David Clarke, the former sheriff of Milwaukee County in Wisconsin and outspoken advocate of President Donald Trump, went on the Voices of Montana radio program in advance of his scheduled appearance at the Yellowstone County GOP Lincoln-Reagan dinner Friday night.
Clarke, who served as sheriff from 2002-2014, is known for his firebrand views on race, the Black Lives Matter movement and Planned Parenthood, among other topics. Though he was once registered as a Democrat, his views closely align with conservatives and he self-identified as a conservative in the radio interview Wednesday.
An outspoken advocate for Trump, Clarke appeared at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
Wednesday's interview covered a lot of common ground for Clarke, including his views on Black Lives Matter, but briefly touched on a few Montana-specific issues.
One caller who said he voted for Trump and still supports him told Clarke he was upset by the president's comments after a recent school shooting.
After the shooting and killing of 17 at a high school in Parkland, Florida, Trump held a meeting with lawmakers. In response to a statement by Vice President Mike Pence about due process and reporting people who are potentially dangerous and have firearms, Trump said "Take the firearms first, and then go to court."
Clarke told the caller that sometimes what comes out of the president's mouth isn't what Trump actually means.
"Everybody calm the heck down," Clarke said. "Donald Trump supports the Second Amendment strongly. Donald Trump realizes that there's a crisis going on right now and after a big incident like this you gotta bring the country together."
Clarke said Trump's speech is "not always artful" but said the president didn't mean to say he wanted police to be able to knock on people's doors and take their guns away.
"Sometimes he says some things and it doesn't come out the way it should because he's not this polished politician," Clarke said. "Congress is not going to put a bill on his desk that allows it anyway. Just chill."
Clarke also touched on a fiery exchange between himself and the editorial board of The Billings Gazette. The Gazette published an opinion saying that Clarke and the invitation extended to him by the Yellowstone County GOP sent a dangerous message about violence, even when it comes in the form of "hyperbole by a media personality," the editorial read.
The editorial pointed out Clarke's attacks on the media, including a tweet by Clarke saying the only way to address the "lying lib media" is to "punch them in the nose and MAKE THEM TASTE THEIR OWN BLOOD."
Clarke responded with a guest opinion, saying "The nameless, faceless cabal at The Gazette didn’t take aim at the merits of my political positions. Instead, they resorted to personalized attacks through name calling, cherry picking incidents, misrepresenting facts and even threatening me."
On Wednesday's radio interview, Clarke called the editorial a "drive-by hit-job," but did point out the Gazette ran his guest opinion, a piece in which he wrote "If the Billings Gazette has an ounce of courage, they will allow me the unedited space to respond to their smears by running this response."
"I don't mind coming under attack, but I counter-attack, and I did. ... I'll give that newspaper credit, they did post my rebuttal," Clarke said Wednesday. "If they’re going to take cheap shots at somebody, let them answer the charges."
Friday night's Yellowstone County GOP Lincoln-Reagan Dinner, billed under the tagline "Let's have a Ball and Build a Wall!" is sold out. The website for the event lists guests including U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, who is running for re-election this fall, as well as the U.S. Senate GOP primary candidates seeking to unseat U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.
Clarke isn't the only controversial speaker lined up for Montana in the coming weeks.
Dinesh D’Souza, an author and activist who compares the Democratic Party and liberals to Nazis, is speaking at the Flathead County Republican Central Committee at a fundraiser Saturday in Bigfork.