Performing America’s Toughest Sheriff: media as practice in Joe Arpaio’s Old West

Chris Lukinbeal, Laura Sharp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Joe Arpaio, or “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” uses hardline tactics that have won the hearts of conservative Republicans on the one hand and the condemnation of groups such as Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union on the other. In order to legitimize his extreme tactics toward illegal immigration Joe mobilizes the media to create an identity for himself and his opposition. This performative act of the lawman and the careful construction of the modern day Wild West in which it is situated are used to cover up practices of cruelty, racism, and corruption. With this paper we explore how Joe Arpaio uses the media to produce and reify his own mythic image. Empirical facts and the “real” may not be as powerful as myth and media in a land where Phoenicians, (illegal) aliens, and coyotes (someone who traffics immigrants from Mexico to the United States in an illegal fashion) roam through the Valley of the Sun under the watchful eye of Sheriff Joe and his posse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)881-892
Number of pages12
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015


  • Identity
  • Ideology
  • Industrialization of memory
  • Performativity
  • Simulacra
  • Subjection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development


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