Boo! This Halloween season, PHOENIX magazine rounds up the angriest, vainest, freakiest, most altogether scary Arizonans.
Sure, zombies are scary. Backwoods axe-murderers, too. And hotels built on ancient Indian burial grounds? Always good for a fright.
But you know what really makes our blood run cold? Gun-toting brain doctors. Dirty Scottsdale. Polygamists.
To be sure, Arizona has given America the heebie jeebies hard and often over recent years, from the blood-stained saga of Jodi Arias to the underage sister wives of Colorado City. So, in this season of vampires, killer clowns and sexy-pirate Halloween costumes, we pay our respects to the Arizonans we’d never want to meet in a dark alley. Figurative or otherwise.
Note: In the interest of leveling the playing field, we’ve eliminated violent criminals, sex offenders and most politicians from consideration. Too legitimately scary.
In a 2008 episode of South Park, a group of goth kids announce their intention to ship a classmate to “the most horrible, most miserable place on Earth” and unanimously decide on Scottsdale. We like to think blogger Nik Richie had something to do with that piece of television scriptwriting. Born Hooman Karamian in Hackensack, New Jersey, the former credit card processor launched dirtyscottsdale.com in 2007, offering the world crudely-captioned photographic evidence of Scottsdale in spread-eagle Gomorrah mode, a daily parade of $30,000 millionaires, apple martinis and lopsided silicone. He was basically Louella Parsons with Adobe Photoshop. Along the way, Richie rode the gossip site – and its multi-market offshoot, thedirty.com – to a weird kind of digital-age celebrity, marrying Lorenzo Lamas’ actress daughter. One could argue that Richie was only “holding up a mirror” to a certain segment of society, and maybe that’s true – but what kind of person holds up a mirror to an insane leper? It’s just mean, and it was a funhouse mirror, intentionally warped to disregard the nice things in Scottsdale. Like cowboy art and first-rate sushi. He also gave us the term “slut-shaming.”
He’s a bit less scary after losing his reelection bid in the Republican primary on August 26, but Huppenthal has wielded no small modicum of power as Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, an office that guides funding and curriculum standards. So it was a little distressing when he copped to a secret life as an Internet troll, where his exotic theories about Franklin Delano Roosevelt (caused the Great Depression, responsible for Hitler) and welfare recipients (“lazy pigs”) appeared on various websites under pseudonyms like Falcon9 and Thucydides. Nothing explicitly criminal in those online comments, just deeply unprofessional and unbecoming. That is, unless you think fifth-grade history textbooks should be amended to depict Charles Darwin as a closet anti-Semite who formulated his theory of natural selection to lay the groundwork for Jewish genocide. That’s a Huppenthal original.
Most of us would classify tongue bifurcation and subcutaneous metal skull implants as medieval agonies best avoided. Not Steve Haworth. To the Phoenix-based “body modification” guru, those after-market alterations are simply his livelihood. Hardly a body-mod poster-boy himself – his only visible affectation is a single ear gauge, which is less than the average modern college student, if you think about it – Haworth pioneered the art of subdermal and transdermal implants in his Phoenix studio, physically reshaping his clients to suit their whims. Ever seen a metal mohawk? He invented that. He also collaborated extensively with many of the “stars” of the body-mod subculture, including the late Stalking Cat (a Flint, Mich., native who assumed the guise of a female tiger) and freak show legend The Enigma. Low-key and professional, Haworth has appeared extensively on TV – including Extreme Dr. 90210 – and is generally regarded as the Hugh Hefner of body mod. Scary? Only if you pay him.
Dr. Ersula Ore
As street crime goes, jaywalking isn’t all that scary. And that’s the point: It takes real gumption to turn a jaywalking citation into a dashboard-cam viral fight video and assault charge. Presaging the far more explosive events in Ferguson, Missouri, three months later, Ore’s painful-looking take-down by Arizona State University police officer Stewart Ferrin in May prompted a comparatively minor furor over race and law enforcement, with supporters of the ASU English professor – who is black – characterizing the arrest as excessively forceful. Not that Ore was a compliant citizen; she was clearly ticked-off that Ferrin stopped her in the first place and later pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of resisting arrest. The scary part: Take away Ferrin’s handcuffs and tactical advantage, and one gets the very real sense that Ore would have creamed him one-on-one. And you want to argue that “C” grade on your term paper? Good luck.
Dr. Peter Steinmetz
With a job title like “Program Director of Neuroengineering at Barrow Neurological Institute,” Dr. Peter N. Steinmetz is a manifestly intelligent man. How, then, did the good doctor summon the towering lack of judgment to bring a loaded AR-15 semiautomatic rifle to Sky Harbor International Airport last July, ostensibly while on a “coffee run” at the airport? Naturally, Steinmetz – who was subsequently put on administrative leave at Barrow – was making a statement about his Second Amendment rights, which says more about his egotism than his IQ. After all, how would air travelers at Sky Harbor that day know Steinmetz was a non-murderous brain researcher, and not a wacko bent on bloodshed? Were they supposed to read his mind? There’s a practical safety issue, too. Those baristas at Starbucks are overworked and over-caffeinated. One of them might have conceivably ripped the rifle off his shoulder and gone all Scarface on Terminal 3. These were non-issues for Steinmetz. He was more interested in showing us all what a bunch of craven sissies we are for not having AR-15s of our own. And to pick up a venti no-foam latte in the bargain. Smart, doc.
Jason Hope is a wonderful, charitable human being – and if you don’t believe it, he has nine web domains linking back to his eponymous website, jasonhope.com, where you’ll find the following evidence: “Jason Hope is an entrepreneur, futurist, philanthropist and investor located in Scottsdale, Arizona with a passion for... giving back to the community.” The home page is larded with high-minded quotes from Aesop and Dickens, and links to various charities. There’s no mention of the $100,000 he paid rap star Ludacris to play a 45-minute set at his star-studded Christmas party four years ago, or the $2 million settlement he reached with the state of Texas in the midst of an investigation into his text-messaging company, Jawa, for fraud and improper billings. And there’s certainly no reference to the 100,000-square-foot castle he’s reportedly building in Scottsdale’s exclusive, double-gated Silverleaf community, complete with its own IMAX screen and moat (see Max AZ, page 136). Those are boring details. The interesting thing about Jason Hope is that he’s community-minded, not that he’s carving a footprint the size of Chase Field out of McDowell Mountain. Such a humble, swell guy, that Jason Hope.
Sheriff Richard Mack
The former Graham County lawman is a bit of a discretionary choice for this spot. Alternately, we could have gone with Congressman Paul Gosar, Arizona Representative Bob Thorpe, or any local lawmaker who flew to Nevada last spring to proudly stand by rancher Cliven Bundy during his much-publicized, anarchic standoff with the federal government over unpaid grazing fees. (Anarchic? Sure. You don’t need to burn a Starbucks to be an anarchist. Those wily anti-guv’mint sermons will do just fine.) Still, Mack took the crazy-cake on Team Cliven with this comment: “We were actually strategizing to put the women up front. If they are going to start shooting, it’s going to be women that are going to be televised all across the world getting shot by these rogue federal officers.” Remind us not to invite the Macks to the next PHOENIX mag couples retreat.
Mayor George M. Allred
Question: What does it mean to be a politician in the fundamentalist Mormon enclave of Colorado City, Arizona? Answer: Instead of kissing babies, you’re marrying them off to your cousins. One can only begin to imagine the gross distortions of office routinely perpetrated by Mayor Allred, who – according to a report in the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail – continues to take his marching orders from absentee FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, currently jailed in Texas. According to the report, Allred and Jeffs corresponded via snail mail in June of 2012, when the mayor sought Jeffs’ opinion on issues ranging from minting Colorado City currency to selecting a new chief of police. Allred ended one of the letters with this fawning piece of ass-kissery: “I am so grateful the Lord has chosen You as his mouthpiece to all the world.” So, safe to say: Separation of church and state is not really happening in Colorado City. That gives Allred – a shadowy fellow who also served under the pseudonym “George M. Barlow,” according to the Arizona Attorney General’s office – a leg up on acting FLDS leader William Jessop on the creepiness index. It’s a dead heat, actually.
Pastor Steven Anderson
Run out of a strip mall in Tempe in what looks like a converted call center, the Faithful Word Baptist Church is the domain of Pastor Steven Anderson, a young, vaguely hipster-ish holy man who once proposed that President Barack Obama “should be stricken with brain cancer.” You know, as part of a sermon. “Don’t expect anything contemporary or liberal,” Anderson admonishes on the church website, which is reasonable, and would seem to leave ample middle ground between “I’m not a fan of the president” and “Hey, God, why don’t you give him brain cancer?” Anderson doggedly refuses to explore that middle ground, routinely posting YouTube evidence of his “soul-winning” sermons, including a recent chestnut directed at his female congregants: “So here’s the thing, when I’m preaching, women should not express their opinion, even if it’s a positive opinion, even if she agrees with me.” Dang, bro. Old school. Excuse us while we... back... away... slowly.
One must give credit where credit is due: Here is one scary Arizonan who will never lift so much as a pinky to conceal her scariness. A pro-border activist of the most virulent, flag-burning stripe, she was friendly with convicted killer Shawna Forde and late neo-Nazi J.T. Ready, and never disavowed either association. Born Roberta Dill, she writes Xena: Warrior Princess fan fiction and admits she changed her name to honor the show’s star, Lucy Lawless. She is a Wiccan. She wears a power-mullet. It just goes on and on. Profiled on several occasions in the Phoenix New Times, and famed in nativist circles for burning the Mexican flag outside the country’s consulates in Tucson and Phoenix, she’s arguably the most recognizable face of Arizona’s extreme-right anti-immigration caucus, over more closely-placed activists like “Buffalo” Rick Galeener and Glenn Spencer, the head of American Border Patrol. Neither of whom have mullets.
Scary Arizonan Emeritus
Never a physically imposing figure in the classic biker-brute mold, the modestly-proportioned Hells Angels founder makes scary hay with steely smarts and shrewdness. Now 75 and living in Cave Creek – where he relocated in 1998 – Barger remains the de facto leader of the world’s best-known and most-feared outlaw motorcycle club, its most recognizable face and most vigorous link to the club’s counterculture Oakland heyday. In his definitive 1965 book Hell’s Angels, Hunter S. Thompson wrote this about Barger: “... A six-foot, 170-pound warehouseman from East Oakland, the coolest head in the lot, and tough, quick-thinking dealer when any action starts. By turns he is a fanatic, a philosopher, a brawler, a shrewd compromiser and a final arbitrator.” Contrary to rumors that routinely swirl around the HA, Barger is “healthy and active and still rides,” according to an insider. And if throat cancer didn’t stop him, or a stretch in federal prison, or who-knows-how-many biker-grade benders, would any among us willingly pick him for an enemy? Nah.
If the Arizonans assembled on our list don’t scare you, what about rattlesnakes, meth labs and state fair clowns? Using these and other metrics (hurricanes, dentists, etc.), the real estate search site Estately recently compiled a ranking of America’s scariest states. The scariest: Florida. The least scary: South Dakota. Arizona ranked 13th – a scary number if there ever was. Find a category-by-category breakdown of our fearsome performance below. Source: estately.com
Bears: Arizona’s population of black bears is typically docile; before one ornery specimen went on a rampage in the Tonto National Forest two years ago, Arizona had experienced only 10 attacks in 22 years. Rank: 24
Clowns: Arizona has one of the country’s highest clown-per-capita rates, according to the National Clown Directory. Chilling. Rank: 18
Prison: Our incarceration rate per capita is no laughing matter, either. Rank: 6
Flying: If you’re an aerophobe, Sky Harbor’s heavy passenger traffic is a nightmare. Rank: 9
Hurricanes: Reprieve! AZ is dead-last in hurricane landfalls. Rank: 50
Shark Attacks: Ditto with shark attacks... until Lake Havasu starts breeding them, anyway. Rank: 50
Spiders: “Arizona: A Leader in Venomous Spider Species” should be our new business-development motto. Rank: 3
Snakes: There’s a reason the “Arizona Unicorns” don’t play at Chase Field. Rank: 1
Dentists: We’re about average when it comes to dental assaults. Rank: 30
Tornados: Haboobs don’t count. Rank: 42
Heights: We’re not especially skyscraper-heavy, but our various mountain peaks return us to the mean. Rank: 24
Meth Labs: This ranking was derived from adding up meth lab busts since 2012. So we’re doing a good job hiding them, obviously. Rank: 38
Lightning: Shockingly low score. Rank: 37
Volcanoes: Not many recent lava sightings ‘round these parts, but all those cinder cones up in Flagstaff count against us. Rank: 9
Murderers: No comment. Rank: 9
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