JOHNSON CREEK -- Not since national right-wing darling Ted Nugent performed at the 2012 Dodge County Fair has the word "freedom" been uttered so often in one night on an area stage.
This time the man speaking the sacred word was the more regionally controversial Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke. Clarke addressed a packed dining room Thursday evening at Hi-Way Harry's as part of the Jefferson County Republican Party's Pints and Politics program.
The vociferous Nugent may speak a little louder, but he has nothing on Clarke in terms of dedication to conservative ideals -- not to mention long-windedness. Clarke spoke to his dedicated and rapt throng of about 100 people for 90 minutes.
At the close of his sometimes rambling address, the cowboy hat-wearing, pistol packing sheriff politely fielded questions, as well as heartfelt compliments regarding his in-your-face approach to individual responsibility, big government and public safety.
Clarke has been in the news recently for stating his belief that the citizens of Milwaukee County -- which he reminded his audience is less than an hour's drive from Jefferson County -- must take personal responsibility for their own safety. He said Thursday that individuals are their own first line of defense against crime and his sheriff's deputies and police are only there as "reinforcements."
This unorthodox approach to presenting the hard facts of law enforcement in Milwaukee County today has made Clarke an attractive guest on television political talk shows such as Glenn Beck's and others.
Throughout the evening, Clarke made reference to the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, in particular the latter's Second Amendment regarding the right to keep and bear arms. He said he reads these documents at least once a year and has copies in his truck, his desk at work and at home.
"I don't have a law degree, but I can read," Clarke said. "The writers of the Constitution knew the dangers of uncontrolled government. Government is necessary, but they wanted limited government."
Clarke said the right to bear arms is something near and dear to his heart, and nothing about that right should be changed -- perhaps only enhanced.
"I don't think I'm right on everything," he said. "But I'll fight."
Clarke said coming to Jefferson County was "like dying and going to heaven." He said when he pulled into the parking lot of Hi-Way Harry's the first thing he saw was a pro-gun sticker on a vehicle.
"I feel like Dorothy in Oz," he said. "But guns should be your choice. I want you to decide ... This isn't about Democrats and Republicans, this is about freedom. We are recently less and less free."
Clarke was critical of the federal government in Washington, an entity he called "tyrannical" and said is doing its best to relegate personal freedoms to the back burner in favor of its own agenda of greater control. He said he has received tremendous support as he has taken his pro-gun stance to the public.
"The support has been overwhelming," he said. "Don't let the left-leaning Milwaukee Journal Sentinel convince you otherwise. They are doing everything they can to tear me down."
Clarke said his efforts are purely based on his belief in a person's need and right to be "free."
"(My stance) is all about liberty and the Constitution. I believe in that Constitution," he said. "We got that Constitution right and I love that document. So if we don't like that Second Amendment, there's a process to get rid of it.
"(The left) knows they will never get it changed, so they want to take shortcuts. We're in the fight of our lives over this Constitution and the fight won't end with an election. It won't end. And I am willing to fight until I'm dead."
Clarke said he realizes well that he has become a polarizing figure in society, but he said it is something he must tolerate.
"I don't care about re-election," he said. "I care about freedom."
In keeping with his controversial manner of putting across ideas, Clarke said he feels the U.S. government is more of a threat to the country's citizenry than are terrorists.
"The IRS? Terrorists can't do what the IRS has done," he said. "(The government) wants to search everything you bring into the airport -- there are naked body-scans. You can't even bring bottled water in. Screen our luggage, we can live with that. But we have to take our shoes off? This isn't necessary and the federal government did this to us. Terrorism is a threat. But if I'm not free, what difference does it make anyway?"
Clarke said every successful movement in history has started with "a common enemy and a common message."
"Our message is freedom. We'll get ourselves in order and we will be fine," he said. "I trust you folks to handle this freedom. The enemy is the government ... They want to take your rights away, but we have to get organized."
As his speech was nearing its conclusion, Clarke addressed the decaying inner city of Milwaukee; it's failing schools; deadbeat dads; the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel which he called "a rag"; and the city's mayor, Tom Barrett. He painted Barrett as ineffectual and invisible to the public.
When asked if he has aspirations to a higher political office, Clarke said only time will tell and, "I never say never."
"But I am in this for the long haul," he said. "Look at Madison. We swept out the libs and got in a new class of people. The left looks at this like a chess game. They're organized. I hope that by coming out here tonight this motivates you and organizes you."
Clarke said he feels he is not "tethered to the political class," but to everyday citizens.
"That is why I get the blowback that I get," he said. "I am passionate about this stuff, ladies and gentlemen, but I can't do this by myself."
Clarke said he simply wants to make a difference in the world, but his mission is challenging.
"They are trying to silence me because my message is resonating," he said.