Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers said he will pay back the $1,100 that the Federation for American Immigration Reform provided for him to attend a White House briefing on drugs and border security in September.
“My wife and I have talked about this, and I didn’t know this is sort of a hate group,” he said today. “I did some research by looking at the website and I have talked to people, and it has bothered some people,” he said. “So I will send the money back.”
Myers said he has no affiliation with FAIR and that he could not say whether or not the group is a hate group.
“But a lot of people do think they are (a hate group) and I serve the people,” Myers said.
“A mistake was made and I am paying it back,” Myers said. “I’m not perfect.”
He also added, “The hate needs to stop.”
In part, Myers is referring to profanity-laced telephone calls to the sheriff’s department, the media and private citizens and other communications between those who have supported the sheriff, and those who have criticized him for accepting money from the group without fully vetting the group’s beliefs and lobbying efforts.
Myers was one of about 200 sheriffs from around the United States who attended the briefing on Sept. 26 in Washington, D.C. Myers attended discussions on drug enforcement and border concerns with high-ranking Trump administration officials, including Kellyanne Conway, assistant to the president and senior counselor. He was also pictured with the group of law enforcement officials presenting an award to President Trump.
FAIR describes itself as a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization that seeks to eliminate illegal immigration and drastically reduce legal immigration to “allow America to more sensibly manage its growth, address its environmental needs and maintain a high quality of life,” according to its website.
The group has been criticized by the Anti-Defamation League, which said FAIR’s anti-immigration stance is based on a bigoted representation of immigrants, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has classified FAIR as a “hate group” since 2008, for accepting money from a pro-eugenics fund and promoting the “hatred of immigrants, especially non-white ones.”
The law center’s definition of “hate group” mirrors the FBI’s definition of a hate crime, with the center defining “hate group” as any organization that “has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable traits.”
Myers said he was very disappointed in the state and national sheriff’s associations with their link to FAIR, as Myers was notified about the trip by the state sheriff’s association and thought there was an affiliation with the law enforcement group.
When representatives of both groups were contacted, they said they did not organize the FAIR trip or endorse it.
The trip was actually organized by Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, of Bristol County, Massachusetts, who sent an email to every sheriff’s association in the United States to promote the trip, saying FAIR would pay for it. Hodgson sits on FAIR’s advisory board as a volunteer and said he does know Myers.
Steve Luce, executive director of the Indiana Sheriff’s Association, said he forwarded Hodgson’s email to sheriff’s around the state but said the association “does not endorse FAIR” and remains neutral on issues such as immigration.
Luce said he did not encourage sheriff’s to go on the trip. “Since (the sheriffs) are in an elected office, I allow them to make their own decisions,” he said.
Pat Royal, National Sheriff’s Association spokesman, said the organization did not organize or notify sheriffs around the country about the FAIR trip.
The state sheriff’s association sent that (FAIR trip) notification out to all the sheriffs in Indiana, and you would think that it would be legit,” Myers said Thursday. “They are now saying they have no affiliation with FAIR. Then why send it out to all 92 sheriffs?”
Myers said he has sent a letter to the state and national sheriff organizations saying the notification should not have been sent out to the county sheriffs in Indiana.
“This has stirred a lot of emotions,” he said of the aftermath of the FAIR trip being revealed to local residents. “I want to say again I went to talk about drug enforcement and I knew very little about immigration, and I knew very little about FAIR,” he said.
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Statement from Sheriff Matt Myers” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
To the Citizens of Bartholomew County:
I denounce any group promoting hatred and/or any group that practices hatred or violence towards members of any sector of our society. I have dedicated myself and your Sheriff’s Office to delivering the best possible public safety for and in a county where everyone matters.
I am reimbursing the Federation for American Immigration Reform for any/all funding provided for a conference that I, along with about 200 other Sheriffs, attended in Washington, D.C. on Border Security and Safe Communities.
I remain disappointed in the "weak" response that the Indiana Sheriff’s Association provided to local media and I have shared my concern with the association. ISA’s response sent a "red flag" to me. However, I can 100% assure you that I learned about this conference and the funding provided by FAIR through information sent to all 92 Indiana Sheriffs by the Indiana Sheriff’s Association. I would "assume," since the information came from ISA, that the Sheriff’s Association would, under no circumstances, send us information from any type of "hate group" and/or any organization with ties to a hate group. Therefore, I accepted the invitation and joined five other Indiana Sheriffs in attending the conference and White House briefing.
In no way am I casting judgment on any of the other sheriffs who accepted the funding and attended the conference. But, I don’t work for their communities. I work for the residents of Bartholomew County, Indiana, and some residents have expressed concern that I accepted the funding.
My trip itself was successful. I was able to speak about drugs, drugs being the core of crime in Bartholomew County, our efforts in trying to keep drugs out of our county and surrounding areas and I was able to meet with and discuss these important issues with our federal officials.
But, I was elected to listen to my community and I have heard your concerns. I am reimbursing FAIR for any/all funding that they provided for my portion of the trip to Washington, D. C.
Again, my actions in no way reflect on the other county sheriffs who attended the conference.
Since becoming your sheriff, I believe my actions have been "above board" and the funding for this trip has certainly stirred conversation and emotion.
To be crystal clear:
I have spent my entire adult life protecting and serving Columbus and Bartholomew County.
I denounce any/all groups espousing hatred and/or any group(s) that practices hatred or violence towards members of any sector of our society.
Let us continue to work together moving Bartholomew County forward.
With best regards, I remain,
Matthew A. Myers