As the immigration issue continues to heat up, Tom Tancredo is finding himself in one controversy after another.
The latest: An immigration-reform group has announced it won't take part in a June 5 rally in Phoenix because the organizer is linked with neo-Nazi groups -- and he splashes Tancredo by association. Tancredo counters by denying any wrongdoing and arguing that the whole thing is linked to a weird assertion that South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is gay.
To explain: William Gheen of Americans For Legal Immigration, known as ALIPAC, sent out an e-mail blast yesterday saying his group was withdrawing from participation in the aforementioned event partly because the organizer, Voice of the People USA's Daniel Smeriglio, is "working with skin heads and Nazis." The evidence for this charge? Gheen writes that Smeriglio friended Steve Smith "of the skinhead group Keystone United" on his Facebook page.
In Tancredo's view, the e-mail makes it seem as if he's intimately involved with Smeriglio and his organization. Actually, he says, he spoke to him on the phone but has never met him. Hence, their only true connection is that Tancredo has agreed to speak at the rally. Nonetheless, he notes that he's already been contacted by the Southern Poverty Law Center in relation to ALIPAC's note.
But there's more to the story, Tancredo says.
"Mr. Gheen is a peculiar fellow -- let's put it that way," he maintains. "And this is really the result of the fact that when I was in South Carolina about a month ago or more for a Tea Party event, he preceded me to the stage -- and he spent most of his time, or at least a good part of it, demanding that Senator Lindsey Graham come out of the closet."
Gheen's theme wasn't a complete shock to Tancredo, although he'd been hoping the advocate would go down a different road.
"We were in the green room before the speeches, and he was telling me this," he recalls. "And I said, 'I guess I don't care what you say, but I don't want that to be any part of an introduction you do for me, because I think it's bullshit. I think you should concentrate on the issues you should be talking about, which is controlling immigration.' And he didn't."
About a week later, by Tancredo's estimate, "I wrote him an e-mail and told him to take me off his e-mail list, because I wanted nothing more to do with him. And he went ballistic -- and that's what all this is about."
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As for the gist of Gheen's case against Smeriglio, Tancredo says he looked into it and wasn't impressed. "I have 5,000 quote-unquote friends, and I have no idea who 98 percent of them are. I have no idea if they're all legitimate. So I don't think any of this rises to the level of concern. When I talked to him, he seemed like a nice kid to me. He wanted to know if I would participate, and I said, 'Okay,' and that's all there is to it."
For that reason, "I'm going to go ahead and speak, if this is all they've got against him, and I'll just deal with the Southern Poverty Law Center. My job is to try to advance a set of ideas and a position on the issue of illegal immigration, and the Southern Poverty Law Center's job is to throw as much mud as they possibly can. So I guess we'll both do our jobs and see what happens."
Look below to see Gheen's speech about Lindsey Graham: