South Jersey’s Sanctuary City Designations Are A Haven For Violent Extremists

South Jersey’s Sanctuary City Designations Are A Haven For Violent Extremists

Cape May County was one of six to declare themselves 2nd Amendment Sanctuaries, giving legitimacy to the anti-government attitudes of violent extremist groups such as the Oath Keepers.

By David Todd McCarty | The Standard

On Jan 6, 2021, America experienced an insurrection at our Capitol, spurred on by former President Donald Trump and his allies in Congress. Extremist groups such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, along with thousands of armed combatants, stormed the Capitol building in Washington, DC., leaving hundreds injured, including dozens of police officers, and five people lost their lives. One of those was Brian D. Sicknick, a Capitol police officer, who later died from his injuries. Doors were splintered, windows were shattered, offices were ransacked, laptops were stolen, records destroyed, threatening notes left behind, feces and urine spread throughout the building, all in an effort to disrupt a federal election and subvert democracy.

A week later, on Jan 14, 2021, the newly minted Cape May County Board of Commissioners (formerly known as Freeholders) unanimously passed resolution 39-20, designating Cape May County a “Second Amendment/Lawful Gun Owner Sanctuary,” in essence providing cover for, and signaling their approval and support of, citizens who take the law into their own hands because they refute the legitimacy of the government. 

That was their response to the riot in Washington. To stand alongside lawlessness in an effort to claim patriotic fealty to the Constitution in a bizarre twist of logic and formidable mental gymnastics.

In a backlash to newly-passed gun-safety laws, gun-rights extremists in some localities across the country are declaring that state gun safety laws don’t apply in their communities. Calling themselves “Second Amendment Sanctuaries,” some localities are going so far as to pass resolutions declaring that they will refuse to enforce and dedicate tax-funded resources to the implementation of state gun safety measures.((

“Second Amendment sanctuaries” are built entirely upon a tightly held, and inaccurate, belief that common-sense gun safety laws are unconstitutional. This movement is a clear backlash orchestrated by the gun lobby in response to recent wins in gun safety reform. Over recent years, voters across the country have elected lawmakers committed to preventing gun violence by passing common-sense and evidence-based measures like universal background checks, safe storage laws, and extreme risk laws. The extreme gun rights advocates behind so-called “Second Amendment sanctuaries” want to stop these laws before they can go into effect.((

According to reporting by The Cape May County Herald at the time, Dave Daniels, a retired law enforcement officer and range master and firearms instructor at the Atlantic County Law Enforcement Training Center said, “In recent years, too many in political office have, in my opinion, violated their oath of office, an oath that many of us have taken seriously and have strived to abide by in our performance of our duties as public servants; however, it seems as though the words ‘support and defend the Constitution of the U.S.’ has little meaning to many who claim to be servants of the people. This resolution makes it clear that this board takes their oath of office seriously and will strive to protect the citizens of Cape May County.”

Calling on armed citizenry, as well former and active military and law enforcement personnel to reject laws they themselves deem unconstitutional is at the very core of the belief system of groups such as Oath Keepers. 

According to their website, Oath Keepers is an association of current and formerly serving military, police, and first responders, who pledge to fulfill the oath all military and police take to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That oath, mandated by Article VI of the Constitution itself, is to the Constitution, not to the politicians, and Oath Keepers declare that they will not obey unconstitutional orders, such as orders to disarm the American people, to conduct warrantless searches, or to detain Americans as ‘enemy combatants’ in violation of their ancient right to jury trial.”

They believe that police and military personnel, presumably those with guns, and the authority to use them, have a patriotic duty that supersedes the laws of the state. There power, they believe, is extrajudicial. They are, in essence, above the law. 

Yesterday, on April 7, 2021, Cape May County Sheriff Robert Nolan signed a letter, along with 275 other sheriffs around the country, warning President Biden that he was acting unlawfully in his approach to immigration. This is not the first time, Sheriff Nolan has claimed that his office would not abide by the law. In October, 2019, Nolan sued State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal over Grewal’s Immigrant Trust Directive, which limited the assistance that New Jersey law enforcement officials could provide to ICE in the enforcement of federal laws.

Federal Judge Freda Wolfson, appointed by Republican President George H.W. Bush, dismissed Nolan’s federal claims. Nolan responded to the ruling by stating, “This ruling actually violates the rights of every sheriff in the state to voluntarily assist fellow law-enforcement officers in keeping their communities safe. Federal law specifically granted these rights to be used at the discretion of law enforcement executives to be utilized in the best interest for the communities that they protect. This ruling is shameful.”

Not only was Sheriff Nolan unimpressed with the authority of the State Attorney General, he was dismissive of the ruling of the Wolfson, the Chief United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.

The letter Nolan signed, stated in part, “America’s Sheriffs stand ready to work with you and your administration if you are willing to move in the right direction [italics ours]. Until that time, all of us will continue to uphold our oaths, enforce our sovereign authorities, fight for public safety, and keep our promises to the American people who have placed their trust in us.”

In a press release sent out by the County Commissioner’s office, Sheriff Nolan is quoted as saying, “The immigration policies set forth by President Biden are endangering residents across the Country and here in Cape May County,” said Nolan. “This is why I joined with hundreds of other sheriffs from throughout the United States to share our concerns for these plans which hinder law enforcement’s ability to serve and protect their communities.” 

Cape May County Commissioner Director Gerald M. Thornton echoed his support for Sheriff Nolan and the letter.

“We are proud to have Sheriff Nolan serving our residents in Cape May County,” said Thornton. “I also have concerns about all the children being put in harms way and risking their lives without a parent traveling with them to reach the United States. It isn’t clear where these individuals will go and what burdens it will place upon all 50 states.”

The letter is pure fear mongering telling President Biden, “You must act now before our nation’s public safety resources are overwhelmed with the criminal side effects of unchecked illegal immigration, including transnational gangs, guns, dangerous drugs and human trafficking.”

It was unclear how the immigration crisis at our Southern Border is affecting the children of Cape May County, but the Republicans have decided that this is a worthwhile political football to kick around, and using the safety of our children, versus the migrant children, is gloriously nativist and isolationist. It follows the former President’s America First attitudes and continues to be racially driven.

This is where the Board of Commissioners has taken Cape May County under the Republican Party, in an effort to drum up fear and maintain power, using both the threats of governmental overreach, as well as lawless immigration, as tools to further their cause.

Guns, Immigration and Government Overreach have been issue du jour for Republican extremists, inexplicably linked by a feverish fantasy of needing to arm oneself if you have any hope of surviving the attack by both the Federal Government who are coming for your guns, and the immigrant hoards that the government wants to hand over your birthright to.

In his initial response to the passing of these pro-Second Amendment resolutions, State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said, “My primary concern is not that law enforcement officers in New Jersey will stop enforcing firearm safety laws. My real concern is that these so-called ‘sanctuary’ resolutions will confuse otherwise law-abiding residents, who may incorrectly believe that they no longer have to comply with firearm safety laws, including carry laws and prohibitions on assault weapons, ghost guns, or large-capacity magazines.”

“This confusion can create serious risks for law enforcement and the public at large, with potentially deadly consequences. As we work to end gun violence across New Jersey, it is especially important that we make clear that our state’s firearm laws remain fully in effect,” Grewal continued.

The fact that both the County Commissioners, as well as the local Sheriff—all Republicans—have declared their opposition for the rule of law, while attempting to gaslight the public with their cleverly worded press releases, is proof that they have no interest in public safety, but only in holding on to the reins of power, by any means necessary.

They are more interested in playing to the audience of gun-rights activists, who are a vocal minority, then in doing anything to actually promote public safety. More guns, or more protection of the rights of gun owners to have unfettered access to deadly weapons, does not make the community safer. It objectively makes us all less safe, especially our women and children, who are at greater risk than anyone, of being the victim of gun violence. 

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), in 2020, they had identified 16 hate groups in New Jersey including Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and the AC Skins. These groups have one thing in common and that is their desire to arm themselves and defy the government. Even a toothless resolution such as the one passed by Cape May County, along with Atlantic, Cumberland, and Salem counties, poses a significant risk to the residents of South Jersey and opens our communities up to the possibility for gun violence and racial hatred.((

Today President Biden announced a half-dozen executive actions aimed at curbing gun violence in America, and what he called an “epidemic and an international embarrassment.”

“The idea that we have so many people dying every single day from gun violence in America is a blemish on our character as a nation,” said Biden.

According to the AP, between the mass killings in Atlanta massage businesses and the Colorado grocery store shooting last month, there were more than 850 additional shootings that killed 250 and injured 500 in the U.S.

“This is not a partisan issue among the American people,” Biden insisted.

That may be what we want to believe, that the desire to end the senseless killing of Americans at the hand of guns, is a non-partisan issue, but that’s not true. It’s a very partisan issue. The problem is, it shouldn’t be.

Every time a Republican politician attacks gun safety measures, and encourages people to defy the government, that is a recipe for continued violence and lawlessness. Hiding behind racist anti-immigrant rhetoric is a smoke screen.

Less than two week ago, Congressman Jeff Van Drew (NJCD-2) was promoting a bill to remove the fencing around the Capitol building because Republicans fear it continues to act as a reminder of the Jan 6 insurrection. A few days later, an officer was killed after a man drove his car into a police barricade, striking and killing the officer. 

It’s time that our elected officials stop worrying about the optics of things, particularly with how they think it reflects on their political prospects, and started worrying about the actual safety of the public, not from the actions of foreign actors or governments, but from within.

Immigrants aren’t the ones threatening our welfare, it’s domestic extremist groups that want to see the power of the federal government dissolved and the power given to local warlords such as county sheriffs and any armed citizen they deem worthy of deputizing in the name of law and order.

Here in Cape May County, the greatest threat to our way of life isn’t immigration or gun control, but lawlessness and climate change. A so-called good guy with a gun will do nothing to change rising sea levels, and cruel immigration policies won’t keep an unhinged lunatic from shooting up a school. 

We have real issues that need to be dealt with and it’s high time our elected officials stop worrying about the made up ones.

Follow David Todd McCarty on Twitter @davidtmccarty and The Standard @capemaystandard

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