Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who is reportedly taking a job at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has a history of statements opposing progressive causes and movements, including marriage equality and Black Lives Matter.
Clarke said Wednesday on a Milwaukee radio show that he will take a senior position at Homeland Security, as an assistant secretary coordinating the department’s relations with state, local, tribal, and territorial governments and local law enforcement agencies, several major media outlets report.
Homeland Security officials, however, haven’t confirmed that Clarke has been offered the job. “Such senior positions are announced by the department when made official by the secretary,” department officials said in an email to The New York Times. “No such announcement with regard to the Office of Public Engagement has been made.” The position does not require Senate confirmation.
Clarke, who has been Milwaukee County sheriff since 2002, is a favorite of the far right, even though he runs as a Democrat, and there has been a movement to draft him to run for U.S. Senate next year against Tammy Baldwin. He ran unsuccessfully for Milwaukee mayor in 2004. A major supporter of Donald Trump, he spoke at last year’s Republican National Convention.
His rhetoric is often incendiary. Interviewed by right-wing website World Net Daily in 2015, he denounced the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision, although he said the legalization of same-sex marriage bothered him less than the way it came about.
“I think Justice Scalia points that out, that it was a very contorted view of the Fourteenth Amendment,” he said of the ruling, from which Scalia dissented. “There are well-established traditions, and gay marriage is not one of them. So if that tradition is to be changed, then there is an established process for that, and the Supreme Court is not one of them. You go through the amendment process and the Constitution. The same could be said for women’s suffrage, and we didn’t go to the court and have some oligarchs decide that; we amended the Constitution.”
Clarke said he was worried about the religious freedom of churches and business owners with the marriage decision, even though no church is required to perform a marriage that goes against its doctrine. “If the court comes back and says you don’t have a right to exercise your religion, then they’re going to have to decide what to do next. … But who would have thought that in the 21 century homosexuality would come out of the closet and churches would be forced to go into the closet?” he said.
He further said the decision was part of a destructive agenda being advanced by President Obama. “That’s a part of the landscape that has come from Obama; he’s an Alinskyite [a reference to left-wing activist Saul Alinsky], and he knows you have to create a critical mass,” Clarke told WND. “So they’ve created all this division, stirring up racial animosity in our cities, rich against poor in the Occupy movement, and now it’s this religious divide. That’s why I keep telling people gay marriage is not the issue; you’re missing it. You have to peel back the layers and look at this transformation. It happens subtly right before your eyes, and you’ll miss it.”
In a column published on The Hill last year, Clarke excoriated Black Lives Matter. “Black Lives Matter organizers hold the same values of America’s age-old enemies, who have always fought the ideals of our Constitution and our nation,” he wrote. “That they have now taken on as their costume a false concern for Black America only adds to their depravity.”
He continued, “We have several forces internal and external attacking our rule of law: ISIS, Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street — just the most recent iterations of the elements who brand themselves as unique but seek the same revolutionary aim: take down the West, the philosophy of equality before the law, and replace it with their authority, their rules, their hate.” At another time, he called people protesting the police killing of black man Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., “vultures on a roadside carcass.”
A super PAC seeking to draft Clarke to run against Baldwin for Senate has attacked her for being a lesbian, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in January. “A GOP-controlled Trump state like Wisconsin should not be represented by a liberal lesbian extremist like Tammy Baldwin!” said the Sheriff Clarke for Senate website, run by a group of Clarke supporters. “Help us trade her in for a no-nonsense black conservative who punches the Left in the mouth every day of his life.”
It’s not clear if Clarke had endorsed the language, which Baldwin called “stomach-churning name-calling,” or if he was even interested in running for Senate. Jack Daly, the Republican activist behind the effort to draft Clarke, said he saw nothing wrong with the language. "It is not clear to us how she can complain about being identified as 'lesbian' when she has said herself many times that she is proud to be one," he told the Journal Sentinel. "We stand by her self-selected label until she herself renounces it or announces she has changed her gender identity and/or sexual preference."
Criticism of Clarke has been exacerbated by the fact that several people have died while in custody at Milwaukee County jails, although he has not been blamed personally. This month a grand jury recommended criminal charges against some jail staffers, but not Clarke, in the 2016 death of inmate Terrill Thomas, who died after water in his cell was cut off for a week, the Times reports.
If Clarke is indeed joining Homeland Security, it’s a concern to both liberals and conservatives. “Sheriff David Clarke’s unconscionable record makes him unfit to serve,” tweeted Democratic U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. “This appointment is a disgrace.”
And former George W. Bush aide Margaret Hoover, now a CNN commentator, said on the network that Clarke “is representative of a kind of government that believes in reality TV and in entertaining and not the responsibility of governing.”