A New Jersey police chief is under fire for wearing a “Let’s Go Brandon” sweater at a Christmas party.
In a photo obtained by The Daily Beast, Township of Hamilton Police Chief Gregory Ciambrone is seen in a sweater bearing the right-wing catchphrase and adorned with an illustration of former President Donald Trump (who is sporting a Santa Hat and smirking).
The term “Let’s Go Brandon” is widely understood as conservative code for “Fuck Joe Biden,” and has sometimes been touted by advocates of bogus conspiracy theories about fraud in the 2020 election.
The photo, taken at what appears to have been a small holiday gathering described on Facebook as an “ugly sweater party,” was uploaded on Dec. 5 by another police department employee. In the photo, Ciambrone is seen posing with five other men sporting sweaters, some with far more innocuous references, such as to the movie The Big Lebowski.
The idea that a law enforcement official might wear clothing showcasing political affiliations is not exactly unprecedented. But in a country still facing a national reckoning over police brutality and grappling with a sustained lack of public trust in law enforcement, a police chief embracing a right-wing catchphrase jokingly or otherwise struck a nerve.
“Can’t believe he wore that in public to a party,” one area resident, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution but knows the chief, told The Daily Beast on Monday.
Ciambrone did not respond to repeated requests for comment from The Daily Beast sent to both his personal phone and email and the department. A woman who answered a number associated with the chief insisted he was “not available” and hung up before any additional questions could be asked.
The incredulous resident was one of multiple people who positively identified Ciambrone as the individual in the photo to The Daily Beast. The photo also matches up with images of Ciambrone that have been posted on the police department’s official Facebook pages and in local media outlets.
“Let’s Go Brandon” started as a misunderstanding during a post-NASCAR race TV interview, but it has been used by several high-profile Republicans in an attempt to cryptically insult the current president and assert solidarity with the GOP base and Trump. Among those lawmakers who have proudly adopted the phrase are Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, who wore the phrase on a red dress, Florida Rep. Bill Posey—who used it to end an October House floor speech while pumping his fist —and South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan, who wore it on a face mask at the Capitol.
Ciambrone was sworn in as chief in July 2019 after serving as a lieutenant for the Hamilton Township Police Department, according to a Facebook post from the force congratulating him on the promotion. The post notes that the Mays Landing resident joined the force in 1997, and served as a patrol sergeant, after-school resource officer, K-9 supervisor, and lieutenant before securing the top job.
“During his career, Chief Ciambrone has received multiple awards, including the Gallantry Star and the Law Enforcement Officer of the Year in 2010,” the department said in the July 2, 2019, post, which also noted he “received numerous certificates for Professional Training.”
“Chief Ciambrone looks forward to leading this police department with his knowledge and professionalism and serving the residents of the Township of Hamilton.”
Prior to his law enforcement career, Ciambrone received his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the former Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. In 2012, he also earned his master’s degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Experts on criminal justice were aghast at the chief’s choice of apparel.
“There are a million ugly Christmas sweaters the police chief could have worn,” Richard Rivera, a former New Jersey police officer who has served as an expert witness in misconduct cases, told The Daily Beast. “The chief chose to be photographed among his peers wearing one to make a political statement during a time of significant racial divide and police mistrust in America.”
For Rivera, who is now Police Director in Penns Grove, New Jersey, while Ciambrone’s sweater does not necessarily violate any rules or regulations imposed on him as police chief, it sends a troubling message.
“Police executives should refrain from making comments that violate their agency rules of conduct or portray police in a poor light where it would question their ability to fairly and impartially enforce the law,” he added.
In theory, Rivera said, the Hamilton Township committee that appointed Ciambrone could be forced to investigate the sweater—and possibly discipline Ciambrone—if a resident were to file a formal complaint.
The Township Committee and the Mayor’s Office declined to comment on this story.
“Even an investigation is no guarantee this police chief would face any discipline for this ugly sweater,” Rivera said.