While hundreds of people dined inside the Elks Lodge in Merced to raise money for the Merced County Sheriff’s Posse’s trip to the presidential inauguration later this month, protesters braved the rain outside on Sunday to denounce the trip and the tax dollars that could be used on it.
The 14 horses in the posse already are being moved across the country, according to their handlers, for the Jan. 20 ceremony when President-elect Donald Trump officially takes over.
The Sheriff’s Office had raised about $30,000 of the total goal of about $80,000 before Sunday’s benefit, according to Sheriff Vern Warnke. The group intends to go regardless of how much is raised, even if they have to pay out of pocket, he said.
“We’re the only agency from this state going to this parade,” he said on Sunday. “I’m very honored to be part of this elite group of folks and represent the good people of Merced County.”
We’re the only agency from this state going to this parade. I’m very honored to be part of this elite group of folks and represent the good people of Merced County.
Sheriff Vern Warnke
But, that’s the rub, according to the protesters standing under umbrellas and holding signs that carried messages such as “Keep the ponies away from the phony.”
“We don’t think the Sheriff’s Posse represents Merced County very well,” protester Molly Carolan said.
Carolan, a member of the newly formed Merced Collective Action Network, said the group denounces the Board of Supervisors’ plan to allocate $10,000 of public funding for the trip. The board could approve that money during Tuesday’s regular meeting.
She pointed out that the majority of Merced County voters did not support Trump. Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton garnered 52.5 percent of the vote in Merced County, compared to Trump’s 40.4 percent, according to numbers from the Merced County Registrar of Voters Office.
Jasmine Armstrong, another protester and a UC Merced research assistant, said the Sheriff’s Office should not take part in the inauguration of Trump because of his rhetoric of “fascism,” “racism” and “sexism.”
We don’t think the sheriff’s posse represents Merced County very well.
Molly Carolan, a member of Merced Collective Action Network
The nonprofit posse going to the nation’s capital will include at least 20 people, according to organizers. The posse was formed in 1948 as “goodwill ambassadors” for parades and other events, Warnke said, and is made up of volunteers.
The fundraiser on Sunday included auctions, raffles and other efforts to raise money for the trip. Organizers estimated the event brought in $18,000, though the final expenses have not been calculated.
Warnke said the horses are traveling in “luxury” in temperature-controlled trailers and said the people going are set to leave on Tuesday. The horses are privately owned by the members of the posse.
He pushed back against the arguments from protesters, noting that tax dollars are spent on every presidential inauguration. The posse, he said, decided to participate in the parade before the election, taking a vote as a group in October. It sent in the official application after the election.
“We wanted to go to represent this county to the president of the United States no matter who’s sitting there,” he said.
The protests, he said, would not change the plans. “That’s their right, but the bottom line is we’ve accepted an invitation,” he said. “They’re not going to tell me this posse isn’t going to D.C.”