Milwaukee County rejected Donald Trump’s brand of politics last November by an overwhelming margin. But until Thursday, the area’s top law-enforcement official was a figure so audaciously authoritarian and radically reactionary, he made Trump look like a card-carrying member of the ACLU.
Sheriff David Clarke referred to the Black Lives Matter movement as “black slime” who were bound to “join forces with ISIS” — and “needed to be crushed.” He argued that when police confront anti-Trump protesters, they have a right “to hit first.” When it looked like Trump was going to lose the general election, Clarke tweeted, “Our institutions of gov, WH, Congress, DOJ, and big media are corrupt & all we do is bitch. Pitchforks and torches time.” After Trump won, Clarke called on the commander-in-chief to round up the “hundreds of thousands” of Americans “that are suspected” of sympathizing with ISIS, and “hold them indefinitely under a suspension of habeas corpus [i.e. without trial].”
Clarke resigned his post in Milwaukee County on Wednesday, without offering any explanation for his action.
The reactionary sheriff’s stewardship of his office was hardly less brutal than his rhetoric. As Jonathan Chait wrote earlier this year:
Four people have died of mistreatment and torture in his custody. One newborn baby died while its mother was shackled during childbirth; another prisoner died of dehydration, after the water in his cell was shut off for seven days. In 2013, one of his deputies ran a traffic light and T-boned the car of a civilian driver, who was badly injured. Clarke’s department charged the driver, who was actually sober, with drunk driving in order to cover up its own culpability.
Clarke also got embroiled in an ethics investigation, after siccing sheriff’s deputies on a man who looked at him funny while the two men were on a plane.
In May, President Trump appointed Clarke to the Department of Homeland Security, where the sheriff would have overseen federal-local law-enforcement partnerships. Clarke initially accepted the appointment, but then backed out, ostensibly because he had trouble securing the approval of the Office of Personnel Management, and/or submitting his financial disclosure forms in a timely fashion.
Politico reported late on Thursday that Clarke is expected to take a job in the Trump administration, though he “likely won’t be offered a Senate-confirmed role because his nomination would face opposition from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.” A White House spokesman said they have “no announcement at this time,” and Clarke said in a text message to Politico, “Will talk about my future plans next week.”
Clarke still had more than a year left in his term.
This post has been updated to include Politico’s report on Clarke.