Conservative media are promoting false claims from several Georgia sheriffs that Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock want to “defund the police.” Not only is right-wing media often concealing the fact that these are Republican sheriffs who were livestreamed by the Georgia Republican Party, but the claims being pushed are not true.
Despite misleading claims in conservative media coming from Republican operatives, Ossoff and Warnock don’t support “defunding the police.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has noted Ossoff said in June that “the answer is not to defund police,” but to support reforms including demilitarization. Warnock said on June 25, ‘“I do not believe that we should defund the police. I do believe that we should responsibly fund law enforcement,” explaining that “we certainly need to demilitarize the police so that we can rebuild trust between the police and the community.” In October, he tweeted, “Let me be clear, I oppose defunding the police. But we have to respect law enforcement enough to hold them accountable.”
Warnock made the point a third time in a debate later that month with his opponent, Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), and a fourth time in a December 6 debate. But this hasn’t stopped right-wing media from pushing false claims about the Democratic candidates from Republican figures.
On December 15, several Georgia law enforcement officials spoke to reporters outside the state Capitol, in an event that was livestreamed by the Georgia Republican Party. Speakers included Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds, a Republican; Walton County Sheriff Joe Chapman, a Republican; and outgoing Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway, a Republican. Chapman said that Ossoff and Warnock “talk about defunding -- they want to cut our funding, they want to make it harder to do our job,” adding that “Ossoff and Warnock want to make it easier for the criminal element. They want to give them the upper hand against what we do every day to put them in jail.” Conway also claimed that “Democrat politicians running for Senate want to defund police,” calling it “crazy talk to say you want to defund police.”
Despite the obvious partisan connection, articles in Newsmax, Townhall, and the Washington Free Beacon omitted any reference to GOP involvement, instead portraying the event simply as “top Georgia law enforcement officials … expressing ‘serious concern,’” rather than as Republican officials trying to help their political party win elections. Conway also appeared on the December 17 edition of Fox & Friends to push similar claims about Ossoff and Warnock, alongside the general counsel for the Georgia Fraternal Order of Police. Conway was never identified on-air as a Republican; instead, Fox & Friends used deceptively partial framing in a chyron claiming that “law enforcement officials warn of Dem Senate bids.”