Who is David Clarke? Milwaukee sheriff could be Homeland Security chief

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Donald Trump's surprising win on Tuesday was shocking to many people. Now, as president-elect, one of the most important considerations that Trump has to make will be who he surrounds himself with in his presidential cabinet.

Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich, strong contenders for Attorney General and Secretary of State, respectively, are the most-named prospects among political insiders familiar with what Trump wants. But one name being considered to head up the Department of Homeland Security may not be as recognizable to most Americans: Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee County.

With a long career in law enforcement that began in the late 1970s, Clarke has served as sheriff of Wisconsin's most populous county since 2002, when he was appointed to fill a vacant position by former Republican Gov. Scott McCallum. He has won re-election to his post four times, running each time as a Democrat.

Clarke has been sheriff since 2002.Source: Tasos Katopdois/Getty Images
Clarke has been sheriff since 2002.  Tasos Katopdois/Getty Images

But don't let that affiliation fool you: Clarke's political leanings are very far-right. He frequently appears on Fox News, and has been a strong backer of Trump during his presidential campaign.

Clarke, himself an African-American, has been a vocal critic of the Black Lives Matter movement, calling it a separatist movement.

"It's dangerous, it's hateful, and I wish the Southern Poverty Law Center would add them to the list of hate groups in America," Clarke said of the movement. He also declared in an op-ed this year that "this is war, and Black Lives Matter is the enemy," following the shootings of several police officers in Dallas, Texas, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

"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."

Clarke identifies as a Democrat but has far-right leanings.Source: Gerald Herbert/AP
Clarke identifies as a Democrat but has far-right leanings.  Gerald Herbert/AP

Sheriff Clarke is also a huge supporter of the Second Amendment, which he says is treated like the "bastard child of the Bill of Rights." But he has gone beyond supporting the right to own a weapon to encouraging more people to arm themselves in his jurisdiction, even going so far as to suggest that the police weren't worth calling sometimes. As crime was rising in Milwaukee, Clarke told citizens that calling 911 wasn't necessarily their best option.

"You could beg for mercy from a violent criminal, hide under the bed, or you could fight back," he said on a taxpayer-funded radio ad.

Clarke's public service announcement upset many people, including Milwaukee's Mayor Tom Barrett. Of the many criticisms he had, one was that Clarke had made it seem like his office was in charge of responding to domestic incidents. "That ad implies that the sheriff and the sheriff's forces are going to come to residences when they call 911. That simply isn't true," Barrett said. He added, "To have a sheriff basically imply that it's not going to help you to call 911 I think is irresponsible."

Following the criticism, Clarke became a vocal proponent of gun ownership, so much so that the National Rifle Association paid for several trips to have him speak at various events across the country. This prompted more criticism about the possibility of improper gifts being given to the sheriff of Milwaukee County, including $40,000 in trips to Russia and Israel funded by the NRA.

Controversy again followed Clarke while he was traveling. In the past year, four people have died while in the sheriff department's custody, including one death that was ruled a homicide.

But Clarke defends the law enforcement community at every chance he gets, even going so far as to cast blame to others. He is critical of President Barack Obama, for example, blaming the president for the increase in violent actions against law enforcement across the nation.

"President Obama has been the maestro" of anti-police sentiment, Clarke said. "He has led course and fanned the flames of anti-police sentiment that is sweeping this country." Clarke has suggested that Obama doesn't care about law enforcement, "saying nothing about condolences," despite the fact that the president frequently speaks out against such violence.

At the Republican National Convention, Clarke reiterated his belief that the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as other liberal causes, went against the rule of law. 

"So many of the actions of the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter transcend peaceful protest, and violates the code of conduct we rely on," he explained. "I call it anarchy."

Perhaps that is why Clarke was drawn to Trump, who employs the same type of rhetoric in blasting the president. The Milwaukee County sheriff did his best to promote Trump during the election season, including deriding his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. Clarke even refused to call her "Hillary," choosing to call her "Mrs. Bill Clinton" instead. "Had she not been married to Bill Clinton, she wouldn't even be able to have been elected dog catcher," Clarke wrote in a blog post.

Trump and Clarke share another similarity: taking to social media to blast their critics. While Trump is widely known for early morning Twitter tirades, Clarke uses similar methods to attack his political enemies and detractors, as well as members of the media. He has called former Attorney General Eric Holder an "a-hole" on Twitter. In October, he complained that government institutions including the White House and Department of Justice are corrupt, adding that it was "pitchforks and torches time" with a graphic suggesting violent actions were needed to remedy the situation.

If Trump were to ask Clarke to head up his Department of Homeland Security, he'd have someone who matches his stated beliefs on the Muslim community. In fact, Sheriff Clarke's plan to defeat terrorism includes patrolling Muslim neighborhoods. He wants to increase intelligence gathering, "similar to MI-5 [in the United Kingdom] or Mossad in Israel ... because intelligence is going to be your best chance at disrupting, detecting, and preventing these things."

Trump would find a trusted ally in Sheriff David Clarke were he to put him in charge of Homeland Security. Clarke's rhetoric and fiery brand of dealing with criticism is congruous with Trump's, and Clarke definitely has the law enforcement background to serve out the role. 

Still, many communities throughout the nation might find some of Clarke's attributes to be alarming. A number of Americans would deem his statements describing the Black Lives Matter movement as a terror group as offensive, if not downright frightening. 

It will be interesting to see if Trump decides to have someone head up his Department of Homeland Security who matches his own temperament. If he decides to go that route, David Clarke would certainly fit the bill.