A Florida sheriff said this week he would make “special deputies of every lawful gun owner in this county” if he feels like local law enforcement officials are being overwhelmed by protesters. 

Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels released a three-minute video of himself standing with 18 deputies in which he condemned Black Lives Matter demonstrators as a godless group “making themselves a spectacle disrupting what we know to be our quality of life in this country.”

“If we can’t handle you, I’ll exercise the power and authority as the sheriff, and I’ll make special deputies of every lawful gun owner in this county and I’ll deputize them for this one purpose to stand in the gap between lawlessness and civility,” Daniels said in the video. “That’s what we’re sworn to do. That’s what we’re going to do. You’ve been warned.”

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Daniels said the department will protect the constitutional rights of protesters “as long as you remain under the umbrellas of peaceful protest or peaceful march.”

“But the second you step out from up under protection of the Constitution, we’ll be waiting on you and we’ll give you everything you want,” the sheriff added. “All the publicity, all the pain, all the glamour and glory for all that five minutes will give you.”

Clay County Sheriff’s Office Assistant Chief Keith Smith was asked by local outlet News4Jax whether Black Lives Matter protests have caused issues, and Smith said there has been a “very slight increase” in threats from outsiders to start a protest or to damage public property.

“We don’t want this to get out of hand,” Smith said. “We want people to know you have every right to protest, and we will protect that, but Clay County will not tolerate outside instigators.”

Daniels, the county’s first Black sheriff, is up for reelection and is being challenged by six opponents, The Florida Times-Union reported.

His challengers criticized the remarks and accused him of degrading the training it takes to become a sheriff’s deputy.

Mike Taylor, a former agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and state attorney’s investigator, called Daniels’s video a “propaganda message.” 

“We train under intense situations to control the adrenaline dump and we don’t do a perfect job at it, but we train to be prepared to make decisions under pressure. That’s necessary to be effective,” Taylor told the outlet. “To think we can put anyone in that role and it’ll be OK, we’re asking for a much bigger problem and inviting chaos and anarchy in the streets. The citizens of Clay County deserve better than that.”

Taylor added that deputizing any resident with a gun could make the county liable to lawsuits if those new deputies did not act appropriately.

“Real police professionalism actually acknowledges that professionally trained police officers cannot be replaced by a swearing-in ceremony,” Taylor said.

Another opponent, former Atlantic Beach Police Chief Michelle Cook, said Daniels’s message was not “tough and macho” like it appeared but a “call for vigilantism.”

She also accused Daniels of “behaving like a reality show sheriff” by using on-duty officers in uniforms as “props for his taxpayer-funded campaign stunt.”

Daniels is currently under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in relation to an affair he had with a fellow officer back when he was employed at the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, according to the The Florida Times-Union.