Thursday night, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) named a darling of right-wing groups, who often speaks of a popular insurrection rising up to prevent the federal government from seizing people’s guns, as someone he turns to for advice on matters relating to law enforcement and racial justice. This disclosure occurred during a little-noticed exchange between Walker and one of the Republican presidential debate’s moderators on Fox News.
The Black Lives Matter movement made a brief appearance during that debate, when moderator Megyn Kelly asked Walker how he would address the movement’s belief that “overly-aggressive police officers targeting young African Americans is the civil rights issue of our time.” The substance of Walker’s response was fairly milquetoast — he cited a Wisconsin sheriff who told him that law enforcement officers should “have the proper training, particularly when it comes to the use of force” and said that the “very few” officers who cross the line should face “consequences.” The identity of the sheriff Walker cited as an advisor on these matters, however, says far more about Walker then the cautious answer he gave to Kelly’s question.
Walker described Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke as a “friend of mine” who has “talked to me about [policing] many times in the past.” But Clarke, who is African American, is an unusual place for a governor and potential president to seek advice on the concerns raised by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Clarke described the groups that “began to converge on the small town of Ferguson, Missouri” after a police officer shot and killed Michael Brown — one of the events that helped crystallize the Black Lives Matter Movement — as “vultures on a roadside carcass.” He accused Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and former Attorney General Eric Holder of throwing “law enforcement officers under the bus” in order to “improve their bona fides” with “interest groups like the New Black Panther Party.”
Clarke reserved special opprobrium for Holder, who he accused of insulting “every law enforcement officer, every man and woman who puts on that badge and uniform everyday” because Holder gave a speech where he recounted an incident where the former attorney general believes he was racially profiled.
Under Holder’s leadership, the Justice Department uncovered widespread racism in the Ferguson Police Department. It also determined that Officer Darren Wilson’s actions, when he shot Michael Brown, “do not constitute prosecutable violations” of federal law.
Sheriff Clarke has also claimed that civil rights organizations should “stay off the police” and instead claimed that police shootings occur because of failures within the African American community. “The number one cause of this is father-absent homes,” Clarke told Fox News. “So what are we going to do in terms of having more effective parenting, more role modeling, more engaged fathers in the lives of these young black men so that we don’t have this behavior?”
The anger Clarke displays when confronted with attacks on government officers who carry badges and guns is somewhat ironic, because he can be downright paranoid about government power when the subject comes up in other contexts. Indeed, the liberal media watchdog group Media Matters has compiled quite a dossier on Clarke’s suggestions that the appropriate reaction to the federal government could be an armed revolution.
Clarke is an outspoken supporter of gun rights who believes that open insurrection may be the appropriate response to gun laws he opposes. In a 2014 speech to the National Rifle Association’s Leadership Forum, Clarke told the audience that “you have to be willing to resist any attempt by government to disarm law-abiding people by fighting with the ferociousness of a junkyard dog. For it says in the Declaration of Independence that it is our right, it is our duty, to throw off such government and to provide new guards for our future security.”
A year later, he spoke to the NRA again. “There is nothing else I would rather hold in my hand when fighting government tyranny than a Bible in my left hand that I use to swear to uphold the Constitution, and in my right hand a Winchester rifle,” Clarke told the crowd last April, adding that this rifle is “a symbol of freedom and liberty in the United States of America.” He also proposed that we incorporate “a semi-automatic rifle, preferably one that shoots M-855 ammunition” into the Great Seal of the United States.
In 2013, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA) named Clarke their “sheriff of the year.” CSPOA’s leader, a former Arizona sheriff named Richard Mack, believes that the “greatest threat we face today is not terrorists; it is our own federal government,” and that “[i]f America is conquered or ruined it will be from within, not a foreign enemy.”
In 2014, Mack joined the crowd of resisters supporting Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who briefly became a right-wing celebrity until Bundy became toxic because of a rant that began with the sentence “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro.” During a standoff between federal officials and Bundy’s armed supporters, Mack told Fox News that “we were actually strategizing to put all the women up at the front.” So that if federal officers “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.”
Clarke spoke to a CSPOA convention in 2013, where he offered views similar to Mack’s warning that America could be “conquered or ruined” from within. Labeling the federal government a “common enemy,” Clarke compared the audience to the Founding Fathers. “What’s happening today,” according to Clarke, “is what was happening then. And a courageous group of grassroots individuals — that’s what the Founding Fathers were, they were grassroots people — said enough and started to push back.”
Earlier the same year, Clarke appeared on Alex Jones’s radio show, a show best known for the host’s penchant for conspiracy theories. True to form, Jones asked Clarke about what would happen if government officials tried to ban semi-automatic weapons, adding that “the Obama Marxist types want to start a civil war in this country” and that “they gotta know what’s going to happen in this country if they try to confiscate guns.”
In response, Clarke outdid his analogy between the CSPOA and the Founding Fathers. “I believe that if somebody tried to enforce something of that magnitude,” he told Jones, “you would see the second coming of an American Revolution, the likes of which would make the first revolution pale by comparison.”