Founded by Governor J. Thaddeus “Tad” Ryan, the Mississippi Department of Evil (MDE) was constituted as part of the overall push in the state government to appeal to a primarily wealthy, white, suburban, and evangelical electorate. Pledging to use state resources to “root out the forces of Satan wheresoever they may rear their ugly head,” and to promote a “patriotic, American, and Christian” atmosphere, the department was created and invested with sweeping investigative and law enforcement powers in a 110-64 joint-session vote.

The legislature delegated the actual bylaws and charge of the new agency, as well as the specifics of its budget, to the Mississippi House Select Committee on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, which in turn sub-delegated it to the Mississippi House Select Subcommittee on Fish Hatcheries. Having created the department, held a press conference, Gov. Ryan and his allies were finished with it and were content for the particulars to be worked out by others.

True to form, the Mississippi House Select Subcommittee on Fish Hatcheries delivered a budget that was largely underwater, with a central office in the Jackson Auxiliary Annex, a director, office staff, and five field agents. The positions were originally intended to be filled by major Ryan donors on the cusp of retirement, but poor records control led to the five field agent positions being offered to people with the same names as the intended donors. For instance, one of the field agents had been intended to be Rev. John A. Byck, the pastor of a megachurch in Madison County. Instead, the job was offered to, and accepted by, J. Avery Byck, who had briefly worked for the state forestry service in the 1970s.

With a budget sizable enough to pay its staff but not much else, broad authority (with gold badges to match!), and no threat of being disestablished for the further four (and possibly eight) years of Gov. Ryan’s term, the MDE–with continuing oversight from the Mississippi House Select Subcommittee on Fish Hatcheries–was here to stay.

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