A group of sheriffs associated with the extremist constitutional sheriff movement lent their support to the anti-immigrant hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform at a press conference in Washington, D.C., on Friday to promote a “crisis” happening at the Southern border.
Last week’s event featured three sheriffs, two U.S. lawmakers and a judge. Each speaker took turns fearmongering about migrants crossing the Southern border, claiming cartels own the border and invoking the fictitious specter of an ongoing invasion. Anti-immigrant activists and hate group leaders have often stoked fears of an invasion during election season, including running political ads and holding press events. Right-wing hysteria around the caravan from Mexico is a recent example.
The event was organized by the Federation for Immigration Reform, or FAIR, an anti-immigrant hate group founded by white nationalist John Tanton in 1979. FAIR is one of the leading anti-immigrant organizations working to fulfill Tanton’s vision: maintaining a majority-white population by vilifying non-white immigrants and severely limiting immigration to the United States.
Despite FAIR’s ugly history and rhetoric, they maintain a veneer of legitimacy to court sympathetic lawmakers and law enforcement officials.
In April 2021, FAIR coordinated a letter about the “Dangerous Biden Border Crisis” with the National Sheriffs Associations that was signed by hundreds of sheriffs. Two of the letter’s signatories spoke at the press conference, Sheriff Scott Jenkins of Culpeper, Virginia, and Sheriff Brett Schroetlin of Grand County, Colorado.
Jenkins is a longtime ally of FAIR, having appeared at other events organized by the hate group over the years, as well as in a 2017 FAIR television advertisement in support of Donald Trump’s nativist agenda.
Jenkins is also a follower of antigovernment extremist constitutional sheriff ideas. He is an advisory member for Protect America Now and spoke at the 2021 Constitutional Sheriff and Peace Officer Conference, held at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. Both organizations believe sheriffs are the highest law enforcement authority in the country and should only enforce the laws they consider constitutional. The ideology traces its origins to the 1970s and Christian Identity minister William Potter Gale, who called this principle Posse Comitatus.
In his speech, Jenkins stated, “It’s time to protect America now,” a possible reference to the extremist organization of the same name. (Jenkins is listed on Protect America Now’s website as a member of its advisory committee.) He also said, “The crime and violence that was once across our Southern border has been given an open door to now come to every town in America.”
Jenkins also voiced his support for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s political stunt of sending busloads of migrants and refugees to New York City and Washington, D.C., which has reportedly cost Texas taxpayers over $12 million. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis carried out a similar stunt, busing migrants to Martha’s Vineyard for a political spectacle. Those arriving to the island were received by volunteers who provided aid and support.
Sheriff Brett Schroetlin of Grand County, Colorado, used his speech to falsely claim, “The fact is our cartels are running our nation.” Schroetlin is also the current president of the Western States Sheriffs’ Association, which has multiple members associated with the constitutional sheriff's movement.
Two officials from Terrell County, Texas, spoke at the presser. One was Sheriff Thad Cleveland, who says he spent 26 years as a border patrol agent. Cleveland has previously said he would consider using the same immigration approach as vigilante sheriff Brad Coe of Kinney County, Texas, who has been accused of not following federal immigration laws. Coe has claimed his method of deportation has been, “We put them in a truck and took them home.”
During his speech, Cleveland made the unfounded claim, “Our cartels are controlling our border – 100%”
Judge Dale Lynn Carruthers, also from Terrell County, said at the press conference that the U.S. is being invaded, an allegation she has made at least once before. On July 5, Judge Carruthers participated in a press conference in Texas in which she declared an “invasion” from the Southern border. Carruthers, five other county judges and one mayor signed extra-legal “invasion declarations” as political statements. Demographic doomsaying about a non-white immigrant “invasion” is a practice that was once confined primarily to white nationalist and anti-immigrant circles. In recent years, however, this has become a common talking point among right-wing politicians and pundits.
The event was moderated by FAIR’s RJ Hauman, who kicked off the event making alarmist, unsubstantiated statements about “terrorists being apprehended” at the Southern border and American taxpayers “fronting billions” to cover migrants, two well-treaded nativist talking points. Texas Reps. Michael Cloud and Chip Roy were also in attendance. Hauman said FAIR was “proud to align” with the press conference speakers.
Photo illustration by SPLC