How a Florida sheriff took on Rick Scott, beat him, and inspired an alt-right movement

This week's New Yorker includes a fascinating story about Nick Finch, a former Liberty County sheriff who took the law into his own hands and became a darling for the Infowars crowd.
Published April 27, 2018|Updated April 27, 2018

Nick Finch only served one term as Liberty County's sheriff, from 2012 to 2016, but he left quite a legacy.

As Ashley Powers of the New Yorker points out in the magazine's April 30 issue, Finch became a cause célèbre for a law enforcement movement that claims sheriffs need to answer only to the U.S. Constitution — or, more precisely, their own interpretation of it.

Dubbed the "constitutional sheriffs" movement, it counts as members the pardoned former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio and David A. Clarke, Jr., the former Wisconsin sheriff who flirted with joining Donald Trump's administration with the Department of Homeland Security. Among the group's beliefs is that county sheriffs are above the federal government; that undocumented immigrants ("illegal aliens") should be immediately deported and that drones and the National Guard should be deployed on the border; states should take over most or all federal lands; and that universal background checks for guns shouldn't be allowed.

Guns played an important role in Finch's tenure as the sheriff of Liberty County, which is due west of Tallahassee, has a population of fewer than 10,000, and includes the Apalachicola National Forest. In 2013, Finch intervened when one of his deputies arrested Floyd Parrish, a former logger who was pulled over with a concealed weapon (a Titan .25-calibre handgun) that he didn't have a permit for.

"Fortunately for you, young man," Finch told Parrish upon hearing of the arrest, "I'm a believer in the Second Amendment." Powers said that was a practice in Liberty County that was called getting "unarrested."

The arresting officer didn't take too kindly to what Finch did and, on his last day on the job, called an inspector at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He told inspectors about the incident and the circumstantial evidence that Finch falsified records to cover up the arrest.

Finch was arrested on June 4, 2014, and Scott issued Executive Order 13-140, suspending him without pay.

"It is in the best interests of the residents of Liberty County, and the citizens of the State of Florida, that Nicholas Finch be immediately suspended from the public office he now holds," Scott wrote in his order.

A few days later, according to Powers, Finch got a call from Richard Mack, an Arizona man and former sheriff who founded the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association.

"In Finch, he saw a fellow-patriot, and he wanted to help," Powers wrote.

Mack shopped Finch's story to the conservative media so that within days of the arrest, the story was all over the Infowars website, where Alex Jones was theorizing that this was a case of political persecution. Nearly 10,000 people liked the Facebook page "Support for Liberty County Sheriff Nick Finch." The story took off and it was picked up by radio host Burnie Thompson for his afternoon show, Talk Radio 101.

Thompson proceeded to fight for Finch, telling Powers that he met with Scott and his general counsel, Peter Antonacci.

According to Powers:

"Thompson shared a theory with them, gleaned in part from Mack's book, that a sheriff can do whatever he wants in his own jail. Antonacci repeatedly told him that there was no legal precedent for this theory. 'I'm thinking, His chief counsel believes that?' Thompson said. 'You know that feeling when you go, 'Oh, my God, the world's not what I thought it was'?" (Neither Antonacci nor Scott's office responded to multiple requests for comment.)

The trial was held later in 2013 before a Liberty County jury. After deliberating for about an hour, it found Finch not guilty of official misconduct and falsifying records. Finch was to be reinstated.

Alex Jones declared afterward that Finch should be governor.

"It's these types of men that stand up for the Constitution that are going to save this country," Jones said at the time.

Finch then sued the county and won $160,000 in attorneys' fees.

But then, the story takes another twist.

"Floyd Parrish of Bristol is in the Liberty County Jail facing a murder charge three years after the Liberty County sheriff almost lost his job for setting Parrish free," read the Tallahassee Democrat on Sept. 26, 2016 as Finch was battling for re-election.

Read the entire amazing story here.