“This is my sheriff, Sheriff Rowland,” Walker says in the video, putting his arm around Rowland.
“Yes,” Rowland replies, while also holding up his own similar-looking badge. “If Herschel’s badge is a prop, then I guess this badge I wear every day to protect the citizens — I guess it’s a prop also. But these are real badges. And I gave this to my friend for all he’s done for this country and this county.”
“And let me tell you I’m gonna always, always stand behind our men and women in blue, so God bless,” Walker concludes.
During Friday’s debate, Warnock said that Walker had “pretended to be a police officer,” a reference to claims by Walker about working with the FBI and a local police department. Rather than verbally responding, Walker pulled out the badge — which apparently is honorary in nature — drawing a rebuke from a moderator for using a prop, which was not allowed under debate rules.
“I am — work with many police officers,” Walker said onstage.
The incident triggered a torrent of memes, ridicule and renewed scrutiny over Walker’s past claims. “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah joked on Monday that Georgia voters could just give Walker a certificate that says “honorary senator” instead of actually electing him to the Senate.
“He won’t know the difference!” Noah declared.
In an interview with NBC News, which was conducted over the weekend and aired Monday, Walker defended the badge as “legit.”
“This is from my hometown. This is from Johnson County, from the sheriff from Johnson County, which is a legit badge,” Walker said. “Everyone can make fun, but this badge gives me the right … if anything happened in this county, I have the right to work with the police in getting things done.”
“I never embellish,” Walker added. “I’ve never done it. I work in law enforcement.”
Walker’s past claims about working in law enforcement — including that he was an FBI agent — have already been examined closely and found to be untrue. According to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution review of dozens of Walker’s past speeches, Walker has at various points claimed to work with the Cobb County Police Department, told police in Texas that he was “a certified peace officer,” and said he has “been in criminal justice all my life.”
A spokesman for the Cobb County Police Department told the Atlanta newspaper then, and later confirmed to The Washington Post, that it has no record of working with Walker. A campaign spokeswoman said at the time that Walker had led “women’s self-defense training, participating in the FBI Academy at Quantico” and also held the title of “honorary deputy” in Cobb County.
The title of “honorary deputy” holds no power at all and is seen as a “political token” for people supportive of the sheriff who might want to get out of a traffic ticket, former DeKalb County district attorney J. Tom Morgan (D) told The Post in June.
“It absolutely means nothing,” he said. “It’s the equivalent of a junior ranger badge.”
The police badge incident did briefly take some of the spotlight off Walker’s other controversies, namely reports that he paid for an ex-girlfriend’s abortion and later offered to pay for her to have a second one. Walker, who has campaigned against abortion rights under any circumstances, has denied those reports. In the NBC interview, he acknowledged giving a $700 check to his then-partner in 2009 but continued to deny the woman’s claim that the money was provided to pay for an abortion.
On Monday, talking to reporters as he voted early in the race in Atlanta, Warnock cited the episode with the badge and several other examples of Walker embellishing his past that have been documented in news stories.
“He … claimed to be a police officer. He’s not,” Warnock said. “Claimed to work for the FBI, clearly did not. Claimed to be a college graduate, he’s not. Claimed to be a valedictorian of his class, he was not. Claimed to have 800 employees in his business, he has eight. Claimed to have started a business that does not even exist. So I guess he expects the people of Georgia now to hallucinate and imagine that he is also a United States senator. He’s clearly not ready.”
“The people of Georgia deserve a serious person to represent them at serious times,” Warnock said. “I’m committed to doing that work. I’ve been very transparent about my life.”
Timothy Bella contributed to this report.