Sheriff Glenn Hamilton defends mass deputization of religious sect as “symbolic”

by Kathleen Sloan | May 19, 2020
5 min read
Sheriff Glenn Hamilton was questioned by Sierra County Commissioner Frances Luna at the May 19 meeting. Why did he choose to deputize large numbers of New Hope Revival Church members to be called up to aid him should he or his deputies become infected with COVID-19? 

Hamilton’s deputizing this flock appears to give preference to a religious sect, mixing church and state and social media in a political drama that has caught the attention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has threatened litigation. 

As a result, Luna said she has “received more calls than I would ever have liked,” from constituents. 

Hamilton’s choice of the New Hope Revival Church ensured his words and actions would be captured and widely circulated, having a sophisticated multi-media system aimed at broadcasting its message across various social platforms.

Many attended the City Commission meeting broadcast live on Facebook as well, to see if the board would quell or support Hamilton’s attention-getting actions, which brought hundreds from outside the area, possibly bringing COVID-19 with them. 

Hamilton was not nearly as loquacious at the podium as at the pulpit. The public noted the difference between how he explained himself to Luna versus what he had said to churchgoers. 

“He speaks with forked tongue,” summarized most of those comments. 

The New Hope Revival Church broadcast the May 3 service and Hamilton spoke at the pulpit, drawing attention to his gun and right to wear it. He criticized Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s political views and legislation, such as recent laws impinging on the right to bear arms and loosening abortion prohibitions. 

He derided the Governor’s executive order. He claimed she is keeping businesses and Elephant Butte Lake State Park closed in Sierra County because he has opposed her. Keeping churches closed (until May 15) as nonessential compared to what she deemed essential businesses as well as favoring big box stores over small businesses were unfair, he said. 

His attendance at the church service in itself supported defiance of the Governor’s order, since it gathered many more than the five people allowed.  

At the end of his talk he emphasized he had “powers too,” and then deputized about 20 New Hope Revival Church members, noting deputies have immunity from the Governor’s executive order, adding “that is not my intent here today. My intent is for the safety and wellbeing of Sierra County.” 

Hamilton again attended New Hope Revival Church and helped organize a rally there of Cowboys for Trump on May 17. Cars in train to the church were a mile long. About 20 horsed Cowboys were among the cavalcade and private militia from Albuquerque guarded the church with assault rifles. 

After the church service, during which Hamilton spoke again, a rally was held in a tent on church grounds, at which he also spoke. He again ended his talk by deputizing en masse, this time the rally attendants. 

Social media captured it all, along with the tempest of social commentary. 

County Commissioner Frances Luna said, “I am scared to death of the legal ramifications.” 

She followed the social media and characterized those attending and their comments “as radical as far as can be.” 

Luna asked if he had a list of those deputized and Hamilton said no such reporting was required for special deputies recruited during times of emergency.

Hamilton criticized social and other media for not pointing out he had “cleared up” any misunderstanding that he was deputizing church goers to give them legal immunity by uttering the phrase, “that is not my intent here today. My intent is for the safety and wellbeing of Sierra County.” 

He also said it was “disingenuous” of social and other media to not write that the special deputies had no power until he called them to duty, a detail he himself did not make clear during his speeches captured on social media. 

“I’m looking for clerical help, to clean vehicles,” Hamilton said. “I’m not going to issue them guns and flack vests.”   

Luna said constituents were afraid there would be no time for vetting if called to duty and those deputized wouldn’t realize the limits of their power and would abuse it. 

Hamilton said he wasn’t legally allowed to vet them until they were called to duty. Only then could he do background checks. 

Luna said she and constituents were afraid those deputized, as seen on social media, wouldn’t know their bounds and would abuse or exceed their powers. 

She asked Hamilton why he chose to recruit special deputies from New Hope Revival Church and not from numerous retired state park and other law-enforcement officers in the area, “who know the rules.”  

Hamilton said, “I have been doing that.” He deputized the church members “because they reached out to me.”

“The rally was a different thing,” Hamilton said, claiming they were not members of New Hope, nor was he. “I think that was my third time attending that church.” 

He did not make clear how those attending the Cowboys for Trump rally were different, which website also espouses lack of gun control and defying the Governor’s order. 

Hamilton said he has had “the same outpouring from the public and former law enforcement,” who have offered to become special deputies in larger numbers than the 20 deputized from New Hope. 

But Luna insisted, “You also don’t have a list to show people differently,” to prove he is recruiting a broad spectrum of the populace.  

Hamilton said his act of deputizing en masse was merely “a symbolic gesture” and if he had wanted to give mass immunity to the law he would have called them to duty at the same time. 

Chairman Jim Paxon read six public comments, all critical of Hamilton, most stating he was inciting civil unrest and drawing a “defiant force” into the county who could infect him and others with COVID-19, modeling the opposite of a calming force in compliance with the Governor’s order. 

Paxon said he would not judge Hamilton, an elected official, but would “depend on Attorney Dave Pato to determine if the sheriff has crossed the line and put us in a legal or fiscal bad spot.” 

“We have allowed the Governor to put us under house arrest under the guise of flattening the curve,” Paxon said, seemingly in tune with Hamilton’s rallying against the order. 

The County Commission went into executive session to discuss three pending or threatened litigation cases, including threatened litigation by the Freedom From Religion Foundation against Sheriff Hamilton. 

After executive session, County Commissioner Frances Luna made the motion that “The County Manager be instructed to reach out to the Governor about the Sheriff and other concerns,” which was passed unanimously. 

Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at or 575-297-4146.
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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

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