A death hoax article published in May 2020 may have derailed the campaign of a long-time public servant in Arizona. Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s bid to regain his job failed by a razor-thin margin when he lost his primary by a scant few thousand votes to his former employee Jerry Sullivan.
The article, which was published on a website called conservativetears.com, advertises itself as “Death Hoaxes for Your Thoughts and Prayers” and is part of the America’s Last Line of Defense parody and satire network. Despite this disclaimer at the very top of the website that the article was published on, it has been shared over 58,000 times and even led Arpaio himself to declare to the world on his Twitter account “I’m alive and I’m kicking.”
The mission of America’s Last Line of Defense is to expose the gullibility and confirmation bias of conservatives by publishing articles clearly marked as satire that trigger strong emotions stemming from their biases. As evidenced by the thoughts and prayers sent to Arpaio’s family via comments on Facebook, it seems that many people did not take the time to read the article.
If even a few people who would have voted for Arpaio did not because they thought he was dead, it could have been enough to sway the primary in Sullivan’s favor.
Laurie Roberts, Arizona Republic opinion writer, widely panned the death hoax in a column she wrote on May 19, 2020. She addressed much of the ridiculousness in the original article in a piece that makes fun of anyone who actually believed the article almost as much as the original article did.
Roberts wrote, “Still, some of Arpaio’s supporters apparently have difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what is satire. Either that or they don’t read beyond the headline. A spokesman for the former sheriff told me the ex-sheriff got hundreds of emails from concerned supporters who read about it on Facebook.”
People like those that Roberts described are a big reason why we, as Americans, can’t have nice things. Had Arpaio won the primary, there was a good chance that he would have won in November. It would have been only a matter of time before he started a new reign of terror against anyone who does not fit his vision of how Americans should look, act, and pray.
As Laurie Roberts said, “…it’s good to know that reports of Arpaio’s death are greatly exaggerated. As for his campaign, well…”