Sheriff Villanueva makes ugly, unfounded claim against county watchdog
L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Inspector General Max Huntsman denies the Holocaust but gave no evidence. Huntsman called the claim untrue.
Since Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva took office, Inspector General Max Huntsman has not hesitated to call out the sheriff for misconduct.
As the top watchdog of the Sheriff’s Department, Huntsman has pushed back against Villanueva’s resistance to his oversight, taking the sheriff to task for, among other things, refusing to submit to subpoenas he’s issued for investigations into the department, maintaining a code of silence about gang-like groups of deputies in his ranks and stonewalling his office on deputy shootings.
Villanueva, in turn, conducted a criminal investigation into Huntsman and has vilified him as a political tool of the county’s Board of Supervisors. The sheriff has also lashed out at supervisors and members of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission who, like Huntsman, have been highly critical of him.
L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva may act deranged but most likely he’s merely dishonest. His irresponsible statements offer a window into his character.
But Villanueva took his attacks to a new level this week when he made an extraordinary accusation against Huntsman, claiming — without any evidence — that the inspector general is a Holocaust denier.
Villanueva made the comments during an interview Tuesday with the Los Angeles Times editorial board, which had invited him to participate in its endorsement process in the upcoming sheriff’s race. The editorial board functions independently of The Times newsroom.
“You do realize that Max Huntsman, one, he’s a Holocaust denier. I don’t know if you’re aware of that. I have it from two separate sources,” Villanueva told the board. When pressed for evidence, Villanueva refused to identify the purported sources, saying, “I think we have the information and in due time, we’ll release it.”
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and his second-in-command on Thursday defied subpoenas requiring them to testify before an oversight commission
The sheriff did not respond Friday morning when asked to explain his unfounded claim about Huntsman.
In a letter to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, Huntsman said he had been contacted by a member of The Times editorial board regarding Villanueva’s remarks, which he called untrue.
“The words are such a deeply offensive allegation that I wanted you to hear from me that I have never denied the Holocaust,” Huntsman wrote.
The claim to The Times’ editorial board was an explicit riff on more vague comments the sheriff has made about Huntsman. Villanueva has made it a point in the past to refer to Huntsman by his full name, Max-Gustaf Huntsman. And during an interview last month on KFI-AM, the sheriff said, “He’s dropped the Gustaf for some reason, and there might be a story behind that, I understand is in the works.”
A little-known team of investigators in the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department has pursued criminal investigations into some of Villanueva’s most vocal critics.
In his letter to the Board of Supervisors, Huntsman wrote that Villanueva “is dog whistling to his more extreme supporters that I am German and/or Jewish and hence un-American” and then offered a personal family history.
Huntsman explained that his German father had developed a deep distrust of authority because he grew up during the Holocaust. He said his grandfather was conscripted into the Nazi army, but was not allowed to carry a rifle because he had previously employed Jews.
After the war, Huntsman wrote, his father came to the U.S., but abandoned the family shortly after Huntsman was born. “He gave me the name Max-Gustaf and so I do not use it. I would never deny that the Holocaust happened nor do I begrudge that in some sense my mother and I have paid a small piece of the penance the human race owes for that sin.”
He pointed out that during Villanueva’s first year as sheriff, Villanueva’s son was hired as a deputy despite posts on his Instagram account making light of the Holocaust.
The son, an Army veteran, was hired by the department in June despite a record that department watchdogs said would generate scrutiny.
“The allegation comes from a man devoid of honesty and honor,” Huntsman wrote to the board. “So perhaps it goes without saying that such a claim is meaningless from him.”
The broadside from Villanueva was not the only odd part of his conversation with The Times editorial board. While he was meeting with the panel, its members received a letter from Villanueva’s reelection campaign claiming he would not participate in the paper’s endorsement process. After the meeting, the sheriff’s campaign team released the letter on social media with a message from Villanueva accusing The Times of working in concert with county officials to undermine him.
But the personal attack on Huntsman was a particularly ugly one in Villanueva’‘s long-running feud with the inspector general, which has been building since early in the sheriff’s term. It comes as Villanueva launches his reelection campaign and fits in to a broader campaign strategy of trying to vilify and discredit critics and journalists with ad-hominem, unsubstantiated attacks.
“This is yet another example where, instead of providing a vigorous defense for policy positions and practices, the sheriff is smearing yet another civil servant with whom he disagrees,” said Brian Levin, executive director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino. “To accuse someone of being a Holocaust denier, if in fact it is false, opens up a potential defamation suit by the inspector general.”
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