Possible US Senate candidate said Jan. 6 insurrectionists weren’t organized enough

David Clarke, former Milwaukee sheriff, is interviewed during the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National Resort in Oxon Hill, Md., on February 22, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who has said he is considering running for the 2024 Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Wisconsin, has reposted comments he made during a podcast last year that the insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, had failed due to disorganization. To be effective, Clarke said, protesters need to turn out in greater numbers in order to overwhelm law enforcement.

Polls have shown Clarke to be the favorite to win the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin in hypothetical matchups against other possible Republican candidates. 

On a June 2023 episode of his “Straight Talk with America’s Sheriff David Clarke” podcast titled “The Importance of Grassroots Movements and Strategies for Effective Resistance,” which was posted a second time on Dec. 26, Clarke argued that the pro-Donald Trump activists who stormed the U.S. Capitol in hopes of overturning Joe Biden’s victory should have had better organization: 

<blockquote>The biggest mistake that the Jan. 6 group — remember I said that was neither serious, well thought out, or well organized. You must be organized. Everywhere I go, the first step, people say, What should we do? What can we do, Sheriff? Organize, organize, organize. You must be organized. You must have a plan. And the first thing you must do before you go out and operationalize the plan, you have to build a critical mass of people to go along with you. You can’t do it with a couple hundred people. It won’t work. You want to overwhelm government’s ability to be able to contain this thing. You want to overwhelm government resources. So if you only got a couple hundred, hell, they just bring a thousand cops down and that’s the end of that. </blockquote>

Clarke, who repeated that he thought such events should be peaceful, said of the “Jan. 6 crowd”: “There was no need to breach the Capitol. There just wasn’t. They had the right idea, but they weren’t well thought out, they weren’t organized, and they didn’t really have a plan. … All they needed to do was … get near the Capitol, stay outside. … Rally, have marches, speeches. There was no need to go inside the Capitol. That’s where they turned America against them.”

After the insurrectionists illegally entered the Capitol, they assaulted police officers, including Brian Sicknick, who died a day later. The damage they caused to the building has been assessed at $1.5 million. More than 1,200 people have been arrested to date, and hundreds of those have received prison sentences for crimes including trespassing and seditious conspiracy.

Clarke has downplayed the attack, comparing it to a fraternity party.

“You’ve got the Left running around talking about this insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Ladies and gentlemen, that was not an insurrection,” he told a gathering of QAnon conspiracy theorists in October 2021, according to a Raw Story report. “If we decide to pull an insurrection, you’re gonna know it. There’s very little you’re going to be able to do about it.”

In a Jan. 13, 2021 post on the right-wing social media site Parler, Clarke urged participants in what he called “the Trump Rally in Washington DC” to refuse to cooperate with federal law enforcement officials. “TRUST NO GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL right now,” he wrote.

Clarke, who endorsed Trump for president in 2016, has been promoting election denialism and right-wing violence for years. On Oct. 15, as Trump baselessly claimed the upcoming 2016 election was rigged against him, Clarke tweeted: “It’s incredible that our institutions of gov, WH, Congress, DOJ, and big media are corrupt & all we do is bitch. Pitchforks and torches time.”

At a November 2020 pro-Trump rally after that year’s election, he said, “We need a chapter of the Proud Boys right here in Wisconsin because they’re the only ones with the courage to get in the face of Black Lives Matter.” Leaders of the Proud Boys, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated a hate group, played prominent roles in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Since Biden’s 2020 win, Clarke has repeatedly tweeted false claims that the election was stolen and that Trump was the real winner.