Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke made national headlines last month when he tweeted that it’s “pitchfork and torches time in America” and then repeated the line in a speech at a Donald Trump rally in Wisconsin. Clarke, who has been embraced by the Trump campaign despite his incendiary rhetoric and ties to extremist anti-government groups, has since doubled down on the comment, comparing his rhetoric both to that of the founding fathers and the abolitionists and that of Bernie Sanders and his call for a political “revolution.”
Clarke continued this mixed messaging in a recent interview with Ginni Thomas, a conservative activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, for the Daily Caller. Clarke told Thomas that everyone understood that his “pitchfork and torches” comment was a “metaphor” before going into detail about how similar rhetoric was used by leaders in the Revolutionary War and Civil War.
“People understand that metaphor,” he said, “but they understand this as well: It took the Declaration of Independence, which back then was viewed as this very reactionary, maybe even a call to violence.”
Clarke explained that “the founding fathers did what they felt they had to do at that moment because King George was not listening, the crown was not listening, so it was going to take more than using the traditional avenues to address these grievances with the government,” even though they “knew it was going to lead to war.”
“So you can move through history and you can look at what we had to do to get rid of the institution of slavery,” he continued. “We had to pit American against American in a war. Yet, when that happened, I’m sure everybody, they were saying, ‘Oh, family against family and brother against brother, the North against the South.’ It had to happen. I’m not afraid of that sort of thing.”
“So I don’t tell people how they should do it,” he said. “People get it. They’ll know what to do. The founding fathers knew what to do. The abolitionists knew what to do.”
Clarke paraphrased Frederick Douglass’ defense of John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry that “Slavery is a system of brute force” and “must be met with its own weapons.”
“How is that any different than ‘It is pitchfork and torches time in America’?” Clarke asked. “It’s time for change, is what he was saying, and it isn’t going to be pretty.”