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Johnson County Sheriff embraces conspiracy theories at right-wing conference: 'We're in a war'

Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden has said publicly his office had turned over more than a dozen election-related crimes to the district attorney, but a public records request produced only one case, which did not result in criminal charges.
Shawnee Mission Post
Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden has said publicly his office had turned over more than a dozen election-related crimes to the district attorney, but a public records request produced only one case, which did not result in criminal charges.

Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden, who is set to be up for re-election next year, appeared at the Determined Patriotism Conference to deliver remarks about China, apartment buildings, and the county commission — all while continuing to question the security of elections without providing any evidence.

Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden delivered remarks heavily laced with conspiracy theories about a wide variety of topics at a recent conference of conservatives held in the Kansas City area.

“We’re in a war,” he opened his address given at the Determined Patriotism Conference at a church in Kansas City, Kansas, over Veterans Day weekend.

That war is not partisan, he said, but is “good against evil.”

During his half-hour speech and a question-and-answer period that followed, Hayden, who is set to be up for re-election next year, inveighed against China, the boom in apartment development and the Johnson County commission, all while continuing to question the security of the county’s election system without providing evidence to back up his suspicions.

However, he clarified in a later interview that his ongoing investigation of election practices now focuses more on computer software rather than local election administrators. Local elections officials have not been “nefarious,” he said.

But during his speech delivered Friday, Nov. 10, he said his investigation — which he has been pursuing for more than two years — will not end “until I know our elections are safe. And I don’t know that right now.”

The conference, which was held at the Hope Family Fellowship Church, featured an array of right-wing speakers, including former President Donald Trump’s one-time National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and My Pillow executive Mike Lindell.

It was a pay event, but the speeches have since been uploaded to Rumble, an online video platform. Hayden’s remarks start at about 5:05:07 in the embedded video below.

Brimming with falsehoods and conspiracy theories

Hayden has not yet filed for re-election in 2024 but said he intends to officially enter the sheriff’s race as the new year begins.

Among his false comments at the Veterans Day conference:

He suggested a link between China and the acceptance of gender fluidity in the United States: “I’m not sure that China’s not doing a lot of the LGBT(Q) stuff and questioning the gender of our children. I think it’s an effort by the communists to de-masculinize our men and our warriors.”

He said unspecified people “want our children to live in apartments so they can control where they live, where they go, where they work and what they do. It is socialism. It absolutely is. You see the apartments springing up everywhere.”

He called certain members of the Johnson County commission communists.

He said former President Barack Obama is “running the show and we know it,” in remarks about the southern U.S. border.

He voiced a dislike of the Apple logo after hearing that the apple with a bite out of it was a symbol of gaining knowledge: “I thought, well that’s kind of stupid isn’t it? That kind of reminds me of the time that Satan pulled one over on us and influenced Eve to take a bite out of that. It’s the beginning of knowledge, they say. I don’t see it that way. It kind of scared the heck out of me.”

(Some sources say Apple was originally chosen as a name because founder Steve Jobs liked apples, and the bite was meant to distinguish it from a cherry.)

During a question-and-answer session that followed his address, Hayden declined to commit himself on whether his office would take action on “citizen grand jury” indictments that are part of the right-wing sovereign citizen movement.

Such “citizen grand juries” are non-sanctioned, non-governmental groups of citizens meant to model the function of actual grand juries — typically formed by a judge’s order — to investigate crimes.

Right-wing groups have formed “citizen grand juries” in the past to investigate such conspiracy theories as government complicity in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate.

The question posed to Hayden at the Determined Patriotism event was asked by Ann Vandersteel, one of the other speakers at the conference.

Vandersteel is a right wing podcaster who has been studying “tactical civics” in which “citizen grand juries” are organized in counties, with their indictments enforced by “well-regulated militias.”

“If a tactical civics grand jury is formed here in this county – or your county, I should say – will you stand when they present you with their indictment of whatever public official (perhaps it’s an election fraud or a COVID fraud) will you stand and make the arrest?” Vandersteel asked.

“Boy, you are putting me on the spot,” Hayden replied.

He went on to say that Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe is “ok, but he’s not super aggressive. He’s pro-police, so he says, and I supported him but he’s a lot better than what we could have got.”

“I want to know more about this,” he said about citizen grand juries. “I’m not sure. I can’t commit yet, but I’d sure like to talk to you more about it.”

He reiterated those sentiments when reached by phone later, saying he doesn’t know enough about the citizen grand juries to commit.

In an interview Tuesday, he acknowledged that some people would label him a conspiracy theorist for what he’s been saying.

“I get a little tired of everybody saying, ‘You’re a conspiracy theorist,’” he said. “I think it’s patriotic to question government. I think that’s our job, to do that.”

He added that some of the conspiracy theories around COVID “are turning out to be pretty true,” and cited changing advice on whether masks and vaccinations could prevent a person from getting or passing along the virus.

“If you find one study that says masks prevented COVID, one scientific medical study then I’ll retract everything I said,” he said.

In reality, the evidence is overwhelming that face masks and respirators successfully limit the transmission of airborne infections like COVID.

‘I don’t know if we can win an election anymore’

A voter cast her ballot on Aug. 2, 2022, at the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
A voter cast her ballot on Aug. 2, 2022, at the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center.

Hayden has been pursuing his investigation of the county election system since the 2020 presidential election, in which Democrat Joe Biden carried historically Republican Johnson County.

Election officials have found no evidence of irregularities, and Hayden has not produced anything that resulted in prosecution.

Last spring, Hayden referred one case of alleged voter intimidation to District Attorney Howe, but no charges were brought for lack of evidence, Howe said. That case alleged intimidation on a date that was prior to the beginning of advance in-person primary voting in the county.

At the conference, he lamented the lack of action by prosecutors, including the state attorney general and Kansas Secretary of State.

“I don’t know that we can win an election anymore,” he said, referring later on to a Los Angeles case against the head of an election software company, Konnech, accused of illegally storing personal information of poll workers on Chinese servers. Some Johnson County election workers’ information was on that system.

Hayden called the Konnech a Chinese company, though it is based in Michigan. Its CEO immigrated from China in the 1980s but has been an American citizen since 1997.

The case was dismissed last year in part because of potentially biased evidence. Konnech, meantime, has sued the Los Angeles County DA’s office, saying the case was based mostly on tips from an election-denying conspiracy group.

But Hayden still cites it as a reason his own investigation is being held up.

He insisted the Los Angeles investigators have information pertaining to Johnson County, but his office cannot get at it. Until he does, he said he does not feel comfortable closing the investigation.

“What I need is somebody to stand up and help us,” he said.

He then ended on an ominous note: “I know a lot of things that if you really knew, you would really be upset because I’ve got video. I can’t release it until I’ve got really, really good information.”

Later he said his office has video of county facilities because it provides security. He declined to say anything further about what type of video he was talking about.

The sheriff also did not hold back on county commissioners.

“Our county commissioners, they don’t like me and I don’t like them,” he said.

He referred to Chairman Mike Kelly a “Comrade Kelly” in his speech at the Determined Patriotism conference and faulted him for not livestreaming and archiving the public comment period of each meeting and for the number of appointments he can make to citizen advisory committees.

He also had words for Commissioner Janeé Hanzlick.

“We got one that’s just an out-and-out, I’m not going to call her anything but a communist,” he told the conference attendees.

Hayden recalled Hanzlick’s suggestion during hearings on the county charter review that the sheriff’s office become a county department. Hanzlick was not a charter commission member, and her suggestion wasn’t adopted. Kansas voters later approved a constitutional amendment requiring sheriffs to be elected, and “that made her mad,” he said.

Hayden now says the commission is trying to cut his budget.

When asked by the Post, Hanzlick responded with a graph showing the sheriff’s budget increasing every year since 2014, noting that she has always voted in favor of the increases, including a measure in 2022 setting a step pay plan requested by the sheriff that increases starting pay for deputies by 14%.

That action directed money from the county’s general fund reserves to pay for $16.5 million in pay increases over two years.

As for the communist label, “I have no idea where that comes from,” she said. “I think it’s a way for him to rile up his followers and paint me as a villain of some kind.”

This story was originally published by the Shawnee Mission Post.

Roxie Hammill is a freelance journalist in Kansas City. Contact her at roxieham@gmail.com.
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