Sheriff David Clarke’s Greatest Hits

He's apparently been booted from Fox News. But we'll always have Cleveland.
March 6, 2019
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David Clarke leaving the stage at an NRA event. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Hey, remember Sheriff David Clarke? He was a MAGA media fixture in the early Trump days, a loudmouth cop who, like Arizona’s Joe Arpaio, managed to parlay his track record of brutal and bungling law enforcement into a tough-on-crime national brand. You probably haven’t thought of Clarke in a while, and on Tuesday the Daily Beast announced why: The people’s sheriff was quietly blacklisted at Fox News in early 2018, and hasn’t been back on their airwaves since.

The weirdest part of the story is that it took this long for anybody to notice. It’s a cautionary tale in our era of 24-hour media saturation: You can make a national name for yourself yakking it up on TV, but that doesn’t mean people will miss you when your 15 minutes of fame are up. Thus will we all be swept into the dustbin of history.

Yet as the old saying goes: Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened. Here are a few of the gems Sheriff Clarke gifted to us during his brief moment in the limelight.

  1. Humble beginnings with Alex Jones

Clarke first took over as sheriff of Milwaukee County in 2002, and quickly began to make a name for himself in local media (including on the radio show then hosted by our own Charlie Sykes—the oughts were a wild time!). By 2013, he was making forays into national media—as when he went on Alex Jones’s radio show that February to discuss liberals’ plans to take away patriotic American citizens’ guns, and to insist he would refuse to follow such an order if one came down from higher up.

“A lot of analysts I talk to think the Obama-Marxist types want to start a civil war in this country,” Jones said then. “They’ve got to know what’s going to happen if they try to confiscate guns.”

“First of all, to me that would be an act of tyranny,” Clarke responded. “So the people in Milwaukee County do not have to worry about me enforcing some sort of order that goes out and collects everybody’s handgun or rifles or any kind of firearm and makes them turn them in… The reason is I don’t want to get shot. Because I believe that if somebody tried to enforce something of that magnitude, you would see the second coming of an American Revolution, the likes of which would make the first revolution pale by comparison.”

  1. Bringing down the house in Cleveland

Clarke’s brand expanded over the next few years as he became perhaps America’s most prominent African-American voice regularly denouncing the Black Lives Matter movement. “It’s garbage,” he said on Fox & Friends in October 2015. “It’s as subversive movement. They advocate the overthrow of our legally constituted government… There is no police brutality in the United States.”

This sort of rhetoric led to his real big break in July 2016, when he was invited to speak at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. In a fiery speech, he praised Donald Trump’s record on supporting law enforcement and extolled “the importance of making America safe again.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to make something very clear,” he began. “Blue lives matter in America!”

  1. The Twitter bandit

Although best known as a TV firebrand, Clarke saved some of his edgiest content for his followers on social media. In January 2018, Clarke was briefly suspended on Twitter after he wrote the following: “BREAKING NEWS! When LYING LIB MEDIA makes up FAKE NEWS to smear me, the ANTIDOTE is go right at them. Punch them in the nose & MAKE THEM TASTE THEIR OWN BLOOD. Nothing gets a bully like LYING LIB MEDIA’S attention better than to give them a taste of their own blood.”

Clarke later deleted the tweet, and got the keys to his account back.

  1. The Parkland incident

Alas, Clarke was soon to learn that some takes are too spicy even for Fox. On February 14, 2018, on the day of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Clarke made his final Fox TV appearance, going on Sean Hannity’s show to discuss the incident. In his segment, Clarke stayed relatively tame, sticking to relatively boilerplate GOP mass shooting talking points:

“The worst thing you can do I think in a time like this is, in the early stages, your emotion takes over. You can’t let emotion drive public policy. You will end up with bad policy… This is not a gun control issue. We don’t need any knee jerk reactions, which is what I hear after things like this. My god, let’s let the grieving period happen for these families.”

Within a few days, however, Clarke’s views had evolved considerably:

Someone at Fox evidently decided at last that they’d do well to steer clear of rhetoric like this, because Clarke hasn’t appeared on the network since.

  1. Soldiering on

Of course, it isn’t all sad news for the people’s sheriff. If he can’t do TV, he can still content himself with his massive following on Twitter, where he continues to rant about the issues of the day to his 900,000 followers.

Real legends never really die.

Andrew Egger

Andrew Egger is a senior writer at The Bulwark.