Miami-Dade County

Miami lawmaker accused of using racial slur once referred to ‘hajis’

State Rep. Frank Artiles
State Rep. Frank Artiles AP

In 2014, when then-state Rep. Frank Artiles was running for reelection in Miami-Dade County, someone secretly recorded him at a polling place — and caught him using a slur for Arabs or Muslims: “hajis.”

That was three years ago, long before Monday night, when now-state Sen. Artiles, a Republican, deployed the n-word in a conversation with two African-American senators. Under pressure to resign, Artiles publicly apologized Wednesday, though a fellow senator still filed a complaint to try to expel him from the Senate.

Artiles called Democratic Sen. Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville a “bitch” and a “girl” on Monday — and referred to fellow Republicans who elected Senate President Joe Negron of Stuart as “n----as.” Artiles also called Negron a “p---y.”

Back in August 2014, Artiles was campaigning unopposed in the primary ahead of a general election race against a largely unfunded, first-time Democratic candidate named Omar Rivero that hardly made headlines. But at some point Rivero posted the secret recording to his YouTube channel. The following March, after Artiles denied he had punched a college student at a downtown Tallahassee bar, the audio made the rounds in Miami political circles.

It resurfaced Tuesday, after Artiles’ private exchange at the Governors Club in downtown Tallahassee with Gibson and Sen. Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale was made public.

The Miami Herald obtained a copy of the recording, which Rivero removed from YouTube after Artiles’ attorney threatened to sue him over it. Florida law prohibits audio taping without the consent of all parties being recorded. No such consent is given on the recording, but since it was made in a public place, “I don’t know if he had an expectation of privacy,” Rivero said Tuesday of Artiles.

Artiles ultimately defeated Rivero by 16 percentage points.

In the recording, Artiles spoke to Rivero, who at the time was campaigning at the same Country Walk precinct in West Kendall. Rivero mentioned a terrorist attack in Mumbai — a massive one that killed 166 people took place in 2008 — which led to a conversation about weapons. Artiles boasted about his prowess as a hunter.

“I kill everything,” Artiles said, offering to show Rivero “awesome pictures” of his prey, including alligators.

“I know your foreign policy plan is to exterminate all Muslims,” Rivero responded, in reference to an earlier part of the conversation not on the 10-minute recording.

“No, no, it’s not,” Artiles said. “Only the bad ones.”

“That’s what you said earlier,” Rivero pressed.

“And I didn’t say Muslims,” Artiles said. “I said, ‘hajis.’ There’s a difference.”

“You want to exterminate hajis?” Rivero asked. “What’s a haji?”

An unidentified man apparently accompanying Artiles explained, according to the recording.

“It comes from ‘Jonny Quest,’” the man said, referring to the animated TV series from the 1960s. “It’s the Indian dude in ‘Jonny Quest.’”

The character in the series, Hadji, was Quest’s sidekick, a Kolkata-born 11-year-old who wore a turban — suggesting he was Sikh, not Muslim. When not used as a slur, “haji” (which can be spelled different ways) usually refers to a Muslim who has completed a religious pilgrimage, or “hajj,” to Mecca. But American soldiers, particularly during the Iraq War, were known to use the word to refer to Middle Easterners from Muslim countries.

Artiles is a former Marine reservist who was deployed for two months to Qatar in 2003 as a field radio operator supporting U.S. troops in Iraq. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Tuesday.

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