What is your current position?
Sheriff of Culpeper County, Virginia.
What inspired you to choose this career path?
It’s really the only career path I’ve ever considered. My parents instilled a strong service and work ethic in my brothers and me. My mother in particular continually reinforced doing the right thing without regard to what others thought of us. My parents expected us to act with integrity, especially when no one else was looking, and it carried over to my career goals. I entered law enforcement at age 18 and it is the only profession I have ever known.
The most difficult part of being Sheriff, or being in law enforcement in general for me, has been seeing the heartbreak and damage caused by lawbreakers who prey on others. It is one thing to read about crime or see it reported on television, it is an entirely different thing to see it up close and personal. I have held bleeding children, embraced pregnant women whose babies will not survive their mother’s injuries, and comforted loved ones left behind by an overdose. Having said that though, it is the fight against crime’s destruction which keeps me going—helping me to push through the immediate sorrow of the situation to seek justice or to help the wounded in spirit and body.
It is that fight to seek justice which is most rewarding. To help make the world a better place is a reward in and of itself for me. Of course, as Sheriff I cannot do this alone. There is great satisfaction in assembling a team of professionals such as the team we have in the Culpeper Sheriff’s Office. To see my deputies grow in their profession, to develop lasting bonds with one another and to make a real difference for the good in Culpeper is a reward hard to describe. But it is real and soul satisfying.
How did you hear about the Claremont Institute?
My knowledge of the Claremont Institute grew out of my awareness of conservative institutional leadership in general. I have attended programs in your Washington, D.C. center, and know other people who have participated in Claremont Institute programs.
What is your fondest memory of the Claremont Institute?
This is a hard one, because the entire Sheriffs’ Fellowship was full of highlights. For me, it had to be the camaraderie with the other Sheriffs. Being steeped in our founding principles surrounded by my colleagues who love this country as I do was an unforgettable experience.
You were a member of the inaugural year of the Claremont Institute Sheriffs Fellowship. What do you think will make this fellowship unique and relevant in the years to come?
Usually, in the United States, law enforcement is handled by a combination of appointed police departments and elected Sheriffs. Virginia is no different. But it is important to note that only a Sheriff, elected by his jurisdiction, is subject to the ultimate citizens review board. This is unique in our system of law enforcement. There is a direct link between the governed and the Sheriff. This is not true of appointed police chiefs. The people I serve have the opportunity and the right to choose who enforces the laws in my jurisdiction. This is not so direct in other systems of law enforcement. It is an important link which should be appreciated for what it is: a direct and time-honored system of community review already embedded in Virginia’s Constitution.
In particular, Sheriffs are the first and last line of defense in America. Our oath as Sheriff is unique. An elected Sheriff answers only to the citizenry. We are not beholden to any government unit, no supervisory body, and no legislature. As our founding principles come under increasing attack, Sheriffs well-grounded in those principles, who are willing to defend them, will play a critical role in America’s continued freedoms.
If you could have a sit-down conversation with Ronald Reagan, what are a few of the timeless concerns you would discuss with him?
The first thing I would do is thank him for his service at a pivotal point in our history. His leadership and charisma restored American credibility and paved the way for the realization of the American promise that has been tarnished recently. He remains a beacon of inspiration for many.
In my sit-down with Ronald Reagan, I would ask his advice on how we can work today to revitalize the best of what he energized when he was President. He served as California Governor and U.S. President during the height and immediate aftermath of what had been a time of tremendous unrest in our country’s history. Yet he articulated a vision for America that united us behind his belief in American freedom and optimism. I would like to bring him forward to today, and discuss with him what it would take for more of us to rededicate ourselves to shared prosperity and individual freedom, protected by the rule of law.
In his October 1964 speech, “A Time for Choosing,” Reagan famously framed the choice then facing America: “This is the issue…whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.”
I submit we stand at the same crossroads today. If I were to sit down with Reagan, I would ask him to use his gift for cutting through to the heart of the matter in service of saving our freedoms.
What would the artifact be, if you could hold one piece of history from the early founding of our country and why?
I would hold the musket from the colonial militia that fired the first shot in the American Revolution on April 19, 1775. Early Americans’ reliance on ordinary citizens, organized as militias, in its fight for independence carries through to the present. The Second Amendment to the Constitution enshrines our God-given right to freedom from tyranny. The colonials threw off the oppressive yoke of the British monarchy through the acts of the everyday men and women who were willing to fight for their God-given rights. These precepts, that all people are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, required force to defend and maintain. We would do well to remember that authoritarian governments throughout history disarmed the populace as the first step to control.
What qualities do you believe are necessary for effective leadership?
What do you believe is the greatest challenge currently facing the United States?
We are focusing on the ten percent about which we disagree, ignoring the ninety percent of things about which we agree. As a result, our sense of community in many places is more fragile than it has ever been. We have allowed click bait and biased “reporting” to move our focus to the extreme edges, and we seem to have accepted, without reflection, the contention that most are on the edges. In fact, most people are not. Most people are right where we left them, in the supermarket, at the ballpark, in the schools, up the street, and, to a lesser degree, in our houses of worship. We would do well to remember that most Americans have the same goals most of the time. Let’s not allow others to divide us, while at the same time make room for respectful disagreement.
What do you believe has led to our established culture redefining itself in the 21st Century?
I would argue that the redefining began in the mid-20th century, in the academy. Marxist thought was allowed to take root and bloom in the universities and colleges. From there, it spread to our media, which is dominated by college-educated elites. For all of their “education,” they fail to heed the lessons of history, which is that socialism and Marxism fail 100% of the time. The redefinition is not yet complete, in my opinion, and if we think and act for ourselves instead of mindlessly consuming the elite viewpoint, we have a chance. But we must teach and employ critical thinking skills from an early age.
What book, speech, or movie has left a lasting impression with you and why?
The Bible, easily. It offers inspiration and life lessons for every circumstance and age. It is timeless and indestructible. In the secular realm, I enjoy the movie “Secondhand Lions.” To me, it speaks to the importance of loyalty, believing in the good in people, and doing the right thing for the right reasons.
Do you have a favorite quote? Why does it resonate with you?
Many quotes throughout history resonate with me. One that strikes me today is: “If you want peace, prepare for war.” Attributed to a Roman general almost 2,000 years ago, its essence has been transformed over time to the pithier “Peace through strength.” This quote resonates with me for the undeniable truth that there will always be people that choose not to listen to words. Such people, often intent on harming innocents or those weaker than them, will retreat only in the face of superior physical force. A show of strength, with the visible willingness to use it, is the only deterrent they recognize.
Ronald Reagan referenced this very point in 1980 when he spoke of President Carter’s actions diminishing America’s presence on the international stage: “We know that peace is the condition under which mankind was meant to flourish. Yet peace does not exist of its own will. It depends on us, on our courage to build it and guard it and pass it on to future generations.” Sadly, we see the same thing happening today through the choices of this administration. While we want to be open to the idea that words will change minds, for some, that will not work. For those people, superior strength is the most effective deterrent.
What is the most distinctive attribute/character of the people in Virginia’s Culpeper County you genuinely admire?
Culpeper County is truly a community. It’s almost like a family of 50,000-plus people. We might fight and squabble, disagree and argue, but at our core we are all each others’ neighbors. Our community works together on a wide range of issues, and while we can certainly disagree, more often we agree, especially on the important things.
Culpeper has retained its fundamental values while growing as a community. As a life-long resident, I am proud to call it the only home I’ve ever known.
What do you believe are the top three law enforcement issues currently facing America?
As Sheriff, I believe the three most important and urgent law enforcement issues currently facing America are:
What do you believe can be done to prioritize hardening soft targets in today’s volatile environment, i.e., schools?
It boils down to strength, training, and preparedness. This is another example of a threat that we cannot wish away. In this sense, perhaps my favorite quote should have been “Hope is not a plan.”
Strength: My office maintains a multitude of active shooter response capabilities. I have never been shy about stating my intention to use each and every capability if the situation calls for it. While every situation is different, we know from studying past incidents that immediate, forceful response is critical to saving lives.
Training: Under my administration, Culpeper County was the first jurisdiction in Virginia to train all school employees – teachers, administration, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, maintenance staff – in active shooter response. These were not just tabletop exercises. At least once annually we held multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional active shooter training. This was conducted for the usual purposes – to reinforce training and best practices, identify lessons learned, and strengthen Unified Incident Command policies – but also to prepare every individual who might be facing such an event on what to do. You don’t want your first time through to be in response to the real thing. The importance of this training was highlighted in a recent call that thankfully turned out to be a hoax, although we certainly did not know that when we responded. While traumatic for some within the school, it drove home the possibility that this can happen anywhere. We are constantly improving our tactics, including those we do not share for security reasons, so that we are well equipped to respond if God forbid the call is genuine.
Preparedness: This is a combination of strength and training, and speaks as much to a mindset as it does to technique and capability. In this regard, I’ll share some of my recent words:
When I first took office back in 2012, I swore to protect the US Constitution, and also to protect the Second Amendment. Please take a moment and ask yourself about the “common sense gun control laws,” and who we want protecting our children and communities. When our children have been attacked with deadly force, the means of delivery is irrelevant.
We must build a bulwark around our Second Amendment. Our God-given right to self-defense, as enshrined in the Second Amendment, should not be restricted. The same deputies and soldiers who place their lives on the line every day are vivid examples of the fact that some evil can only be stopped by superior force. Each of us deserves to live in secure communities, and unassailable Second Amendment rights are the bedrock of that security.
With all due respect to our lawmakers and the victims of tragedy, we cannot allow hysteria to override sound decision-making. The actions of an evil few cannot be allowed to abolish or erode the constitutional rights of the law-abiding majority. The Second Amendment was born in Virginia, and I intend to see that it does not die here. I have publicly stated my intention to deputize thousands of law-abiding citizens, if necessary, to protect our God-given right to bear arms, as guaranteed by the Second Amendment.
At the end of a stressful day what brings you peace of mind?
As Sheriff, my peace of mind comes through knowing that, at the end of each day, I have done everything within my power that day to keep my community, all the families in it, and their loved ones safe. On any given day, this effort varies, but it is driven by my unending commitment to help make this a world where our children, their children, and so on for countless generations can live in peace and prosperity.
As a man, my peace of mind comes from my family. Having been raised in a loving, supportive home with devoted parents, I strive every day to emulate the example they have set. The strength I draw from my family, my brothers, my parents, and my extended family is something I never take for granted and always cherish.
If you could communicate one thing to politicians and Americans alike about the importance of policing, what would it be?
Law enforcement is the line that separates us from anarchy. When the social contract is breached, law enforcement is there to repair that breach. We are the foundation on which the rule of law and hence our very society rests. While we are human and sometimes make mistakes, our professionalism and willingness to stand between the public and lawlessness is the very thing that enables this country to exist. It guarantees people’s abilities to live as they choose and to pursue their happiness. Law enforcement allows America to be America.