Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio rejected accusations on Thursday that a state lawmaker's jokes at a recent roast event featuring him were racist, instead accusing critics of harboring a double standard against him.
"These same people, for four years, have been going around calling me 'Nazi,' 'Hitler,' and everything else," Arpaio told CNN correspondent Ana Cabrera. "Why don't they defend me?"
Arpaio was criticized on Wednesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which released audio on Wednesday of state Rep. John Kavanagh's (R) set during the roast, held at the Western Conservatives Conference in Phoenix last weekend.
Kavanagh said during his set that when he goes out to eat with Arpaio, "most of the waitstaff and cooks dive out the back window." He also asked Arpaio, "How many Hispanics did you pull over on the way over here?" Kavanagh released a statement on Thursday saying the release of the audio was "a personal attack upon me by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which appears to be politically motivated, probably due to my support of SB 1070."
However, in its original post, the SPLC focused on Kavanagh's support for a bill that would have barred transgender Arizonans from using public restrooms. That was not mentioned in the statement CNN read on air.
Arpaio insisted to Cabrera that Kavanagh was not a racist, saying he was appearing at the roast not in his role as a state lawmaker, but as a private citizen and friend of his.
"People say worse about me," Arpaio said.
"Certainly, then, you can empathize with the people who hear these comments," Cabrera replied. "I'm Hispanic, myself; I took offense to the jokes that he made. He also made jokes about Muslims. Asians could have been offended by some of the jokes that were made."
Cabrera then played an audio clip of Kavanagh's joke about SB 1062, saying he didn't believe it constituted faith-based discrimination until a Muslim waiter refused to serve Arpaio, with the waiter telling him, "I don't serve swine."
The bill, which would have allowed businesses to refuse to serve the LGBT communities, was vetoed on Wednesday by Gov. Jan Brewer (R). But on Thursday, Arpaio suggested there was a connection between Brewer's action and the release of the audio.
"Why did they have to put this out yesterday?" Arpaio asked. "Why didn't they put it out three days ago? Why did they wait for the governor's decision? That's another thing. You can see the politics involved in this."
Contrary to Arpaio's theory, the audio was posted online hours before Brewer made her decision. SPLC campaign director Josh Glasstetter further rebuked the allegation in an email to The Raw Story Thursday evening.
"Sheriff Arpaio's statement about the timing of the release is puzzling and completely baseless. Does he really think we can read Gov. Brewer’s mind?" Glasstetter said. "I released the excerpts as soon as I was able to get the recording and edit it down. There were no other considerations. Suggestions to the contrary are intended to distract from the content of what we released."
Watch Cabrera's interview with Arpaio, as aired on Thursday, below.