sales of the book.
Nick Martin is an associate editor at TPM in New York City. He came to the site in 2011 as a reporter for TPMMuckraker. Previously, he worked in Arizona, first as a staff reporter for a local newspaper and later as a freelance journalist. He also ran the news blog Heat City. Contact him: nick [at] talkingpointsmemo.com