On Fox & Friends Saturday morning, former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke denigrated Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), a civil rights icon, as “irrelevant” and “reduced to a caricature” in response to Lewis’ decision not to attend the opening of Mississippi’s civil rights museum.
Lewis announced he would not attend the opening because, as he said in a joint statement with Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), “[President Donald] Trump’s attendance and his hurtful policies are an insult to the people portrayed in this civil rights museum.”
When Clarke was asked about this on Fox News, he replied, “John who?” After a pause, co-host Eboni Williams explained that Lewis was “bloodied on the Selma bridge” and has served in Congress.
Clarke replied that “John Lewis has become one of the most irrelevant members of Congress,” claiming that Lewis’ record is actually bad because his congressional district, which includes most of Atlanta, has high unemployment and poverty rates. This claim was also made earlier this year by Donald Trump. Politifact has found it to be “exaggerated” and “mostly false.”
Yet Clarke didn’t stop there. He said “nobody cares what John Lewis is doing” and said “he’s been reduced to being a caricature in that he has to pull a political stunt like this, he can’t even honor the civil rights museum opening.” To Clarke, Lewis’ boycott of the museum opening is a ploy to get news coverage, and Trump’s decision to appear at the opening is a reflection of how well he is doing among African-Americans.
“So I think the event will be better off without those people there,” Clarke said. Then Williams pushed back on Clarke’s claim that no one cares what John Lewis is doing. Clarke claimed that young black high school and college students would not know who Lewis is.
“I’m talking about today, what he did was a political stunt,” Clarke continued. “I think it’s a slap in the face.” Clarke started to argue that Republicans deserve credit on civil rights because Lyndon Johnson worked with Republican members of Congress in the 1960s to pass civil rights legislation. Williams shot back that she holds a degree in history and doesn’t need Clarke to give her a lesson on the subject.
When then-president-elect Trump initially criticized Lewis earlier this year, on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, Lewis’ biography became so coveted that Amazon sold out of copies and required a month-long wait list. That same weekend, then-vice-president-elect Mike Pence also argued that Trump would be better for black people than Lewis, as did Gov Paul LePage (R-ME), who argued that Lewis should either say “thank you” to white politicians or be quiet.
On Friday night, the day before attending the museum opening, Trump held a rally in Pensacola, Florida where he urged people to vote for Roy Moore, who earlier this year said he thought America was last “great” when slavery was legal. In response to a question in Florence, Alabama from one of the only members of the audience who was African American, he said: “I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery — they cared for one another…. Our families were strong, our country had a direction.”
Clarke became spokesman and senior advisor to the main Trump super PAC, America First Action, in September after resigning as sheriff of Milwaukee County. He had been expected to join the Trump administration earlier this year, but told the Department of Homeland Security that he “he had rescinded his acceptance of the agency’s offer to join DHS as an assistant secretary.”