How easy it is to make people believe a lie, and how hard it is to undo that work again!”
In the late morning of Jan. 6, 2021, only a few minutes after President Donald Trump took the stage at the Ellipse, the park overlooking the South Lawn of the White House, Louisiana’s chief legal officer, Jeff Landry, opened a press conference in Baton Rouge.
The day before, hoping to build up media interest, Landry teased out a part of what he would be announcing: A Louisiana city councilman had just been arrested for voter fraud. He offered no other details, leaving people to speculate about the identity of the official. What city was he from? Was he a Democrat or a Republican? A friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, thought it must’ve been a major figure for Landry to leave people hanging the way he did.
“It’s probably someone from New Orleans,” my friend said, knowing how Landry has invested a great deal of his five years as the state’s attorney general meddling in local affairs down in the Democratic-heavy Big Easy.
“Not a chance,” I said. “It’s probably a Black Democrat from a small town that most people have never heard of before. That’s who Jeff Landry targets.”
Landry is in the second year of his second term as Louisiana attorney general. In official correspondence and press releases, he refers to himself as “General Landry,” as if his office connotes a rank in the military or law enforcement. Whenever he’s in front of a camera, however, he’s not so bold.
“I’m Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry,” he says to a room of people who already know him well, kicking things off a few minutes before noon, “and it’s a great day today in the state of Louisiana.”
It’s a noticeable verbal tic of his— Landry’s— introducing himself in a way that confuses his job title with his name. Two months before, in another press conference, he began by saying, “My name is Attorney General Jeff Landry.” (Notably, in legal documents and business filings, Landry’s first name is sometimes spelled “Jeffrey,” even though his parents spelled his name “Jeffery.” But it is never spelled “Geoffrey”).
I’ve only known one other politician who did this, the former mayor of the small town of Ball, Louisiana, Roy Hebron. “Hi, my name is Mayor Roy Hebron,” he’d say, and you’d think, “No, no, it’s not. Your job is mayor, and your name is Roy Hebron.”
Mayor Roy Hebron had been in office 25 years before he was caught conspiring to commit fraud against the federal government. He and several town officials, including the chief of police, attempted to bilk FEMA for $320,000 in Hurricane Gustav reimbursements for expenses they never actually incurred. Mayor Roy Hebron was so cavalier about his plan that, at one point, he even called a meeting of all of the town’s employees to coach them on how to pad their timesheets. He spent about three years in federal prison and another three or four on probation. Once he was finally free again, Mayor Roy Hebron ran for his old job, and he won in the jungle primary by double digits. But in that same election, voters statewide approved a constitutional amendment prohibiting convicted felons from holding a public office unless there have been more than five years since they were last on probation. The voters giveth, and the voters taketh away, Mayor Roy Hebron has to wait until next year before he can be Mayor Roy Hebron again.
Back to General Jeff Landry.
In his book Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage, Bryan Garner— the American lexicographer, grammarian, and arguably the nation’s leading authority on legal writing—explains why the practice of militarizing the titles of high legal offices is incorrect. “In titles such as attorney general, the word general is not a noun, but a postpositive adjective — an adjective that follows rather than precedes the noun it modifies,” he writes. “Attorney general and solicitor general are two examples. Other examples include court-martial and notary public. But no one calls a notary public simply ‘public.’ The word general in attorney general is every bit as much adjectival as it is in general counsel.”
Former Chief Justice William Rehnquist is responsible for the confusion, according to Garner. He would often refer to the solicitor general as simply “general;” current Chief Justice John Roberts picked up the habit.
But the chief justice has never called Jeff Landry “General Landry;” it’s an honorific Landry bestowed upon himself, which should give you a good idea of his sense of self-importance.
Shortly after taking office in January of 2016, Landry hired his friend Shane Guidry, a mega-wealthy campaign donor who runs a marine transportation company, to help him launch the misleadingly-titled “Louisiana Bureau of Investigation.” (Essentially, they just rebranded the division that can be called upon to assist municipal and parish law enforcement in cyber crime investigations or fugitive apprehensions).
>Landry also created a so-called “Violent Crime Task Force,” a hand-selected group of commissioned who received monogrammed shirts and began solving violent crimes by arresting Black people in the French Quarter for possession of marijuana.
You see, Landry apparently had been under the impression that he was elected to be the chief law enforcement officer of Louisiana. He didn’t realize “general” was postpositive adjective and “attorney” was the noun.
Accordingly, he assumed this allowed him to create his own roving team of special street cops who weren’t constrained by trivial things like jurisdiction or due process. Eventually, he figured out that he was actually the chief legal officer. The Violent Crimes Special Task Force was disbanded, and the “Louisiana Bureau of Investigations” stopped pretending to be something it was not.
“If you would asked me back then if I would have run for a campaign,” Landry told The Daily Iberian in 2018, reflecting on his “start” in politics in St. Martin Parish, “I would have said yes, but I think it would have been for sheriff.”
This makes total sense.
Last year, when he served as chair of the Republican Attorneys General Association, all of its members were referred to as “generals;” the website appears to have been recently scrubbed clean. Now, they’re all “AGs.”
It turns out I was only half-right. Councilman Emanuel Zanders III is a Black man from the small town of Amite City, population 4,141. He was Landry’s culprit. While it may be true that most had never heard of Councilman Zanders before, Amite is one of the better-known small towns in Louisiana.
It also just so happens to be the hometown of the state’s two-term Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards.
Zanders is accused of convincing 22 Amite residents to allow him to change the addresses under which they were registered to vote to a pair of allegedly vacant lots located inside of his district. Additionally, he is accused of registering the address of another voter to his own residence.
Pretty sophisticated “deep state” stuff, right?
After narrowly missing an outright victory in the November jungle primary contest, Zanders won the December run-off by only 19 votes, 206 to 187. It is unclear, however, whether any of the 23 voters actually participated in the election. In fact, it’s unclear whether or not any of them even attempted to vote.
Incidentally, the candidate Zanders defeated was Claire Bel, the former “First Lady of Amite.” Her late husband, former Mayor Buddy Bel, was the governor’s second cousin.
According to Landry, the Tangipahoa Parish Registrar of Voters first flagged the suspicious registrations in October and alerted Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin’s office. Zanders is charged with eight counts of election fraud.
All for a job that pays $7,800 a year.
“Anything other than a one-for-one vote distorts our election process,” Landry said.
This is true, of course, but it also confuses the alleged crime at issue.
Neither Landry nor Ardoin claimed that any of these voters were otherwise ineligible to vote, and thus far, none have been charged with a crime, which suggests their registration forms— once flagged as potentially fraudulent— were not approved. (And if they had been allowed to vote, that would raise a whole crop of questions about why the Secretary of State’s office dropped the ball).
Landry also never suggested any of these individuals tried to vote twice or that any of the names listed on registration forms were fictitious, and since he refused to answer any questions, he was never asked whether either of the two vacant lots were previously occupied by a mobile home, for example (Answer: They both were).
In other words, the alleged crime is more accurately defined as registration fraud.
There’s a reason Landry decided to wait to make this announcement, with great fanfare, until the late morning of Jan. 6, 2021, a full month after the run-off election and three months after the issue was first brought to the attention of state authorities. Given the extremely limited facts that he ended up disclosing, there was also no compelling legal reason to tease the story out the day before, particularly considering he refused to take questions.
Landry’s real goal was obvious: He hoped to amplify yet another bogus talking point in service of the Big Lie.
Unfortunately for Landry, the armed mob of pro-Trump cultists stepped all over his registration fraud thriller, at least outside of Louisiana and the conservative fringe online. The media were far more interested in how Republican elected officials like Steve Scalise and Mike Johnson and Clay Higgins and Garret Graves and John Neely Kennedy were still trying to steal the election for Donald the Terrible by throwing away as many as 9.7 million legal votes in Arizona and/or Pennsylvania, ostensibly because state authorities disobeyed a direct order by the Commander-in-Chief to “STOP THE COUNT!”
Jeff Landry, by the way, had previously signed onto an amicus brief in a case that sought to throw out 2.7 million votes in Pennsylvania, and when that failed, he then filed to intervene in a different case asking the Supreme Court to throw out 20.4 million votes (Johnson, Scalise, and Higgins supported that effort as well).
A brief digression, because Landry’s immediate reaction to the insurrection was especially egregious:
Landry refused to unconditionally condemn the violence at the Capitol and was one of only four attorneys general in the nation who declined to sign onto an open letter by the National Association of Attorneys General affirming as much. He claimed to be outraged that the letter had failed to figure out a way to also condemn Black Lives Matter protesters for the violence last summer.
Here’s what he did not realize, however: Nearly all of the acts of violence in those protests were committed by people unaffiliated with the movement or by alt-right instigators and white anti-government militia groups.
“The Black Lives Matter uprisings were remarkably nonviolent,” writes Erica Chenoweth, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, and Jeremy Pressman, a political science professor at the University of Connecticut. The two have been collecting and analyzing data on crowds at political events in the United States since 2017. Quoting:
Police were reported injured in 1% of the protests. A law enforcement officer killed in California was allegedly shot by supporters of the far-right “boogaloo” movement, not anti-racism protesters.
The killings in the line of duty of other law enforcement officers during this period were not related to the protests.
Only 3.7% of the protests involved property damage or vandalism. Some portion of these involved neither police nor protesters, but people engaging in vandalism or looting alongside the protests.
In short, our data suggest that 96.3% of events involved no property damage or police injuries, and in 97.7% of events, no injuries were reported among participants, bystanders or police.
“It’s even more disheartening,” Landry said of the Amite councilman charged with eight counts of election fraud related to 23 allegedly fraudulent voter registration forms that were flagged before the election, “when the perpetrator is an elected official.”
He’s got a point.
Despite leaving office in disgrace and with an abysmal 29% approval and the lowest average approval rating of any American president in more than 74 years of polling, Donald John Trump, Sr.— the pathologically-lying, Muslim-banning, sexual-assaulting, Jeffrey Epstein-friending, tax-avoiding, casino-bankrupting, college-defrauding, Ukraine-bribing, Putin-fearing, Kim Jong Un-loving, Birther-conspiring, border wall-fantasizing, Harriett Tubman-scrubbing, insurrection-inciting twice-impeached former president with a real estate brand built by his father’s fortune and a political brand built by his appeals to white grievances—was somehow enduringly popular in Louisiana.
At least that had been the conventional wisdom.
During the four years Trump spent in public housing, I deliberately limited his appearances on the Bayou Brief to stories that involved people from Louisiana, Texas, or Mississippi. Hence, my decision to publish multiple stories about Stormy Daniels. (The one exception to this rule was “Trump Trumps Trump,” Peter Athas’ review of Mary Trump’s book Too Much and Never Enough). Frankly, I thought Hillary Clinton had correctly diagnosed the danger he posed to the nation way back in 2016; if anything, he was even more dangerous than she imagined. Is there any question today over whether he has attracted a sizable number of “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic” supporters? Or that “he has lifted them up”?
When I set out to write this piece, I’d initially intended for it to be about both Landry and the man who now occupies his old seat in the United States Congress, Clay Higgins. The working title had been “The General and the Captain,” because Higgins, a disgraced former law enforcement officer who parlayed his sudden celebrity as the star of a series of viral videos into a successful run for Louisiana’s Third Congressional District, also likes to conflate his title with a high-ranking military officer. (In fairness, Higgins had briefly been a captain in the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Department shortly before he was essentially forced to resign. Now, he is an honorary marshal for Landry’s office).
I’ve covered both Landry and Higgins extensively, here on the Bayou Brief and on my former website, CenLamar. In fact, just recently, I set up www.CaptainClayHiggins.com, a compendium of reports, documents, and videos here on the Bayou Brief.
But it didn’t take long for me to realize it’d be a mistake to paint them with the same brush or to give readers the impression that they played similar roles in promoting the Big Lie that incited an insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Landry is significantly closer to Trump and the former president’s inner circle. In 2018, Donald Trump, Jr. and girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle traveled to Broussard in suburban Lafayette for a $5,000-a-person alligator hunt in support of Landry’s reelection campaign. Higgins, on the other hand, has shared only a single photo of him and the former president speaking personally to one another: A screen capture of Fox News’ broadcast from Sept. 2, 2017 of their brief exchange on an airport tarmac.
According to a source familiar with his 2018 campaign, Higgins received Trump’s endorsement only after putting him on the spot in front of a room full of his colleagues during an event at the White House, and Trump allegedly told him to take his request to Lara Trump, his daughter-in-law and his campaign’s “online producer” during the midterms.
Whereas Higgins’ post-election hijinks primarily comprised of posting absurd and occasionally drunken rants on the internet, Landry had seemingly allowed his public office to become an apparatus of the Trump campaign while a dark money group on which he served as co-chair helped recruit the mob at the Capitol.
Last July, I wrote an extensive profile on Higgins, and following his second impeachment trial, in Part Three of this series, we will consider Donald Trump’s ‘s legacy in Louisiana more thoroughly. For now, however, hold on tight because we’re about take a sharp turn.
Clay Higgins may have been Louisiana’s first “Trumpian” politician, but Landry was its first Tea Party radical.
If you search our archives and the archives of CenLamar, you’ll find more than 50 stories about the Louisiana attorney general, dating all the way back to his first campaign for Congress in 2010. Today, Jeff Landry is arguably the most divisive and controversial statewide elected official in Louisiana, a distinction that he will doubtlessly attempt to use to his advantage as he prepares a bid for governor in 2023.
At this point, I think he deserves a proper introduction.
During the past two weeks, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time re-reading our archives as well as hundreds of other news reports and stories about Jeff Landry, and since his family owns his hometown newspaper, it isn’t an exaggeration to say that people have been writing about him since the day he was born.
I’ve also reviewed troves of public records, financial disclosures, and campaign finance reports. I even spent some time researching his genealogy. This is not, however, an “oppo dump,” to borrow from campaign parlance. My purpose, instead, is to place him and his politics, which I find irredeemably repulsive and dangerously incendiary, in the proper context.
NEXT: General Mayhem: A Primer on Louisiana’s Jeff Landry