‘Mecham: The Hangman Cometh’ by Hunter S. Thompson

This column by Hunter S. Thompson was published in the Arizona Republic on February 2, 1988 and also distributed nationally by the North American Syndicate.


February 1, 1988

Vengeance is the word of the day at the Arizona capitol

By Hunter S. Thompson
North American Syndicate

“When you strike at a king, you must kill him. ” — Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The sun comes up late in Phoenix. It was still 7 in the morning when they threw me out of the Jacuzzi for being naked. I had complained that the water wasn’t hot enough, so a man in a brown suit with a heavy RED voltmeter in his hand came rushing through the huge iron gate leading to the pool area and started yelling about all the things that were wrong.

“How far can they push me?” he shouted. “Who’s making all these complaints? You’re naked! The water’s too cold, the guests went crazy, some rotten animal screw-head turned my lights out and screwed around with my temperature valves. . . I quit!” he screamed. “I hate my life!”

“Calm down,” I said. “You’re sick! You’re a wretched lying whore! You’re out of yom’ mind! Get away from me! I have my own problems!”

I slid up from the water and down the cold slab stairs to my cactus-covered suit on the far edge of the parking lot, where the sheriff was waiting with two other men who said they were private detectives.

“These gentlemen want to ask you some questions,” said the sheriff. “They represent the Evan Mecham Legal Defense Fund.”

“Wonderful,” I said. “Let’s go outside.” They shuffled out, saying nothing, while I reached into my golf bag and jerked out a 12-gauge Smith & Wesson riot gun, cranked one round of .00 high-brass buckshot into the chamber and followed them outside. There was a lot a quick screaming when they saw the weapon. Everybody ran. I put eight rounds into the front of their rented Buick, and after that it was quiet

Nobody seemed to notice. These things happen in Phoenix. It is the only town in the world where people threaten to kill me every time I come to town. This time it was beaten to death, which is almost mild, in context, or compared to what happened to Don Bolles. Life is cheaper here than it was during the last days of Phnom Penh.

My bodyguard picked me up and we drove downtown to the state Capitol building, where an ugly-tempered crowd had gathered in the main hearing room in the House of Representatives building to watch the impeachment hearings. They had already hung Mecham sometime around 8 that morning, but the body was still twitching when we got there around noon. Some of the governor’s people had posted themselves outside the main door, handing out leaflets and crude cartoons about cowards, communists and sodomites.

The governor had been arraigned earlier that day on six felony charges. He pleaded “not guilty.” After being photographed, fingerprinted and treated like a common criminal, he was quickly led out of the courthouse and whisked away in his limousine.

Mecham said he would appeal and stay in office forever. And this talk of impeachment was just another scam to seize his money, ruin his life and make him a slave to pimps and liberals and yuppies. He brooded for a while, then went on the radio with a frantic, Oral Roberts-style appeal, begging for at least $200,000 to help pay his huge legal fees.

That pretty well sums up Mecham’s situation. He is facing a serious recall election, six felony charges and a full-bore impeachment trial between now and June, and the mood in Arizona is vengeful. There is no such thing as paranoia in Evan Mecham’s life these days. His worst fears and most insane suspicions are all true. They really are out to get him.

When I went down to the state Capitol building on Washington Street last week, the atmosphere was edgy and mean, but there was nothing uncertain about it. I have covered enough of these things from Nixon and the fiendish Wilbut Mills to Oliver North and Judge Bork to have a pretty good sense of the crowd and the governing mood, as it were, no matter who’s on trial …

And there was no mistaking the mood of hardball finality in the Capitol. The witnesses called to testify under oath against the governor on felony obstruction-of-justice charges spoke with the confident clarity of men who had no fear. They have been cowed long enough by the threat of Mecham’s cheapjack vengeance, but now he was on the run. When he accused his enemies of bugging his office with laser beam listening devices, the response among political staffers was to walk through the halls wearing tinfoil skull-caps and joking about “warding off laser beams.”

It was like the time Jimmy Carter was attacked in his rowboat by a huge rabbit that came out of the water and went for his throat like a shark. That incident marked the end of Carter’s effectiveness in the White House, and the laser joke was a death blow for Mecham.

The only problem now is how to make him disappear without heaping more scum and ridicule on Arizona’s image. Even local Democrats are concerned because what Mecham might do to the hopes and dreams of the state’s first alleged presidential candidate since Barry Goldwater — former Demo Gov. Bruce Babbitt, who is getting a free ride on the tumbrel these days, maybe all the way to New Hampshire.

But Mecham will not go away. He is like one of those big pack rats who will move into your house and decide to stay forever; he will build a palatial nest somewhere deep in the walls and spend the rest of his life stealing Bhat chains and gold Rolexes and anything else that glitters. . .

They have expensive tastes, and the only way to get rid of a pack rat is to lure it into the open — which is almost impossible — and blow its head off with a .22 Magnum or a .410 rat gun.

But you don’t want to miss or slightly wound the beast or even poison him because then he will slink back into the walls and die, leaving you with a pile of death and disease and stinking black meat that will eventually poison the whole house.

Welcome to Phoenix: This is Mecham country.