National gamefowl association is active in Arkansas, signaling potential cockfighting battle

The United States Gamefowl Commission (USGC) has inserted itself into Arkansas as the organization seeks to unify states around what it describes as a “nationwide political movement” to “fight for our Liberties, Freedoms and Rights.”

But some are concerned that means decriminalizing cockfighting.

Arkansas lobbying firm JCD Consulting Services has been retained to advocate for the organization and it has hired a staffer to lead fundraising efforts in Arkansas, Jamie Jones.

Nothing has been filed in Arkansas yet, but signs point to a distinct possibility that will change. The USGC is led by Anthony DeVore, its President, and Blake Pearce, its Vice President. The same two men are also in leadership roles with the Oklahoma chapter of the group, which has been working to reduce fines and criminal penalties for cockfighting in Oklahoma.

In a series of Facebook posts, the team notes that it is working in states nationwide to unify a message and attract single issue voters.

In Oklahoma, that issue was clear — the state Gamefowl Commission donated more than $70,000 to Oklahoma lawmakers as it was pushing for lower criminal penalties for those found guilty of participating in illegal cockfighting, according to The Oklahoman.

While the group has advocated for reduced penalties, they don’t directly tout support for cockfighting, a blood sport in which at least two roosters are placed into an enclosed space to fight each other. It’s illegal in all 50 U.S. states and in U.S. territories. Supporters of legislation in Oklahoma to reduce the offense from a felony to a misdemeanor, which fizzled this year, said it wasn’t a cockfighting bill, but part of a broader criminal justice effort aimed at reducing the number of incarcerated individuals.

But what discussion about various legislation leaves out is that it’s not just an animal cruelty issue — cockfighting is known to bring with it various criminal activities, from illegal gambling all the way up to drug and human trafficking.

In February, for example, police in Oklahoma found methamphetamine and psychedelic mushrooms along with materials used in cockfighting.

News 5 in Oklahoma City reported on a cockfighting ring broken up in 2019 that was discovered after arresting a man for assault with a deadly weapon and finding methamphetamine and weapons inside his home.

And the Gamefowl Commission is not immune from controversy. One of its former leaders, Chance Campo, was charged along with seven others in Oklahoma with felonies related to cockfighting.

Meanwhile, cockfighting remains unpopular among average voters. A Sooner Survey in Oklahoma taken as lawmakers were considering reducing penalties for cockfighting found that only 8% of respondents believed it should be legal and that nearly three quarters opposed the proposed reductions to criminal penalties.

Pollster Pat McFerron told The Oklahoman at the time that he’s seen “only a handful of issues” that show the same united front.

“Not only are the overall numbers against lessening the penalty on cockfighting strong, but voters also say it will affect their votes,” he told the outlet in April.

Likewise, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt — who received a $2,000 contribution from the Gamefowl Commission PAC as part of its $70,000 effort in the state — faced backlash after he posted a video seemingly praising the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission.

Already, cockfighting is a thing in Arkansas, which borders Oklahoma. In 2018, law enforcement broke up a ring in Sevier County after an 18-month investigation. While law enforcement touted arresting more than 130 people and saving nearly 200 chickens, another narrative was introduced in The Ringer, a sports site that is an affiliate of SB Nation. A lengthy think piece there “raised questions about ICE, immigration” and the future of what the writer described as “a centuries-old tradition.”

The article makes the case that the raid may have been racially motivated. But if immigration concerns are at play in investigating cockfighting, would there be appetite in a red state led by an anti-immigration Governor with a decidedly pro-family stance?

Raids often show children present for the fights, where they bear witness to adults cheering on what many — most if the polls are to be trusted — believe amounts to animal abuse.

And likewise, it was former President Donald Trump — who was Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ former boss — who helped ensure cockfighting was banned in U.S. territories. He signed a law in 2018 banning all animal fighting in U.S. territories, making cockfighting illegal in those territories for the first time. His law survived a legal challenge by a man in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

The disclosures filed showing a lobby firm has been retained in Arkansas does not yet show any financials, but it stands to reason based on efforts in nearby Oklahoma and nationally to unify the cause, that a fight is brewing in Arkansas. The question is — will the GOP-led Legislature choose tough on crime or the Gamefowl Commissions tempting message of freedom?

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