A Florida sheriff has warned anti-racism protesters that he will deputize lawful gun owners if the demonstrations turn violent.
Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels issued the threat in a Facebook video on Tuesday, after a month of nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25.
“If you threaten to come to Clay County and think for one second that we’ll bend our backs for you, you’re sadly mistaken,” Daniels says in the video, which shows him standing in front of a dozens of officers.
“Tearing up Clay County, that’s not going to be acceptable. And if we can’t handle you, you know what we’ll do? I’m going to exercise the power and authority as the sheriff, and I’ll make special deputies of every lawful gun owner in this county.”
Daniels says he’d deputize people for “one purpose: to stand in the gap between lawlessness and civility.” The sheriff also urges people not to “fall victim” to the conversation that “law enforcement is bad.”
He went on to suggest that God has been “absent” from the media and the Black Lives Matter movement throughout the protests.
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Tens of thousands of people have marched to protest anti-Black racism and police brutality across the U.S. in recent weeks. The demonstrations have been largely peaceful with some exceptions.
U.S. President Donald Trump and other critics have described the protesters as “rioters,” and have lamented the destruction of various monuments during the demonstrations.
Some groups have also promoted unfounded, far-right conspiracy theories about Antifa groups being bussed into small towns to destroy white businesses.
Daniels is the first Black sheriff in Clay County history. He’s facing re-election against six other candidates, many of whom accused him of pulling a taxpayer-funded campaign stunt.
Rutledge told News 4 Jax that he was “appalled” by the video, and suggested that Daniels’ idea would only make matters worse by giving power to people who don’t have police training.
“Imagine putting a badge on someone with zero training — no de-escalation training, no firearms training, no training with the law,” he said in a statement to the outlet.
“I am not sure what he is thinking, but it is not the kind of thinking we need from our top cop.”
Mike Taylor, who is also running for sheriff, accused Daniels of recklessly “taunting” would-be protesters.
“This video appears to be more about self-promotion rather than professional policing,” he said.
“This only jeopardizes the safety of the community,” candidate Catherine Webb added.
Daniels’ opponents also pointed out that he is currently under investigation for abuse of power.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement completed a year-long investigation into Daniels’ conduct on Wednesday, First Coast News reports. He was accused last year of calling 911 on a longtime lover and asking his officers to place her under arrest. Daniels was previously the woman’s supervisor at the Duval County Jail.
His wife reportedly filed for divorce last year.
The report on Daniels’ conduct is currently with the State Attorney’s Office, Action News Jax reports.