The Battle of Collier County: Inside one county’s struggle to stay in the United States

Highlights and impressions of the debate over a ‘Bill of Rights sanctuary’ ordinance

A packed house at the outset of a hearing on a federal nullification ordinance in Collier County, Fla. Many opponents of the ordinance were masked while many proponents wore flag-themed attire. (Photo: Author)

July 16, 2021 by David Silverberg

On Tuesday, July 13, Collier County, Florida, chose to remain part of the United States, by a single vote.

But as significantly, the County Commission also chose to unanimously reaffirm the county’s allegiance to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights by passing a positive resolution that stated: “The county commission of Collier County, Florida, reaffirms its loyalty, its patriotism and its allegiance to the United States Constitution, its Bill of Rights, its amendments and the duly constituted laws.”

All this would seem to be self-evident—but in Collier County, as in many other places around the nation, what was once self-evident is no longer.

Collier County, Florida

By a vote of 3 to 2, the Commission rejected a “Bill of Rights sanctuary” ordinance that sought to nullify federal authority in the county.

Commission chair Penny Taylor (District 4) and commissioners Andy Solis (District 2) and Burt Saunders (District 3) voted against the ordinance. Commissioners Rick LoCastro (District 1) and William McDaniel Jr. (District 5), who introduced it, voted for it.

After dispatching the ordinance, the commissioners approved the resolution reaffirming allegiance to the Constitution.

The votes came after a marathon hearing session that started about 1 pm in the afternoon and stretched until 8:45 pm. At least 122 people requested speaking slots, providing input both in person and remotely.

Both those for and against the ordinance understood and appreciated its greater significance. It would have been the first such ordinance in Florida and proponents stated overtly that if it passed they were going to take it to Florida’s 66 other counties. From there it could have spread throughout the country. Opponents knew it had to be stopped. This wasn’t just about Collier County; it was about the future of the nation.

For the first time ever, a decision made in a Collier County Commission chamber could have changed the nation’s nature—and everyone knew it.

What follows are impressions from the session and the vote.

(Full disclosure: This author was one of the speakers opposing the ordinance and the drafter of the resolution reaffirming loyalty to the Constitution and Bill of Rights.)

(The entire 4-hour and 30-minute video of the hearing portion of the Commission meeting can be viewed here.)

(To see previous coverage of the ordinance, see A license for lawlessness: Collier County, Florida’s proposed “sanctuary ordinance” and a better way forward and Sanctuary in America: Haven or insurrection by other means?)

The bombshell

Anyone who came to the meeting should have been prepared for all kinds of fireworks. As a sign of the drama to come, proponents, many wearing flag-related clothing and paraphernalia, were outside the Commission building bright and early before the session began with signs advocating a “yes” vote.

They had reason to be confident. A June 22 meeting when the Commission voted to consider the ordinance had gone their way. At that meeting the ordinance received the endorsement of the district’s congressman, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), and the county’s top law enforcement officer, Sheriff Kevin Rambosk. It was also endorsed by state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-Naples) who sent a surrogate to express his support. At that meeting all the public speakers were in favor of the ordinance and not a single member of the public opposed it.

At the June meeting Commissioner McDaniel fulsomely introduced the ordinance and LoCastro made favorable remarks. Although Saunders said he wasn’t committed to the ordinance, he voted for its consideration and it seemed as though he could be swayed—or pressured—to vote in favor.

Other than the opponents who showed up this time, there was no reason to expect that the ordinance might not sail through on a similar 3 to 2 vote again. All the big guns lined up in their favor.

Nor did they just rely on their numbers or enthusiasm to get their way. Prior to this hearing they gathered in the hallway outside the Commission chamber to hold a prayer meeting and invoke Jesus’ assistance in swaying the commissioners.

Proponents of the nullification ordinance spend a moment in prayer in the hallway of the county Commission meeting room before the hearing begins. (Photo: author)

But if there was any single bombshell dropped during the July 13 hearing, it came when County Attorney Jeffrey Klatzkow rose to provide his analysis of the legal and fiscal impacts of the ordinance.

Scholarly, legalistic and calm, Klatzkow delivered the news that the ordinance would strip  institutional immunity from the county’s five commissioners, five constitutional officers and five school board members, as well as staff.

In other words, under the ordinance, if they carried out actions that aided the federal government in what was considered a violation of the Bill of Rights by an aggrieved party they could be personally sued. The plaintiff might not win in court but the defendants would have to pay court costs out of their own pockets.

Jeffrey Klatzkow

“The big issue here is not going to be damages,” Klatzkow said. “It’s going to be attorney’s fees. There is an incentive for attorneys to bring actions under this because every hour they put in is an hour they can bill.” 

It didn’t take much imagination to see where that could lead: commissioners and county officials could be sued into bankruptcy simply for making the county function through otherwise legal official actions.

Although Klatzkow didn’t say it, it was clear that the ordinance could bring the whole county to a halt and destroy the county government itself. In response to a question from Solis, Klatzkow mentioned that the Supervisor of Elections would be liable as a constitutional officer—and any observer could foresee lawsuits like this making elections impossible.

An observer could also see the impact of Klatzkow’s analysis sink in on the faces of the commissioners—but he wasn’t done yet.

Collier County, like virtually every jurisdiction in the country, relies on federal financial grants to pay for a wide variety of functions. But federal grants don’t come without strings; in this case with numerous rules and regulations governing oversight, receipt, performance and a wide variety of other requirements and conditions.

Klatzkow dramatically demonstrated just how many strings were attached by displaying five, single-spaced pages of rules and regulations that he projected to the chamber, one after the other.

If Collier County removed itself from federal jurisdiction it would lose all those grants, all that money, Klatzkow warned.

He didn’t say it aloud, but it was clear that passing the ordinance would beggar an otherwise affluent and prosperous county.

If Klatzkow wanted to make an impression, he certainly did.

The proponents

Klatzkow’s presentation put the ordinance’s proponents on the defensive. It was clear from the presentations of the key advocates who followed Klatzkow that they had to move the commissioners away from contemplating the potentially devastating fiscal impact of passing the ordinance.

James Rosenberger

The first public speaker to try to do this was James Rosenberger, a tall, stooped county resident who launched the petition for the ordinance and gained 5,000 signatures. His tactic was to compare the ease and safety of the current commissioners with the revolutionaries who put their lives on the line to rebel against the British in 1776. They should do the same now, he argued, and ignore the possible unintended consequences of passing the ordinance.

“You can lead, follow or get out of the way,” he said, drawing on what he said was a firefighting mantra in his experience. “If you’re incapable of leading today maybe this job isn’t for you and I suggest along with ‘we the people’ that you get out of the way, step down and make room for someone who will lead us like our forefathers did almost 250 years ago.”

Having now threatened and insulted the people he was trying to convince, Rosenberger made way for his wife, Carol DiPaolo, who traced the origins of the nullification ordinance movement to a meeting of seven concerned friends from a variety of backgrounds. They had gathered to share their “concern, anxiety, fear and anger”—over measures like mask mandates, gun restrictions, and “President Biden and his pen.”

Carol DiPaolo

In the Spring, the group collected signatures to create a 2nd Amendment sanctuary in Collier County but were rebuffed by the county Commission. However they were contacted by Keith Flaugh of the conservative Florida Citizens Alliance and people from The Alamo gun range and store in Naples, whom they hadn’t previously known. With the aid of “prominent” Collier County supporters the nullification ordinance was drawn up and presented at the June 22 meeting. DiPaolo urged the commissioners to pass it now.

From DiPaolo onward, the proponents held the floor, with one exception: Undersheriff Col. Jim Bloom of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, who was standing in for Rambosk.

Bloom testified that the ordinance was enforceable like any other law in the county but when asked by Solis what procedure the office would follow to enforce it, he said the office would contact the state’s attorney to prosecute violations.

Bloom and Rambosk may not have intended it but that procedure set up an effective Catch-22, wherein they were seeking a higher authority to enforce and prosecute an essentially unconstitutional ordinance that didn’t recognize higher authority.

What was more, Solis said he had called the state’s attorney, who said his office had not been consulted about the ordinance.

But while Bloom’s answer introduced what was essentially an insurmountable “logic loop,” that did not deter Kristina Heuser, the lawyer who drew up the ordinance. She defended its legality.

Keith Flaugh

She was followed by Flaugh, who drew a stark choice for the commissioners: “There seem to be the two factions,” he said. “Those who support the individual rights that you have sworn to protect and those who support an unfettered federal government in control of our everyday lives.”

He also gave commissioners a stark choice. “For anyone of you who decide to vote ‘no’ on this I urge you and suggest you have only one honorable course of action: to resign before you disgrace yourself any further.”

Subsequent proponents spoke on similar themes. State Rep. Rommel made an appearance to support the ordinance, saying he wanted his local sheriff in charge and alleging that the US Capitol Police were opening an office in Tampa to pursue people in Southwest Florida. He warned that the federal government was eroding God-given rights. “Anything less than unanimous agreement will be extremely disappointing,” he said to the Commission.

As the hours wore on the arguments grew louder and while not disorderly became less disciplined and more wide-ranging.

Proponent Beth Sherman used her time at the speaker’s lectern to launch a full-scale attack on vaccinations, anti-COVID measures and the local health system.

Beth Sherman

“We are living in a time of deceit and tyranny,” she said. “NCH [Naples Community Hospital] should not be allowed to provide medical data or advice to this community. They have been suppressing life-saving COVID treatments like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin.” She accused Solis of supporting mandatory vaccinations, which he vehemently denied.

“There are people in this room being called insurrectionists,” she said. “Let me tell you that there is plenty of evidence that the FBI planned that as a false flag and it will come out because the truth always comes out.”

Lastly she warned the commissioners: “If you vote ‘no’ today, we the people kindly ask that you resign so that a true leader can fill your seat.”

The opponents

Jane Schlechtweg (left) and Chris Chase (right), members of the Democratic Women’s Club of Marco Island, and opponents of the ordinance. (Photo: author)

Unlike the June 22 meeting when no opponents appeared, this time there was strong turnout by people opposed to the ordinance and opponents may have constituted a majority of the speakers.

Janet Hoffman, head of the Collier County League of Women Voters, spoke for the non-partisan organization when she announced that “We don’t support this ordinance. It suggests that Collier County officials pick and choose the laws they want to follow.”

While many residents spoke out against the ordinance, those who spoke most knowledgably were retired lawyers, some with experience in local affairs.

George Dondanville, an attorney with considerable government experience said, “I’ve never heard of anything like this ordinance. How am I going to do what I’m supposed to do under this ordinance?”

While proponents viewed objections as mere stumbling blocks to passage of the ordinance, Dondanville pointed out that “our stumbling block is our form of government. Our courts make those decisions. Your own attorney sitting over there says that this thing flies in the face of the Constitution. You can pass it if you want but you’re going to get into serious financial problems. Those aren’t scare tactics at all. Please don’t pass this.”

Retired attorney Robert Leher said: “The definition of an unlawful act in this ordinance has no ascertainable standard for what is unlawful” and he had “never seen a statute that was more poorly drafted.” He also warned that passing the ordinance would result in a drop in tourism and visitation because “people don’t want to come to a battlezone.”

“This is wrong in so many ways,” he concluded.

David Goldstein, a retired attorney who served the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Collier County, warned that “nothing empowers a county with the power to supersede federal law.”

David Millstein, a retired civil rights attorney who also taught civil rights law and served as former head of the Collier County ACLU, said he tried to put himself in the shoes of the county attorney trying to defend and implement it.

“This is an ordinance proposed by someone who doesn’t know constitutional law,” he said. “You can’t make an ordinance saying you’re not going to follow federal law. Why not make this an income tax sanctuary ordinance? It is so unconstitutional in so many ways I would say, ‘Let’s go out and have a beer and forget about this.’”

Speech before the Commission as delivered by the author:

“I am here today to urge you to reject this absurd, unconstitutional and completely unnecessary ordinance. This is frankly ridiculous on its face. There is simply no need for a separate Collier County sanctuary for the Bill of Rights because the United States of America is a sanctuary for the Bill of Rights. Our law is uniform, it is superseding and it is upheld.

This ordinance, this proposed ordinance, has so many problems between the principle and the practical that it is as full of holes as a piece of Swiss cheese. I mean, there are logic loops, you’re going to challenge federal law in what court after you’ve denied federal jurisdiction? There are so many things that simply don’t make sense.

In addition, talking very pragmatically, your lawyer has talked about the fact that this would open you all up to liability. I believe it opens up our sheriff and sheriff’s deputies also to liability. If they try to assert federal law they are liable to be sued.

There are all sorts of questions about federal investigations that might be going on in this county that might be disrupted or hindered.

There is also, you know, when have an Irma, or an Elsa or a Wilma hurricane, if we remove ourselves from federal law we’re not going to get the assistance and the support and the help that we need from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and this can run into many millions of dollars, as you all well know.

You cannot take yourself out of the jurisdiction of federal law.

Now, I like everyone else, am very concerned about the Constitution and upholding the Bill of Rights. I mean, we’ve had an insurrection.

(Laughter and catcalls from proponents, gaveled into order by Commissioner Taylor.)

There is a need to support the Constitution. This is easily done in this county.

Now, on all your desks you have a draft text of a resolution that reaffirms Collier County’s allegiance to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I urge you to pass that resolution. It is something you can do, it is something in your jurisdiction and it is something that I think every resident of Collier County can support.

This, I think, will address everybody’s problems and concerns with possible violations of the Bill of Rights. We can do that here.

The United States of America has faced rebellion, nullification, secession, sedition and insurrection and it has defeated them all.

Collier County does not need to join this sad parade of bad ideas, failed notions and absurd plots and make itself not only a laughingstock of the country but to take itself out of the rule of law, which is what this ordinance is proposing to do.

So in summation: defeat this ordinance—this should be rejected and I will hope that it will be rejected unanimously—and I urge you to pass a resolution reaffirming our allegiance to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Thank you.

In the end, the Commission voted down the ordinance.

Solis said he was concerned about the role of the state’s attorney in making constitutional decisions when enforcing the ordinance. Taylor criticized the ordinance’s penalties, its unnecessariness, and the conflict it set up between supporting the ordinance or supporting the Constitution: “It’s almost like a trap,” she said. Saunders said that the solution to the concerns expressed by proponents was at the ballot box.

Both LoCastro and McDaniels argued that principle should prevail over any possible unintended consequences.

After the ordinance was defeated Taylor introduced the resolution reaffirming the county’s allegiance to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and it passed unanimously.

To the ballot box

The hearing in progress. (Photo: author)

As Winston Churchill said after the Al Alamein victory in World War II: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

So it was with this ordinance, which was like a spasm of Trumpism in its death throes.

It was clear from the proponents’ remarks that among them there is real “concern, anxiety, fear and anger,” as DiPaolo put it. Persistent fears mentioned by proponents were the possibility of mandatory vaccinations and that the Capitol Police were coming to Florida to hunt down people who had participated in what many regarded as a non-existent insurrection.

So much of their concern, anxiety, fear and anger was generated by an exaggerated hatred and suspicion of the US federal government fed by extremist media. Instead of seeing anti-COVID measures as common-sense, science-driven anti-disease precautions taken for the community’s good, the proponents viewed them as deliberately oppressive infringements on their personal lives and liberty. They clearly feel genuinely threatened by unfamiliar restrictions. What is more, several proponents characterized even the Commission’s authority to pass legislation as “tyrannical.”

But many of the proponents displayed a tyrannical streak of their own, threatening and bullying commissioners and insisting that a failure to vote their way result in resignation or disgrace.

The ordinance was an outgrowth of these concerns, anxieties, fears and anger as well as an insistent demand for obedience to the proponents’ will, all of it rendered into legalese. It was never viable as a law and would have been defeated in court after enormous delay, disruption and expense. It had the potential to seriously damage Collier County government and the county itself. And it could have harmed all of Florida and the nation had it spread.

The proponents are no doubt licking their wounds but the passion and paranoia that drove the ordinance remain, sustained by demagoguery and disinformation. Although one hopes that feelings will die down with time and the easing of the pandemic, the core activists will no doubt seek new outlets.

If the proponents stay within the law the next battle will be at the ballot box in 2022. The votes of the commissioners will no doubt be an issue in their election campaigns. The next election will see whether thoughtful people are in the majority in evaluating their records and accomplishments.

A major disappointment in all of this was the position of Sheriff Kevin Rambosk. A highly effective law enforcement leader, a respected professional and cutting edge technologist with experience as a city manager, his endorsement of an extreme ordinance of dubious enforceability calls his judgment into question. It also calls into question the ability of his office and officers to enforce the law impartially and apolitically. It creates a sad kernel of doubt about an otherwise unblemished and polished force. Like the ordinance itself, this was entirely unnecessary.

Although the struggle over rights and allegiances is not over, one can only hope that it plays itself out within the confines of the law and the institutions established by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to constructively channel such disagreements. As the nation goes on, so will the debate.

In 1787, after the Constitutional Convention completed its work, Benjamin Franklin told Americans that they had “a republic, if you can keep it.”

On Tuesday, July 13, 2021, Collier County chose to keep it.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Sanctuary in America: Haven or insurrection by other means?

An in-depth look at dueling definitions of ‘sanctuary’ in America and Southwest Florida and what they mean for the future

The Statue of Liberty in New York, the first sight for generations of immigrants seeking sanctuary in the United States. (Photo: Wikimedia)

July 7, 2021 by David Silverberg

Today the term “sanctuary” has taken on new meaning and is serving as a new cause of political controversy and contention.

This conflict is coming to a head in Southwest Florida—specifically in both Naples and Collier County—as movements to create sanctuary jurisdictions based on political criteria roil an otherwise placid region best known for its sunshine and beaches.

To understand the current conflict, it helps to go back into history and survey the evolution of the concept of sanctuary.

What are the origins of that concept? In the American political context, what were the sanctuaries of the past? What are the new concepts and how do they differ from previous concepts?

In a local context, how are these clashing concepts playing out in the American state of Florida—and especially in Southwest Florida?

And lastly, where is this heading and how is it likely to resolve itself?

Origins

In 1471 English King Edward IV is denied access to Lancastrian fugitives who have taken sanctuary in Tewkesbury Abbey. (Painting: Richard Burchett)

The notion of a place of sanctuary is very ancient.

The ancient Greeks and Romans revered groves and temples where people could find refuge from the forces that threatened them. In ancient Rome even slaves could find sanctuary at statues of gods and owners who otherwise possessed them would respect the site.

But it was in the Middle Ages that what is commonly thought of today as sanctuary made its appearance. By the thirteenth century a person could take refuge from secular authorities or a mob in a church. The refugee was allowed 40 days of safety during which time he had to be fed and protected; meanwhile, the interlude afforded time for negotiations, clemency, confession or proof of innocence. If none of those things took place, the refugee left the church, forfeited his goods and went into exile—but stayed alive.

Perhaps the most famous illustration of a medieval appeal for church sanctuary occurs in the novel (and movies) of The Hunchback of Notre Dame when the hunchback Quasimodo rescues the gypsy girl Esmeralda from hanging and, crying “sanctuary!” takes her into the cathedral for protection.

There have been other acts of sanctuary since then: French Huguenots were given refuge in England in 1681 in what may have been the first instance of a state offering sanctuary to another’s nationals. Today the concept of asylum has taken the place of the religious concept and been formalized between countries.

But in the United States the concept of sanctuary took different forms than in Europe—and for very different reasons.

The American context

In 2017 New Yorkers protest President Donald Trump’s ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. (Photo: Wikimedia)

From the day in 1620 that the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock, the continent of America became a sanctuary for people fleeing religious persecution.

After the American revolution, President George Washington best expressed the American sense of tolerance and sanctuary in an August 17, 1790 letter to the Jewish congregation at Newport, Rhode Island, in which he said: “All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

The concept of sanctuary was deeply woven into the social fabric of the United States. It was next tested by the greatest moral challenge of the 19th century: slavery.

Beginning in the late 1700s anti-slavery activists using a variety of routes became known as the Underground Railroad, providing escaping slaves assistance and sanctuary on their way to ultimate sanctuary in non-slavery locations, chiefly Canada.

In the 20th century there were waves of dissent that gave rise to sanctuaries. In the 1960s dissident churches gave sanctuary to civil rights activists and Vietnam War draft resisters. Many Vietnam war resisters and those giving them sanctuary were arrested.

In the 1980s during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, Cold War conflicts in Latin America led to a rise in political refugees fleeing to the United States from countries like Nicargua, where the US was supporting a “Contra” movement against the communist government and El Salvador where the US was advising a repressive government.

“Sanctuary widened from the idea of a church to sanctuary communities who confronted immigration policies and intolerance as manifested in immigration policies,” writes Rhonda Shapiro-Rieser in the 2017 paper The Sanctuary Movement: A Brief History. “These actions included legal help and provision of shelter in private homes and other settings. They provided shelter in churches and homes, and created a modern Underground Railroad for refugees.”

As with the Vietnam War sanctuary movement, periodically the federal government would crack down on the sanctuaries and their refugees. Federal authorities arrested refugees and the Immigration and Naturalization Service deported them.

In the 21st century the 2016 election of President Donald Trump gave rise to immediate fears of deportation of “Dreamers;” undocumented US residents who had come to the country as children and been protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. During his campaign Trump said he would abolish DACA and deport the nearly 700,000 people, many of whom had known no other home.

Within days of Trump’s Nov. 3, 2016 election, his brutalist and threatening anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric led to a wave of “sanctuary campuses” at American colleges to protest his approach and provide refuge to migrants and Dreamers. From campuses the concept spread to cities.

The location of migrant sanctuary cities as of March 2021 according to the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank advocating restricted immigration. (Map: CIS)

The “sanctuary city” of the Trump era was one that refused to cooperate with federal deportation efforts. When a migrant was arrested, officials of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) directorate of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would issue a “detainer” requesting a 48 hour delay before the person was released so that his or her immigration status could be checked. If the detainee was found to be undocumented, the person would be subject to deportation. In “sanctuary cities,” officials refused to honor detainers.

The sanctuary city movement was based on the conviction that Trump administration policies were rooted in prejudice and persecution and therefore unjust. It took hold mainly in the Pacific northwest, the Atlantic northeast, California, the upper Midwest and in Colorado.

Although there were no declared sanctuary cities in Florida, on June 14, 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law outlawing sanctuary cities for migrants in the state.

Backlash

Gun owners demonstrate against restrictions outside the Virginia state Capitol in Richmond on Jan. 20, 2020. (Photo: Wikimedia)

Taking a leaf from the immigration sanctuary cities movement, conservative groups began using the “sanctuary” label for causes they regarded as threatened by the federal government.

To date, these causes have been protecting gun ownership, prohibiting abortion and nullifying federal laws.

“The push to impose ‘sanctuary’ and similar legislation is not the result of an organic, grassroots movement but rather a well-funded campaign marketed by the gun lobby and supported by antigovernment extremist groups such as Gun Owners of America, Oath Keepers and the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA),” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Gun sanctuaries

On Dec. 14, 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 six and seven-year old children, six adult staff and himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn. It was perhaps the most traumatic mass shooting in American history.

The shooting resulted in a wave of revulsion across the country and renewed calls for gun controls, some of which resulted in the passage of new laws governing gun ownership. This in turn led to a counter-effort.

On May 22, 2013, in response to the state of Maryland passing the Maryland State Firearms Act (MFSA) restricting the sale of different types of firearms, requiring their registration and limiting the size of magazines, the Carroll County Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution calling the county a “Second Amendment Sanctuary County.”

The Carroll County resolution announced that the county would not “authorize or appropriate government funds, resources, employees, agencies, contractors, buildings, detention centers or offices for the purpose of enforcing any element of the MFSA that infringes on the right of people to keep and bear arms… .”

While Maryland’s Harford and Cecil counties also passed such resolutions, this was the first time the word “sanctuary” was used in such an official measure, according to one account. According to another, in 2018 it was Monroe County, Illinois that was the first to use “sanctuary.”

Since then, similar resolutions have been passed by states, counties and municipalities across the country. There was another wave of resolutions following the Parkland, Fla., high school massacre of Feb. 14, 2018. As of July 2021, about 1,200 local governments in 42 states had adopted such resolutions.

In Southwest Florida, Collier County passed a resolution declaring it would not “assist, support or condone” any infringement of the Second Amendment on Feb. 26, 2013 but did not use the word “sanctuary.” Lee County passed a resolution on March 25, 2013, DeSoto County declared itself a gun “haven” on Jan. 21, 2020, and Charlotte County declared itself a gun sanctuary county on May 11, 2021.

Second Amendment sanctuary states and counties as of 2021. Statewide sanctuaries are in blue, county sanctuaries are in green, both county and state sanctuaries are in purple. (Map. Wikimedia)

Anti-abortion sanctuaries

On June 22, 2019 anti-abortion activist and preacher Mark Lee Dickson convinced the town council of Waskom, Texas, population 2,189, to pass an ordinance creating a “sanctuary city for the unborn.”

(For a fuller account of Dickson, the anti-abortion sanctuary movement and Naples, Fla., see: “‘Sanctuary city for the unborn’ movement threatens Naples, Fla., economic recovery.”)

Since Waskom, 32 towns and cities have voted in anti-abortion ordinances, according to the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn website.

Of these, 29 are in Texas, of which the largest is Lubbock, population 278,831; two are in Nebraska (tiny Hayes Center, population 288 and Blue Hill, population 941); and one is in Ohio (Lebanon, population 20,529). Eight Texas cities are counted as “denying” an ordinance and the movement calls the state capital of Austin a “city of death” for its adamant opposition. The movement is aiming at 39 potential new sanctuary cities in Texas and one in Florida—Naples.

The movement continues its efforts, proclaiming that it is “Protecting our cities by outlawing abortion, one city at a time.”

Anti-federal sanctuaries

With the debate over pandemic masking and other health measures in 2020 and in the wake of President Donald Trump’s defeat and the failure of the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, there was a new wave of “bill of rights sanctuary” efforts—essentially anti-federal sanctuaries—primarily in the southern United States.

These had their genesis in the gun sanctuary movement but went even further, back to the Posse Comitatus movement that began in the late 1960s. That movement held that local sheriffs were the highest ranking law enforcement officers in any county and no higher legal authority should be recognized. That, in turn, gave rise to a Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association founded in 2011 to get local sheriffs to uphold the Second Amendment by refusing to enforce any state or federal restrictions on gun ownership.

The premise of these ordinances is that the federal government, having fallen into hostile hands, is now going to try to violate rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights—mainly the Second Amendment. Under these ordinances, localities, primarily at the county level, refuse to cooperate with any federal actions they regard as unlawful.

Who would determine that the Bill of Rights was being violated, what exactly constitutes a violation and how it will be remedied is unclear.

By specifically calling on states and counties to “nullify” federal actions the movement harkens back to the pre-Civil War debate over “nullification,” when South Carolina politicians argued that they had the right to nullify federal laws with which they disagreed. In 1830 that idea was crushed by Sen. Daniel Webster of Massachusetts in the Senate (who concluded with the memorable line: “Liberty and union, now and forever, one and indivisible!”) and President Andrew Jackson, a southerner, who notably declared in a dinner toast: “Our federal union! It must be preserved!”

The current movement has a number of drivers. Organizations include Gun Owners of America, a non-profit lobby founded in 1976, which “sees firearms ownership as a freedom issue.” Another is Oath Keepers, the extremist organization of current and former military and law enforcement personnel whose members participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection and are being prosecuted.

KrisAnne Hall (C-SPAN)

An activist and nullification evangelist based in northern Florida is KrisAnne Hall, who characterizes herself as a “constitutionalist.” She has associated with far right and white nationalist groups, providing legal justifications for extremist anti-government beliefs. In YouTube videos and speaking engagements Hall preaches a pre-Civil War interpretation of constitutional relations and actively promotes nullification.

Addressing people who would pass nullification ordinances, in an April 21, 2021 video Hall stated: “If [your] law does not state that ‘we will not enforce this law’ and ‘we will not allow the federal government to enforce these laws here;’ if your law does not contain that language, it is useless!” she argued.

“We’ve got states out there that are trying to walk the fence, trying to placate you with their ‘Second Amendment sanctuaries’ and they’re going to turn around and say, ‘OK, we’re not going to enforce these laws but the [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] can come in and do it, the [Federal Bureau of Investigation] can come in and do it, DHS can come in and do it, whatever, the [Internal Revenue Service] can come in and do it. That’s not sanctuary, people, that’s setup. That’s enticement, that is entrapment, that is wrong.

“And so if your law does not include some kind of restriction and penalty for the federal government exercising those laws in your state, it is not a good law,” she insisted.

Hall came to Southwest Florida on April 24, 2021 to address the Republican Club of South Collier County, where she shared a stage with Dan Cook, a Naples-based far right activist, and Alfie Oakes, the grocer and owner of Seed to Table.

A nullification “Bill of Rights sanctuary” ordinance was put on the agenda of the Collier County Commission on June 22. It is due to be considered next Tuesday, July 13.

Analysis: Insurrection by other means

The anti-federal, anti-abortion sanctuary movement has remained largely under the media radar, spreading in rural areas among small towns that rarely get national attention. To most Americans it no doubt seems fringe, odd and often absurd, so it has long been ignored.

But it bears attention because it is an effort to subvert and, indeed, overthrow the authority of the federal government and replace it with—what? Its advocates want to treat the nation’s laws, Constitution and Bill of Rights like a buffet whose offerings they can pick and choose or ignore if they wish. But law doesn’t work that way and the only alternative seems armed anarchy.

The anti-federal sanctuarists (and you read that word correctly, for the first time here) can make the argument that the left (or in the usual formulation, the radical Democratic left) started the sanctuary movement first.

They have a point. But there are important differences between what we’ll call “social” sanctuaries and “nullifying” sanctuaries.

In the American political definition, no matter who asserts it, “sanctuary” is an effort to carve out an exemption or exception from federal law—which should be uniformly applied and enforced across the country.

The social sanctuaries—the Underground Railroad, Vietnam resistance, Central American refuges, DACA and migrant sanctuaries—were all illegal and were acknowledged as such. They were acts of civil disobedience in which the participants were aware they were breaking the law and could face the penalties. They did it nonetheless because they felt they were serving a higher moral cause.

The nullifying sanctuaries—the anti-abortion and anti-federal sanctuary movements—are attempts to cancel federal law, the Constitution and Bill of Rights through creation of what is essentially a counter-government where federal law does not apply.

When it comes to local governments the big difference between the anti-abortion and anti-federal sanctuary movements and their gun sanctuary predecessor is that they are trying to impose ordinances on their jurisdictions—rules with the force of law and penalties for violations. Previously, towns and counties passed resolutions, which expressed an opinion or sentiment and did not carry penalties.

By denying the jurisdiction of federal law, the nullifying sanctuary movements are actually practicing insurrection by other means.

By passing these ordinances, states, counties and municipalities are starting down a slippery slope whose logical end is the creation of a separate polity subject to its own laws and sovereignty. This is also known as insurrection, rebellion or secession. The ordinances may pay lip service to the Bill of Rights but in fact they are rejecting the United States Constitution with its Bill of Rights, all the other amendments and protections of the rule of law.

Americans have fought and died to prevent that kind of insurrection. Just because this movement is legalistic and non-violent doesn’t make it any less dangerous to the cohesion and indivisibility of the United States.

The battlefield for America’s future has moved from the walls of the Capitol building to the small towns and rural counties of its heartland but the stakes are no less high.

America has been here before. It has faced and overcome rebellion, nullification, secession and most recently insurrection. It now needs to overcome the threats to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights cloaked in the language and the trappings of sanctuary. The choice is between constitutional democracy and anarchy.

Anyone looking for a sanctuary for freedom and the rights of the individual need look no further than the United States itself and its Constitution. It’s the greatest sanctuary in history.

Now it’s up to every truly patriotic American citizen to ensure that it remains that way.


The Collier County Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, July 13 at 9:00 am. Public petition speakers are limited to ten minutes and general address speakers to 3 minutes. The Commission Chambers and Commissioners’ offices are located on the third floor of the Administration Building at 3299 Tamiami Trail East, Suite 303, Naples, Fla.

Meetings are also aired live on Collier Television CTV and are available online via Video On Demand.

To reach commissioners:

Rick LoCastro

Andy Solis

Burt Saunders

Penny Taylor
Chair

William L. McDaniel, Jr.


To read more about past sanctuary movements:

What’s the history of sanctuary spaces and why do they matter? by Elizabeth Allen

The sanctuary movement: A brief history by Rhonda Shapiro-Rieser

Talk on the logic of sanctuary, given at Duke University by Elizabeth Bruening

How Trump’s war on sanctuary cities affected immigrants by Felipe de la Hoz

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

A license for lawlessness: Collier County, Florida’s proposed “sanctuary ordinance” and a better way forward

The Collier County Commission considers a “Bill of Rights sanctuary” ordinance at its June 22 meeting. (Image: NBC2 News)

June 27, 2021 by David Silverberg

A proposed ordinance to create a “sanctuary county for the Bill of Rights” in Collier County, Florida, is clearly unconstitutional, illegal and—rather than protecting the Bill of Rights—would erode the county’s rule of law and equal administration of justice.

Such an ordinance will be considered by the Collier County Commission at its next meeting on Tuesday, July 13.

On a practical level, the ordinance would encourage lawbreaking with impunity, invite immediate and costly litigation for the county and make Collier County and Southwest Florida a laughingstock in the nation. It would harm tourism and the local hospitality industry as people take their vacation dollars away from a region embroiled in an emotional and unnecessary controversy.

So what is this ordinance? What is its state of play? How did it come to be proposed?

If passed, what are the implications for the county, state and country?

Lastly, is there a better alternative?

This article will address all these questions, draw conclusions and recommend a better course.

The proposal

(A copy of the full ordinance for download is available at the end of this article.)

The five-page proposed ordinance was put on the County Commission agenda at a meeting on Tuesday, June 22.

In broad summary the proposal creates a “sanctuary county” that exempts Collier County and its residents from federal laws and regulations that they may feel violate the Bill of Rights.

Collier County residents are given standing to sue officials attempting to enforce those federal laws and regulations.

In its establishing clauses (the “whereas” paragraphs), the ordinance argues that since the county commissioners are concerned that the federal government is encroaching on citizen rights, “Any federal act, law, order, rule, or regulation” that seems to violate the Bill of Rights “is invalid in Collier County and shall not be recognized by Collier County, and shall be considered null, void and of no effect in Collier County, Florida.”

County officials attempting to enforce federal laws will be subject to lawsuits by citizens. Further, county resources are not allowed to be used to enforce “unlawful” acts.

The ordinance was publicly proposed by Commissioner and Vice-Chairman Bill McDaniel, who represents County District 5, which includes Golden Gate, Immokalee and Everglades City.

The bill was effectively snuck onto the County Commission agenda with little to no advance general publicity but considerable lobbying that saw Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), a surrogate from state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-North Naples to Marco Island), and Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk all endorsing the proposal. At the meeting 25 supporters spoke in favor of it, without any dissenting voices.

According to a June 23 Naples Daily News account of the meeting, McDaniel told the Commission: “This isn’t a political issue, this isn’t a party issue, this is an American issue. It’s something I think we can do just as an additional step to offer assurances to our community. We are going to support their God-given rights.”

Saunders and Solis raised some questions: How would the county determine that a federal law violated the Bill of Rights? Who would make the determination?

The county attorney, Jeffrey Klatzow, raised similar concerns: “We’re shoehorning a political message here into an ordinance, is what we’re doing. It’s probably more appropriately a resolution, but if the board of County Commissioners wishes to enact it, that’s your prerogative.”

With commissioners expressing doubts about the ordinance, a vote was taken whether to proceed with advertising it prior to voting on the measure itself at the next meeting. Commissioners Rick LoCastro (District 1), Burt Saunders (District 3) and McDaniel voted to proceed while Andy Solis (District 2) and Chair Penny Taylor (District 4) were opposed.

It will now be advertised and considered at the next Commission meeting on July 13.

Analysis: The implications

The proposed ordinance proceeds from a flawed premise: That the federal government is an encroaching, alien interloper on people’s “God-given” rights.

That is simply wrong. The federal government is an expression and a product of the people of the United States. It is, as Abraham Lincoln said, “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

The Constitution, the Bill of Rights and all the amendments are the law of the land, administered by the federal government. While a vote or an election or a decision may not go the way some people would prefer, the rule of the United States Constitution is still supreme. It can’t simply be negated by a town, county or state.

America has had this battle before. In the very beginning of the republic western Pennsylvania farmers rebelled against a lawfully enacted federal whiskey tax. President George Washington personally led an army to put it down, becoming the last president to command a force in the field. In 1830 Sen. Daniel Webster of Massachusetts responded to a southern effort to “nullify” federal laws in a famous speech directed to Sen. Robert Hayne of South Carolina in which he crushed the notion of “nullification” (the same term used in the Collier County ordinance).

And, of course, in 1860 southern states refused to recognize the lawful, properly conducted election of Abraham Lincoln and attempted to secede from the union. That argument was resolved by a civil war.

In every Supreme Court decision since, the superseding authority of the federal government has been upheld.

As small and obscure as Collier County may be, its proposed ordinance is very much in the spirit of past efforts at nullification, secession, rebellion and insurrection. It is an attempt to carve out an extrajudicial, rule-free zone exempt from federal law and the Constitution. If passed in Collier County it could spread like a virus to other towns and jurisdictions in Florida and elsewhere.

The questions of commissioners Saunders and Solis are very pertinent: Under this ordinance who would determine that the Bill of Rights is being violated? How would the determination be made? What constitutes a violation? The ordinance doesn’t say—and it probably never could.

In fact, this ordinance is essentially a license for lawlessness. It would make Collier County an area of anarchy where anyone could simply declare that the Bill of Rights is being violated and federal law should be ignored any time they wanted. It would bypass the courts whose entire purpose is to interpret and enforce the nation’s laws and uphold the Bill of Rights.

What would be the result? To use a purely hypothetical example, say that a Collier County grocer and market owner decided he didn’t want to comply with federal public health mandates, or worker safety rules, or immigration enforcement regulations, or minimum wage requirements, or child labor prohibitions, or civil rights laws, or anti-discrimination measures, or pay employees’ Social Security taxes, or pay his own taxes, or comply with any other legally enacted federal act, law, order, rule or regulation. He would simply declare that his rights under the Bill of Rights were being violated so the measures wouldn’t apply and the county couldn’t enforce them. What is more—and perhaps even more insidious—is that he would have the standing to sue any duly authorized official or officer who tried to properly enforce the law. (That would include the county sheriff and his deputies.)

In fact, from a legal and principled standpoint this proposed ordinance is absurd, ridiculous and nonsensical. It seems like the fevered delusion of someone with poor impulse control, covered with a veneer of legalese.

Practical problems

Passage of this ordinance would have immediate and devastating practical consequences for Collier County.

  • It would be immediately challenged in court, saddling the County with the costs of having to defend it. One of the plaintiffs might be the federal government itself.
  • It would put Collier County outside the jurisdiction of the United States and disrupt the orderly administration of the law.
  • It would cripple federal law enforcement in Collier County, disrupting any investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation or prosecutions of federal crimes.
  • Over time it would impede law enforcement at all levels as increasing numbers of residents and business owners would likely try to put themselves beyond the law.
  • It would weaken the authority of all laws, rules and regulations whether county, state or national
  • It would put Collier County in a negative national spotlight, damaging its reputation as an open and welcoming place for businesses and new residents.
  • It would depress real estate values and disrupt the real estate market because federal rules governing the orderly functioning of the market would be nullified and there would be nothing to take their place.
  • It would hurt Collier County’s tourism and hospitality business as American and foreign visitors shunned a place that has declared itself outside the jurisdiction of federal law.
  • It would create division and dissension, controversy and conflict at a time when the county leadership and residents need to pull together to overcome the lingering effects of the COVID pandemic.

Lastly, an observer has to wonder what conceivable benefit this ordinance brings to the constituents of Golden Gate, Immokalee and Everglades City in Commissioner Bill McDaniel’s 5th District.

This proposed ordinance should be defeated.

A better way forward

It is undeniable that all Americans right now are worried about the future of the country, the preservation of democracy and the stability of government. Fears for the preservation of the rights in the Bill of Rights are credible in light of an insurrection that attempted the overthrow of the government, the attempted decertification of a properly conducted election and increasing restrictions on voting.

It is commendable that residents of Collier County and county commissioners want to uphold the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

In contrast to the poorly conceived proposed ordinance there is a perfectly legal and proper way to express their patriotism. That is to simply pass a resolution reaffirming Collier County’s loyalty and allegiance to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the United States of America.

Such a resolution could take the following form:

WHEREAS the Constitution of the United States of America is the law of the land and;

WHEREAS Collier County Florida is part of the United States of America and;

WHEREAS Collier County Florida is committed to equal justice under law and;

WHEREAS Collier County Florida supports, upholds and adheres to the Constitution of the United States of America, the Bill of Rights and the laws of the United States;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the County Commission of Collier County, Florida reaffirms its loyalty, its patriotism and its allegiance to the United States Constitution, its Bill of Rights, its Amendments and the duly constituted laws, acts, orders, rules, and regulations of the United States of America and that these have force in Collier County as they do in the rest of the United States, now and in perpetuity.

It is hard to see how Collier County citizens could object to such a resolution. It restates bedrock principles, it maintains good order and discipline among the citizenry, it reassures those who fear for their rights and it is well within the legal authority of the County Commission to approve.

Out of this controversy, if it is willing, by passing this resolution, Collier County can make a positive contribution to its citizens, the state of Florida and the country as a whole.


The County Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, July 13 at 9:00 am. Public petition speakers are limited to ten minutes and general address speakers to 3 minutes. The Commission Chambers and Commissioners’ offices are located on the third floor of the Administration Building at 3299 Tamiami Trail East, Suite 303, Naples, Fla.

Meetings are also aired live on Collier Television CTV and are available online via Video On Demand.

To reach commissioners:

Rick LoCastro

Andy Solis

Burt Saunders

Penny Taylor
Chair

William L. McDaniel, Jr.

The full text of the proposed ordinance:

To come: An examination of sanctuary movements past and present

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg