Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

David Clarke the Demagogue

A sheriff who once represented law and order has sold his soul to become a media star.

By - Oct 18th, 2016 11:30 am
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David Clarke and Donald Trump.

David Clarke and Donald Trump.

It is difficult at this point to remember the David Clarke who was appointed sheriff in July 2002 by Gov. Scott McCallum and then won election to the post in November of that year.

This was a man, who as writer Kurt Chandler reported in a 2003 story for Milwaukee Magazine, “has won backing from conservatives and liberals, minorities and non-minorities alike. In his campaign for sheriff, he raised more than $200,000 from a diverse crowd – from lobbyist and former Gov. Martin Schreiber and Ald. Angel Sanchez to tea shop owner George Watts and Brother Bob Smith of Messmer High School; from Johnson Controls’ PAC to the Teamsters.”

His campaign was run by longtime Democratic consultant Bill Christofferson, who called him “a natural” with “phenomenal” appeal to voters, and supported by Democratic fundraiser Barbara Candy, who said “David has a clearer sense of who he is than just about anybody I’ve worked for in 20-some years,” and by Democratic PR man Evan Zeppos, who lauded Clarke’s charisma and compared his physical presence to John Wayne.

No one had any illusions he was a liberal, but Clarke seemed like a moderate or moderate conservative who would add a strong voice to a city that needed more black leadership. Nor did it hurt that he was “Six-foot-four in black cowboy boots and GQ handsome,” as Chandler noted.

And early on, Clarke took stands like opposing a bill to legalize concealed carry, joining many law enforcement professionals in the state with that view.

But it soon became clear Clarke only ran as a Democrat to win office. He refused to join the state Democratic Party and quickly embraced Republicans like President George W. Bush while winning ever more coverage from talk radio for criticizing other black leaders in Milwaukee. Indeed, the more outrageous his comments, the more coverage he received, as he rose to become a darling of Fox News nationally.

It doesn’t matter how irresponsible Clarke’s comments are, like discouraging people from calling 911 and suggesting police won’t respond to their call. It doesn’t matter how infantile, like accusing Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele of “penis envy.” It all gets Clarke more coverage from talk radio, more invitations to appear on Fox and at various conservative forums.

In fact, Clarke has become one of the best-known — and most in demand — politicians nationally who support Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Clarke has offered not a word of criticism of Trump’s comments bragging about sexual assault, and instead has seconded Trump’s outrageous — and quite dangerous — claim that the election is rigged.

Trump repeated the claim more than 20 times over the past weekend, while offering no evidence whatsoever. Nor did he explain how such fraud could be happening before Election Day. Nor did he explain away the fact that scientific polls, both by phone and internet, have overwhelmingly found he is badly trailing in the election.

As the Los Angeles Times has noted, Democrats couldn’t rig the election if they wanted because “in most of the states seen as presidential battlegrounds, the chief elections officers are Republicans…. In Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio and Utah, the chief elections officer of the state is a Republican, elected by voters of the state… In Florida, the secretary of state is appointed by the state’s Republican governor, Rick Scott — a Trump supporter… In North Carolina, the state board of elections has five members, appointed by the governor — currently a Republican. Its current chairman and three out of five members are Republicans.”

In response to Trump’s claims many Republicans have differed with and/or decried Trump’s claims. That includes the two most prominent Republicans, House Speaker Paul Ryan who through a spokesperson said “the speaker is fully confident the states will carry out this election with integrity,” and GOP vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence, who insisted to NBC that he and Trump “will absolutely accept the result of the election.”

But as preposterous and widely condemned as Trump’s claims are, polls show 41 percent of voters now believe the election could be stolen. And there have been increasing signs of violence being committed by extremists in both parties. The level of distrust and division in this country may be as bad as its been since the eve of the Civil War.

In such a context, and on the heels of Trump’s claim of a rigged election, Clarke posted a comment on Twitter saying it was “pitchforks and torches time,” along with a photograph of an angry mob wielding weapons.


This call for violence and vigilantism would be an incredibly irresponsible statement for anyone, but Clarke is a publicly elected official. He was a prominent speaker at the Republican National Convention in July and appears regularly on television as a Trump campaign surrogate.

As Right Wisconsin recently observed, “Clarke made it sound like he was advocating for open insurrection… That’s not exactly the kind of language one wants to hear out of a duly-elected public official; let alone one who’s job is to act as an agent of law enforcement…. For being reckless when it was completely uncalled for, Sheriff David Clarke is our ‘Loser of the Day.’”

The irony here, of course, is that Right Wisconsin and its editor Charlie Sykes helped teach Clarke that the more outrageous his comments, the more coverage he would get. Now that “the new Sykes” has arisen, it appears that demagogues like Trump and Clarke will be condemned. That’s a small bit of good news at an increasingly ugly time in America, but seems quite unlikely to cow Clarke, who is now getting requests internationally for comments to the media. Whatever the Sheriff once claimed to stand for, he’s now become a huckster of whatever toxic talking point will get him media attention.

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

37 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: David Clarke the Demagogue”

  1. Vincent Hanna says:

    How often is Clarke even in Milwaukee County these days? Is his calendar open to the public? He appears to have no interest whatsoever in his day job.

    If a liberal or someone in BLM called for vigilantism Clarke would excoriate them mercilessly while demanding we respect the law. He is a hypocrite of epic proportions.

  2. Sam says:

    I hope everyone votes in the Democratic primary in 2018. Better yet, I hope Sheriff Clarke decides on pursuing his conservative celebrity and leaves Milwaukee.

  3. Reader says:

    The people at Sherman Park should have carried pitch forks and torches. I’m sure he would have treated them with dignity and respect. His suggestion reminds me of the mob scene from the Simpsons movie http://i68.tinypic.com/2qdphcj.jpg

  4. Dan Wilson says:

    Trying to analyze his political profile is fruitless. He is just a lunatic.

  5. PMD says:

    Clarke leveraged being a black (pretend) Democrat into a lucrative career as a speaker/media figure (with a part-time job as Milwaukee County Sheriff) and now Sykes is leveraging being a prominent talk radio conservative turned GOP/Trump critic into book deals and cable news appearances. Clarke’s case is far more egregious as he’s a law enforcement official. He should be a talk radio host.

  6. Jeff says:

    I’ve always wondered how Clarke could run as a Democrat; now I see he isn’t even a member of the party. Can’t he be prevented from running as something he isn’t? And, how can a senior law enforcement official get away with encouraging violence?

  7. Steve says:

    He only has to win the primary! Republicans wink and don’t run anybody. Note he is affiliated with other vigilante sheriffs and Bundy of Oregon fame. (Occupy Wall Street didn’t bring in automatic weapons!) More importantly, he supports torture in our County Jails, withholding water to inmates, two of which have died as a direct result. See website “On Wisconsin” for more.

    Bruce, I think it is important to note on the “Rigged Elections” theme that in several recent court cases in multiple states concerning the “need” for voter ID laws, absolutely no evidence of even the most miniscule level of voter fraud was found or presented. Apparently 40 % of our citizens are willing to believe this BIG LIE!

  8. Willie Ray says:

    He has felt the “Grace” of Donald Trump’s groping hands.

  9. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    Somebody has to tell the truth around here as the whining weenies of the Left, the white, male, liberal racists destroy Milwaukee. What are the problems: crime, MPS, heorin, auto theft, roads abandon homes, milwaukee county govt. state wide joke,unemployment in inner city, management worst in country, corruption, DA chasing his tail in politics instead of crime, kids cannot read, high taxes, graft, human tr5fficking, poverty. Sheriff tells the truth. Peoel on this site are just lying apologists. At least Kooyenga, Darling, Tommy tried to solve the problems. Left fights the solutions.

  10. PMD says:

    WCD do you support Sheriff Clarke’s call for pitchforks and torches? Is that the type of language a law enforcement official should use? Is he beyond criticism for you simply because he is a conservative? Does he ever cross the line? I can’t imagine you would support Black Lives Matters activists calling for the use of violence to get what they want. So why then do you support Clarke?

    Also does he even talk about all of those issues? He whines about the media and liberals and gun control but it sure doesn’t seem like he spends much time talking about issues that matter to Milwaukee County because he’s so rarely in Milwaukee County.

  11. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    Tommy Clarke knows his role, parlaying his skin color into nice wingnut welfare paychecks for being the “see, even this black guy is saying it about THOSE PEOPLE” person.

    He’s is a megalomaniac who is stealing money from Milwaukee County taxpayers. But strangely the people who whine about teachers making $60,000 have no problem with Tommy making 6 figures while inmates die in solitary under his watch.

    This has to end, guys. Cmon 414, stop allowing yourself to be a joke by electing looney tunes like Clarke.

  12. Virginia says:

    Clarke had attempted to escalate the response to unrest in Sherman Park–by pressing for the National Guard to step in. Stirring up more unrest would have given him more public spotlight. Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed.

    But Clarke’s fame whoring is truly dangerous not just for Milwaukee but in the national realm in which vigilantes may be incited to roam the streets seeking “justice” for wronged sexual-predator Donald Trump. How dare these women speak up! Celebrity is supposed to insulate Trump and allow him to get away with murder (“in the middle of 5th Avenue”) and sexual assault masked as whatever he wants to call it. And now Clarke is his sworn-officer shield–and shill.

  13. PMD says:

    But if it’s white people causing unrest, Clarke says no problem! In fact, he encourages it.

  14. Virginia says:

    Can anyone trace the origins of the flame-throwing angry-mob photo? Looks totally contrived. Like bad actors in a grade-D film.

  15. Mike says:

    There was a time where David Clarke could have perhaps had a big impact. He did say some things that probably needed to be said, but the problem is ultimately he’s just an opportunist much like his good friend Charlie Sykes. Sykes had his political conversion to being a conservative at almost an ideal time to capitalize on it and he’s now found a great opportunity to carve out a niche as the “conservative with a conscience”.

    In a similar vein Clarke goes with whatever suits his needs the best. He runs as a Democrat because he needed to do that to win. Once he assumed the reins of power in the Sheriff’s department he showed he was sort of a big government liberal at heart by spending more and more money and quite frankly wasting a lot of it. At the start of his tenure there was the Mao-like billboards he put up of himself. Then there’s those PSAs where he tells people to be ready to defend themselves. A common sense message that doesn’t need him spending money so he can act like he’s Wyatt Earp. He’s a guys who shows up twice a year at the Cathedral and immediately sits right in the front row like he’s the most dedicated Catholic there was.

    Now the money train looks like it’s heading toward that fringe of society that he appeals to. He’s got a book to sell.

  16. Casey says:

    Dang Jake….really referring to him as “tommy” Youre sinking down to his level.

  17. tim haering says:

    Bruce, you’re just jealous cause you’re a short white guy with no hook. Welcome to my club, amigo. He’s just gonna ignore the hell out of you, unless he discovers this column is a badge. YOU’ve done no harm, except to your own cause. Maybe if you’d compared him to another demagogue media star — Sarah Palin. Trumplestiltskin!

  18. Benny Nota says:

    “violence committed by extremists in both parties”: that may be technically true…but it’s pretty obvious where most of the violence is coming from. And that would be the supporters of the party Clarke carries water for.

  19. Barbara says:

    It needs to be noted how little actual law enforcement the sheriff conducts. Besides managing the county jail (not a prison, just a jail), he is in charge of traffic violations on the expressways and protecting the parks. Period. Even at that, when Mayor Barrett suggested the sheriff’s office should have been involved during the initial Sherman Park unrest, he essentially said the mayor didn’t know what he was talking about. Way to enforce the law, sheriff.

  20. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    David Clarke and scott Walker saved this city from being Ferguson and Baltimore by getting National guard out while Abele, Barrrett, Flynn dithered. It worked. we did not have further rioting.
    They follow the plans laid out by Henry Maier in 1967 and saved the city. Weeks later Dufus Abele and Barrett did something and made asses of themselves.
    The people know who is right: Clarke got 80% in last election. What did Barrett get against token candidate?

  21. PMD says:

    The National Guard was activated but not deployed right WCD? They never actually patrolled Sherman Park? If they were never actually deployed, they had nothing to do with stopping the unrest and you are a liar.

    Again, can you ever actually answer a direct question? Can Clarke ever cross a line? Isn’t it wrong for a law enforcement official to call for violence?

  22. Bill Kurtz says:

    I’m still waiting for Clarke and his defenders to say anything about the inmate who died in the jail Clarke is too busy to supervise while he flits around the country. (Maybe they believe in capital punishment and think Clarke should be allowed to administer it.)

  23. Jake currently of the MKE says:

    WCD you are hilarious. Saved the City? If I’m correct the MPD was the ones on the streets and not Yosemite Clarke’s sheriff department. It was because of Flynn and his response of steady non-mob police crowd control that worked. Not some gung-ho paramilitary response used in Ferguson or Baltimore that made those situations worse.

    Everything that has gotten worse with Milwaukee and it’s inner city has gotten worse under Walker’s white supremacy and his conservative tools suburban white backlash. From education to employment.

    WCD you are the problem, and and your white supremecist ideology, party of Trump! Goodness conservatives have become caricatures.

  24. Jake currently of the MKE says:

    Also, don’t forget a person died of dehydration in Clarke’s jail. Dehydration! More proof he is incompetent as a sheriff.

  25. Vincent Hanna says:

    Well he doubled-down and confirmed that yes indeed he is calling for violence. WCD, you seriously have no problem with a law enforcement official encouraging people to commit violent acts as a form of protest? Are we in a third-world country?

  26. Thomas says:

    There isn’t anything funny anymore about David Clarke’s increasingly outrageous posturing. We get it: follow Rush Limbaugh’s blueprint; feign disgust at imagined liberal outrages to get the juices flowing in the veins of the bewildered who think that liberals are responsible for disappointments in their lives; watch the audience swell; cash the checks … In the meanwhile, we have a sheriff who advocates for vigilantism.

    If we cannot recall Clarke for his irresponsible words, passive-aggressive behavior, and for his foolishness overall, can we find a genuine Democrat to run against him in a primary before he runs for office again? Did former Sheriff Richard Artison have offspring who could be interested in such a job? Artison looked better than Clarke on a horse in a parade. More importantly, Artison was a good sheriff and a thoughtful person.

  27. Bob Heule says:

    An anarchist wearing badge is contrary to civilization. Scott Walker has the authority to remove Clarke from office and should do so immwediately

  28. Virginia says:

    Trump is calling for vigilantism and mass uprisings if he loses the election (he said will ONLY support the results IF HE WINS).

    If Clarke follows his revered Trump’s lead, might he abandon his badge so he can join “the pitchfork and torches” crowds he’s inciting? Milwaukee County would be better off but the country will become a new version of the Wild West. But we all know Clarke will never give up his cushy, high-paid job and the fame and free time it affords him for further cashing in.

    Tim Haering, (#17): I get the jest, but by what metric is Bruce a “short” guy? I don’t know his height but he seems on the tall side. Clarke gains quite a few inches with those ridiculous cowboy hats but he’s actually all hat and no cattle.

  29. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    Clarke is the only one that has the right answers, that is why he got 80% of vote pastime. The people on this site are absolutely worthless, they have no solutions to any of Milwaukee’s problems and will never have. They do know the talking points. Dufuses.

  30. Vincent Hanna says:

    Reading comprehension is fun. Again, WCD, you seriously have no problem with a law enforcement official encouraging people to commit violent acts as a form of protest? Are we in a third-world country? Set aside the fact that you agree with him on public safety issues. Is it responsible of him, a law enforcement official, to encourage people to commit violent acts? It’s a simple yes-or-no question. Don’t be a gutless coward. Answer the question.

  31. Gary says:

    Thanks Bruce. You gave Sheriff Clarke a new title he will wear with pride.

  32. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    How come he got 80% of the vote last time? Only the white, male, liberal , racists that are on this site do not like him. Too bad, so sad, I’m glad.

  33. Barbara says:

    Probably because he’s managed to convince the electorate that his office actually has something to do with fighting crime. Don’t look at the man behind the curtain!

  34. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    Clarke is a leader amongst a bunch of worthless marshmallows, that cannot solve any problems. Abele, Barertt, rejected 3 times by Wisconsin, Flynn, Kremers, Chisholm.
    Look at the problems, without solutions and none on the agenda: MPS, National Disaster, bad roads, skyrocketing crime, heroin epidemic, abandoned houses, poverty, unemployment, corruption, high taxes, overpaid employees, human trafficking>
    Has anyone seen any answers coming from these jerks?

  35. Thomas Spellman says:

    Ah I see you are back to name calling. Second I have not seen any answers coming from Ryan or for that matter Trump and surely not the radio Talkers. I do wish that the Dem’s would be more specific and disciplined but what they say is better than what Ryan and company say. Now if you read Robert Reich that might provide some direction. Peace

  36. Vincent Hanna says:

    Reading comprehension is fun. Again, WCD, you seriously have no problem with a law enforcement official encouraging people to commit violent acts as a form of protest? Are we in a third-world country? Set aside the fact that you agree with him on public safety issues. Is it responsible of him, a law enforcement official, to encourage people to commit violent acts? It’s a simple yes-or-no question. Don’t be a gutless coward. Answer the question.

  37. Sandy says:

    Excellent article Mr. Murphy. I love your presentation style. You do good work!

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