Update: Proposed legislation clarifying that Delaware sheriffs do not have powers of arrest was withdrawn yesterday by its sponsor, WGMD News reports. State Rep. Daniel Short, who sponsored the bill, said he struck it over concerns that the issue had become too politicized. As an alternative, he is reportedly working on a House resolution to ask the state Supreme Court for a ruling on whether the state constitution grants sheriffs the authority to make arrests.
Sheriff Jeff Christopher of Sussex County, Del., believes county sheriffs are the last defense against lawmakers who plan to bulldoze the Constitution, establish a police state, and implement a dark “agenda” (whose details are not entirely clear).
That’s why, in defiance of longstanding state laws that allocate powers of arrest and most other law enforcement duties to state and city police officers – and not to county sheriffs – he’s launched a crusade to turn back the clock to a time when the local sheriff was the county’s top law enforcement official.
Rallying behind him are adherents of the antigovernment “Patriot” movement, many of whom fear that shadowy forces are gathering to take away power from the people and concentrate it in the hands of a “New World Order.” American Free Press, an anti-Semitic weekly published by notorious Holocaust denier Willis Carto, and WorldNetDaily, a far-right online publication that peddles a seemingly endless stream of apocalyptic nonsense, have both reported on the Delaware legislature’s supposedly nefarious efforts to take away sheriffs’ powers.
Christopher also has support from the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), a Patriot group, which warns that “[p]ower-hungry government officials” “backed by people with hidden agendas” are engaged in a plot to control the American people and take away their freedom. “The county sheriff,” CSPOA’s website says, “is the line in the sand. The county sheriff is the one who can say to the feds, ‘Beyond these bounds you shall not pass.’ This is not only within the scope of the sheriff’s authority; it’s the sheriff’s sworn duty.”
In a phone interview with Hatewatch, Christopher described himself as a “plain-Jane everyday guy” who wants only to defend the people who elected him against an overreaching government that wants to “nullify” his office, clearing the way for the formation of a police state.
As evidence of this scheme, he points to a recent proposal supported by a bipartisan group of state lawmakers that would clarify once and for all that Delaware sheriffs do not have the power to make arrests. If the law passes, he says, he’ll likely sue.
It’s been decades since Delaware sheriffs’ regular duties have extended much beyond serving subpoenas and civil papers, conducting tax sales, and executing other administrative tasks. The legality of this state of affairs has been affirmed by attorney generals’ opinions at least twice – most recently in February by State Solicitor Lawrence W. Lewis, writing on behalf of Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden (son of Vice President Joe Biden).
Christopher, who served as chief deputy to a previous Sussex County sheriff between 2000 and 2007, has no reason not to have been perfectly familiar with the limits on his powers when he took office.
That hasn’t stopped him from acting like this is all a huge surprise.
“You think that I became a sheriff thinking that I have no power?” he asked Hatewatch. “I didn’t come in here thinking that I had no power of arrest. That’s a narrow-minded thought pattern. I know what a sheriff is. I know what it says in the state law. And it’s plain and simple, the sheriff is the conservator of the peace.”
According to Christopher’s logic, if he can’t arrest people, his constituents are left unprotected against the menace of government-appointed police who might at any time swoop in and begin enforcing unconstitutional laws devised by overreaching lawmakers.
“The people fear a police state,” Christopher said. “When you erase the lines of sovereignty in the county, you open the door and basically deliver to the agenda itself the ability for the federal government to come in and basically take over. If you have a sheriff that stands against tyranny in each of their counties, if he’s the chief law enforcement officer like he’s supposed to be, then he can block some of those enforcement efforts that the federal government or the state government mandates that may be unconstitutional. He can say no.”
Christopher’s campaign has brought some interesting local characters out of the woodwork, not least at the March 27 Sussex County Council meeting, a recording of which is available online.
“The way I see it, you guys fell for the whole kit and caboodle, you’re into Agenda 21 garbage,” ranted one local codger. “You’re not honest because when you done claim, ‘Oh, we uphold the constitution, and look, we just had prayer this morning, so we’re all Christians.’ Y’all give me a break. Here’s how you’re Christians. ‘Pat, pat me on the back. I go to church on a Sunday, I go to hell on a Monday and then come in and screw the public on a Tuesday.’”
(Agenda 21, which has nothing to do with sheriffs, is a nonbinding United Nations plan for sustainable development seen by some far-right extremists as a sort of Trojan Horse for the New World Order.)
The state chairman of the far-right Constitution Party also spoke, saying that Delaware sheriffs’ powers predate even the founding of the United States and speaking fondly of Sherwood Forest and the Sheriff of Nottingham (who was not, if we remember correctly, a paragon of virtue).
Other supporters accused the council of wanting to “dismantle” and “trample” the Constitution, and compared state police to the KGB.
Christopher acknowledges that some of his supporters are radical. He told Hatewatch he doesn’t agree with all of their ideas. But, he said, “I take more offense to arrogance than I do to radicalism.”
“The same thing that you fear out of the militia-type people is the same thing that I fear out of the good-old-boy network,” he said. “I see that we have an encroaching government that is making laws willy-nilly.”
“You either have freedom or you don’t have freedom, and if you tolerate laws that are gonna close in on your face, and tell you when to breathe and when not to breathe, that’s not freedom, that’s tyranny. And that’s what I’m standing here to defend. I’m trying to close the door and make it a little more difficult for the federal government or the state government to reach in and be intrusive into our lives,” he said.
“The people that don’t line up with this philosophy are the ones that think they’re safe from an intrusive federal government. If you think for one moment that the federal government would not try to run our lives in this country from Washington, D.C., you’re wrong. They’re going to do that. They’re going to run roughshod over top of us if we let this happen.”