Naturally, Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson has been named honorary chair of President Trump’s reelection campaign in Massachusetts.
Hodgson is free, and profuse, with his praise of the president, who shares his hard-line views on immigrants and delights in the kind of cruelty inflicted on inmates under Hodgson’s watch. The sheriff is often at the White House, bestowing accolades upon Trump, his friendly uniform decorating the president’s public pronouncements.
But it turns out that Hodgson’s public displays of loyalty, many though they may be, are but the tip of the iceberg — and barely reflect the full measure of his fanatical devotion, particularly when it comes to Trump adviser Stephen Miller, the abhorrent, nativist immigration restrictionist.
Hundreds of e-mails obtained by the ACLU and reviewed by the Globe reveal a sheriff in near-constant contact with Miller and other White House officials. Hodgson spends a good deal of time heaping praise upon Miller, and updating him on the sheriff’s many public appearances on the administration’s behalf. Hodgson and his staff appear to devote many hours and the taxpayer-funded resources of his office to attending, and helping to organize, events supporting the White House. The cache of correspondence is also replete with notes from Hodgson keeping Miller informed about those undermining Trump’s agenda in Massachusetts — including, in one instance, the sheriff’s own Catholic parish.
It’s almost as if Hodgson, who has been the target of criticism and multiple lawsuits here over his treatment of Bristol County inmates, is auditioning for a job in the White House. The sheriff denies this, arguing he can do more good in Bristol County. But you’ve got to wonder how much time and energy he has left for his work in Massachusetts.
“If the sheriff is using taxpayer dollars and resources to ingratiate himself with the Trump administration, it raises concerns about whether he is doing the job voters elected him to do, namely preserving public safety,” said Carol Rose, head of the ACLU of Massachusetts.
He certainly seems busy tending to Miller. His e-mails to the Trump adviser are so obsequious, so sycophantic, that they rival Wormtail’s obeisance to Voldemort (though the Dark Lord might be insulted by the comparison to the White House adviser).
“Stephen, I couldn’t have been more proud of you as I watched you dress down the CNN reporter and school him on immigration law and the origin and meaning behind the Statue of Liberty,” Hodgson wrote in August 2017. “I have to believe President Trump must be equally as proud.”
And then in October: “Stephen, Excellent article highlighting your unique talents, intellect, and political savvy. The President is truly fortunate to have someone who is in sync with his mindset and able to drive his agenda. Congratulations!”
In February, he sent Miller “Just a quick note to tell you I thought you were absolutely brilliant during your interview with Chris Wallace. I am sure the President was extremely proud!”
If the feeling is mutual, there’s no sign of it: Almost always, Miller responds with a word or two, barely bothering with punctuation most of the time. In a typical exchange from July 2017, Hodgson told Miller that he would be filing a bill the next day to allow law enforcement and court officers to make immigration arrests.
“Many thanks,” Miller replied.
“We are on the side of the angels!” Hodgson wrote.
“Yes,” was all Miller offered, forgoing even a period. Perhaps their face-to-face interactions are warmer.
Hodgson sent along letters and op-eds he’d written, and gave Miller notice of his media spots.
“Doing Fox Business 6:20pm,” Hodgson wrote in November 2017. “Will of course be wearing my ‘Sheriffs for Trump Hat.’ ” And he forwarded articles and press releases written about him, including withering ones: “Particularly happy with the free advertising in the Sunday Globe,” Hodgson wrote, attaching an editorial from June 2017 headlined, “Bristol County deserves a better sheriff than Hodgson.”
He will probably send this column, too.
Does Hodgson maintain his devotion to Miller even in the face of recent revelations that the Trump adviser behind his most draconian immigration policies has promoted white nationalist literature and xenophobic conspiracy theories, revelations that led scores of lawmakers and civil rights groups to demand that Miller resign? Why, certainly.
“This is one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met,” Hodgson said in an interview on Wednesday. “I can assure you, I know Steve Miller, and Steve Miller is not a racist.”
There is something deeply pathetic about the sheriff’s attempts to curry favor with somebody as odious as Miller. He is by no means alone, as one glance at the many Republicans in Congress debasing themselves shows. Hodgson is more unusual in Massachusetts, however, where he has made himself the administration’s eyes and ears, informing Miller and other White House officials of efforts to protect immigrants “in defiance of our president,” as he wrote in a February 2017 e-mail. At issue there was state legislation to block Hodgson from sending Bristol County inmates to build a border wall.
“I will keep you posted as things evolve,” Hodgson continued, and indeed he has, tattling on his fellow citizens repeatedly. In several e-mails, Hodgson bemoaned the influence of the state’s highest court and of Attorney General Maura Healey, who he said was trying to undermine a program that deputizes state and local police to enforce immigration law.
Hodgson even reported his own church, having spotted leaflets in several languages informing immigrants of their rights when dealing with law enforcement: “Stephen, I thought you might like to see samples of cards I discovered in a holder at the back of St Julie’s Church in Dartmouth, MA. while attending mass last Sunday,” he wrote in August 2017.
On Wednesday, Hodgson said it was his duty to inform the White House of “efforts to try to help people avoid abiding by the law.” Asked whether it was a bit much to dime out his own parish, Hodgson said, “I don’t care if it’s my church or somebody else’s church.”
Hodgson was calling from Washington, where he was on the latest of many trips since Trump was sworn in. This time, he was there for the White House Christmas party.
“I don’t apologize for any of the time I spend down here,” he said. “You’ve never had a president like this, who has brought in people who are dealing with the real problems, to make policy.”
In addition to the trips, Hodgson spends a great deal of time working for the White House from his office here, according to the e-mails — corralling other sheriffs to support Trump, and sending advice along from time to time.
He bristles at the suggestion that his work for Trump means he’s neglecting his job. Certainly, there have been plenty of lawsuits accusing Hodgson of neglecting his inmates, and worse — failing to provide adequate mental health care and drug treatment, gouging them on phone calls, and charging them daily fees for their own incarceration, for example. Two Bristol County inmates have committed suicide this year.
Hodgson claims his operation is stellar, however. And, while inmates and their families suffer mightily under his watch, it appears that the voters of Bristol County are fine with the way the sheriff operates, having given him four terms so far.
It’s a shame he isn’t auditioning for a job in Washington. Maybe all that sucking up will deliver one, anyway. One can dream.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this column misstated the number of suicides in Bristol County jails this year.