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Constitutional Sheriffs

The origins of constitutional sheriff ideology lie in the two concepts of the county supremacy movement: The county – not the state or federal governments – should control all land within its borders, and the county sheriff should be the ultimate law enforcement authority in the U.S. These ideas were pioneered by Christian Identity minister William Potter Gale in the 1970s and described as “Posse Comitatus.”

Top Takeaways

During 2023, constitutional sheriffs have shown their abject disrespect for the rule of law. Dozens of constitutional sheriffs across the country took a stand against gun laws, publicly refusing to enforce current rules or future laws that would change the status quo around gun ownership. These sheriffs are under the false impression that their role as sheriffs allows them to circumvent the structure of checks and balances put in place by the Constitution and usurp the job of the Supreme Court by making their own determination as to whether a law is constitutional. These actions are contrary to their job as law enforcement officials since they refuse to enforce the law.

Multiple constitutional sheriffs linked to the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA) were also indicted in 2023 for breaking the law. They included sheriff’s Charles “Chuck” Jenkins in Maryland and Scott Jenkins in Virginia. In keeping with the trend of constitutional sheriffs ignoring laws around guns, both indictments included alleged illegal activity related to firearms.

CSPOA continued to recruit sheriffs into their group and its related ideology through events targeting law enforcement, an online television show and membership in their association. The group suffered a significant setback in 2023 when the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) stopped offering law enforcement credit to members of Texas law enforcement who attended CSPOA’s “constitutional” training courses. In a May 2023 memo about the new ban, TCOLE disputed CSPOA’s main premise that sheriffs have the right to decide which laws to enforce, writing there is no “legal principle that, lawfully allows the individual nullification of existing laws.”

CSPOA also welcomed Sam Bushman as its new leader in November 2021. Bushman previously served as the group’s national operations director and was appointed its chief executive officer. Bushman, who also runs an online radio station full of extremist content, spent part of the summer of 2023 mingling with various white nationalists, Holocaust deniers and neo-Confederates, including an appearance on a radio show where the host and guests avidly praised Adolf Hitler as a hero.

Another constitutional sheriffs’ group, Protect America Now (PAN), which was highly active in 2022, was relatively quiet in 2023. Sheriff Mark Lamb of Pinal County, Arizona, a leader and spokesperson for PAN, filed paperwork to run for U.S. Senate in Arizona.

Key Moments

This past year, firearms have been at the forefront of the movement’s protests against enforcing the law.

On Jan. 10, 2023, Illinois passed the “Protect Illinois Communities Act,” which banned the possession and sale of assault weapons. By Jan. 13, 74 sheriff’s departments in Illinois had declared they would defy parts of the law with which they did not agree.

CSPOA attempted to exploit the circumstance by holding a training in Illinois on March 4 that was hosted by the American Police Officers Alliance, which is a constitutional sheriff organization, along with Macon County Sheriff Jim Root and Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Bullard. The event notice stated:

In case you haven’t heard, Sheriffs across Illinois are refusing to enforce the state’s unconstitutional gun ban. In support of these brave sheriffs and officers, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA) will provide an in-depth workshop covering the Constitution and Law, Sheriff’s and citizen rights, and explain how to uphold the law of the land.

Around the same time that the Illinois sheriffs were openly declaring they would defy the law, sheriffs in various jurisdictions, including Alabama, Arkansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma, were publicly refusing to enforce a new rule by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) that went into effect on Jan. 31. The rule, titled “Factoring Criteria for Firearms with Attached ‘Stabilizing Braces,’” clarified that an accessory called a stabilizing brace is included in the definition of a rifle. The result of this clarification was that firearms with shoulder braces would require registration and a tax-based fee beginning in January 2023 for all gun owners who were not physically disabled and needed one out of necessity. The rule was found invalid by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals because the public had not been given an adequate chance to comment on it. The 5th Circuit sent the case back to the U.S. District Court, which issued a preliminary injunction in November 2023.

Prior to the court decisions, while the rule was in effect, multiple sheriffs and sheriffs’ associations publicly voiced that they would not comply with the rule.

On Jan. 25, 2023, Tulsa County, Oklahoma, Sheriff Vic Regalado said his office would not “enforce, partake or support this rule because it is unconstitutional.” Ironically, Regalado seemed to recognize sheriffs weren’t all-powerful when he spoke at an event with the county chair for Moms for Liberty. After blaming apathetic parents and single mothers for literature in the schools he disagreed with, and claiming that schools would offer literature supporting sexual relationships between adults and minors, Regalado admitted books could not be banned. He told the crowd he would confer with the district attorney about “how we can insert law enforcement into this thing.”

On Jan. 25, 2023, Clinton “CJ” Smith, the sheriff of Dundy County, Nebraska, issued a statement saying, “Neither I, Sheriff Clinton Smith, nor any deputies of Dundy County sheriff's office will be enforcing this or any bans/regulations which go against the 2nd amendment of the Constitution of the United States.”

Polk County, Wisconsin, Sheriff Brent Waak appeared on the antigovernment radio show Liberty Roundtable alongside CSPOA founder Richard Mack in February 2023. The show is hosted and syndicated by CSPOA leader Sam Bushman. During the episode, Waak shared that he would not enforce the ATF’s brace rule, and the written agenda for the show claimed that Waak “Tells ATF to pound sand!”

Months after Smith took his stand against the ATF brace rule, a petition was filed in July 2023, to recall Smith as sheriff. CSPOA, which has provided financial support for the sheriff’s legal defense, said of Smith’s case, “This is exactly why we formed the CSPOA.” It claimed the recall was politically motivated. In a September 2023 article on its website headlined “The CSPOA Works To Prevent Politically Motivated Removal of Nebraska’s Sheriff,” the organization claimed, This recall petition comes just after Sheriff Smith made public statements regarding the recent ATF's Pistol Brace Rule.”

CSPOA and Smith continually downplayed the many factors that led up to the recall, most significantly Smith’s lack of necessary law enforcement certifications.

On June 5, the Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice sent a letter to Sheriff Smith denying his admission to its basic training program. This was based on Smith’s application and a subsequent official background report conducted by Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center’s investigator Dennis Leonard. The letter explained to Smith that applicants who omit, falsify or misrepresent details on their applications are subject to denial.

The letter went on to say, “You demonstrated a lack of honesty and truthfulness as you admitted during interviews with Mr. Leonard the information submitted was not correct.” It also described the inconsistencies found during the background check, which included Smith’s “work history, criminal and traffic history, disciplinary actions including allegations of sexual harassment, and separations of employment by previous law enforcement/criminal justice agencies.”

Smith also failed the commission’s physical readiness entrance test (PRET), which “was established to ensure that incoming students could safely participate in the required training and achieve certification,” according to its website.

According to Nebraska law, these issues had to be resolved by Smith before Sept. 5, 2023, or he would be fined an amount equal to his paycheck until it was fixed. They went unresolved and, despite CSPOA’s support for Smith, the recall election went ahead as scheduled. Over 90% of the votes supported Smith being removed from office.

Dissatisfied with the result, Smith filed a complaint in federal court in mid-November. He claimed he was not given adequate time to meet the certification requirements or appeal the decision.

Constitutional sheriffs have also been accused of breaking the law. In April 2023, Frederick County, Maryland, Sheriff Charles “Chuck” Jenkins, who has been linked to both CSPOA and PAN, was indicted by a grand jury in Maryland District Court. Jenkins is alleged to have participated in a conspiracy that included making false statements to the ATF in order to possess demonstration machine guns for the sheriff’s department. However, Jenkins allegedly let his campaign supporter, Robert Justin Krop, rent the machine guns out to the public through his business, The Machine Gun Nest (TMGN).

This netted over $100,000 in profits for TMGN in 2018 and 2019, according to the indictment. Jenkins’ case is ongoing.

Sheriff Scott Jenkins of Culpeper, Virginia, who also has ties to CSPOA, was also indicted. The indictment, which was unsealed in June 2023, alleges that Jenkins accepted campaign contributions in exchange for auxiliary sheriffs’ appointments. Individuals who accepted the appointments were told that their new credentials allowed them to carry concealed firearms without a permit in every state in the U.S. Jenkins lost his reelection bid in November 2023, which was held during his case. His trial is set for July 2024.


Sheriffs will continue to make declarations against gun-reform laws as they have for years. They will have the support of constitutional sheriff’s organizations who attempt to coordinate efforts and recruit new law enforcement officials into their movement.

CSPOA, which has always been associated with other extremist movements, including conspiracy propagandists, sovereign citizens and white nationalists, will carry on these connections. They will also maintain their recruitment strategy, which includes online media and speaking engagements and trainings for the public and law enforcement.

The organization will also continue to have its supporters who share the group’s far- right vision of America. In the past year, this has included two groups who are states apart. One is the California-based Gorilla Learning Institute, which is run by former Sacramento County Supervisor Sue Frost. The group has a division called Friends of CSPOA (FOCSPOA). In 2022, the group’s website stated, “Friends of CSPOA was recently approved to operate their educational program under Gorilla Learning Institute’s Re-Grant Program.” This allowed fundraising and event registrations to be tax deductible under Gorilla Learning Institute’s 501(c) 3 nonprofit status. FOCSPOA also shared their excitement at offering training classes featuring Richard Mack and antigovernment attorney KrisAnne Hall. Sue’s husband, Jack Frost, is the co-founder of the California chapter of CSPOA.

An August 2023 article in the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting reported that the California Attorney General website showed the Gorilla Learning Institute was delinquent on its paperwork.

In Iowa, We the People for Constitutional Sheriffs leader Gary Shawver held an “education meeting” on Aug. 16, 2023, in Sheldon. The online event flyer listed some of the meeting’s topics, including: “Learn What a Constitutional Sheriff is, learn the limits of your federal government, learn how to support local law enforcement and learn action steps you can take now.” The group also coordinated billboard displays in Iowa supporting constitutional sheriffs. The group’s leader, Gary Shawver and the billboard company show CSPOA was invoiced for the signs. However, emails from Mack to Sheriff Mark Lamb indicate Shawver’s group was responsible for the funding.

We can expect more of this type of assistance to CSPOA and constitutional sheriffs more generally, as well as support for Mark Lamb’s new endeavors, from antigovernment groups and figures.


The concept of the constitutional sheriff is a subset of the larger antigovernment movement. Its origins are in the American county supremacy movement, which includes two concepts that often work in tandem. One is that county government should have control of all the land within its borders, taking this power away from the state and federal government. The other is focused on the role of the county sheriff, who is believed to have ultimate law enforcement authority in the United States.

Christian Identity minister William Potter Gale’s idea of “Posse Comitatus,” is Latin for “the power of the county.”

Gale promoted the formation of citizens militias, making the claim that “all healthy men between the ages of 18 and 45 who were not in the military could be mobilized into a posse comitatus to redress their grievances,” according to the book Aryan Cowboys: White Supremacists and the Search for a New Frontier, 1970-2000.

Citizens could either volunteer or be called up by their county sheriff, who Gale believed was the “only legal law enforcement officer” in the country.

Gale’s beliefs were widely disseminated. Henry Lamont “Mike” Beach of Oregon is alleged to have stolen Gale’s writings and used them to start a national “Sheriff’s Posse Comitatus” organization, which claimed that the federal government had overstepped its authority under the Constitution and that the posse could remove federal officials from office and hang them.

Gale’s views, some parroted by Beach, grew in popularity among white supremacists, tax protesters and aggrieved citizens, such as farmers in the Midwest who faced significant financial crisis in the 1980s.

They were also pivotal to the formation of the modern constitutional sheriffs, militia and sovereign citizen movements, all of which distrust or detest the government.

Much of this distrust by the antigovernment movement was built around the federal government’s response to the Weavers of Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas.

A leading promoter of constitutional sheriffs, Richard Mack was so heavily influenced by the events at Ruby Ridge that he contributed to a book written by Randy Weaver, the white supremacist who provoked the standoff with the government. Mack wrote the foreword for Weaver’s book Vicki, Sam, and America: How the Government Killed All Three.

Mack is a former Graham County, Arizona, sheriff and a former Oath Keepers board member. He has previously declared that the “greatest threat we face today is not terrorists; it is our own federal government.”

His CSPOA is an extremist group that espouses similar rhetoric to Gale and Beach. The group endeavors to radicalize county sheriffs across America into believing they are the ultimate law enforcement authority, able to enforce, ignore or break state and federal law as they choose.

On April 1, 2014, Mack told Lou Dobbs, “This really is a badge versus the badge situation, and I believe that the biggest badge in the country is the county sheriff.”

CSPOA claims this is because county sheriffs are the only elected law enforcement officers and therefore accountable only to their constituents, not any higher government power. In a May 2020 interview posted to YouTube, Mack described this view, saying: “Let me make this real clear: The president of the United States cannot tell your sheriff what to do. I don’t care if it’s George Washington himself. They cannot tell us what to do.”

The group justifies this by declaring that constitutional sheriffs are “upholding and defending the Constitution.”

By endorsing the idea that sheriffs can choose which U.S. laws are legitimate, constitutional sheriffs are conferring onto themselves a job assigned to the U.S. Supreme Court by the nation’s founders.

Whereas Supreme Court justices are often fervent legal scholars, the Montgomery County, Texas, sheriff’s office, which held a constitutional sheriff event in February 2021, requires its sheriff to be:

  • A U.S. citizen.
  • A county resident.
  • At least 18 years of age.
  • Registered to vote.
  • Free of any felony convictions (with a few caveats).
  • Free of any partial or total mental incapacity.

There is no requirement that a sheriff read or understand the Constitution.

Despite CSPOA’s effort to usurp the role of the Supreme Court, Mack has spent many hours praising the court for its decision in the case Printz v. United States, which made him a quasi-celebrity among antigovernment extremists.

The case was brought by Mack and Ravalli County Sheriff/Coroner Jay Printz of Montana, who argued against a provision of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act that would have required chief law enforcement agents to conduct background checks until a national system was implemented. The Supreme Court sided with Mack and Printz on June 27, 1997, determining that the Constitution did not impel state officers to carry out federal duties without their consent.

As Mack tells it, the Supreme Court agreed with him that “the federal government could not tell him what to do; that they were not his boss.”

This Posse Comitatus-based rallying cry continues to be the primary theme that permeates the ideology of CSPOA and other constitutional sheriffs across the U.S.

Beginning in 2013, numerous sheriffs and county officials refused to enforce future gun control laws. Constitutional sheriffs and CSPOA were involved in many of these efforts, using gun control to further their own agendas of radicalization and recruitment.

These efforts were in reaction to public calls for increased gun control measures after the deadly mass shooting at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater on July 20, 2012, and another at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012.

In 2013, CSPOA publicly distributed a list with the names of over 400 county sheriffs and made the claim that these particular sheriffs would not enforce any new gun laws.

Around the same time, county officials began passing Second Amendment sanctuary legislation, most of which affirmed that additional state and federal gun control laws would not be enforced by the county.

This sheriff movement for gun “sanctuary” policy picked up exponentially after the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, 2018. Multiple county sheriffs wrote the language for or publicly supported these laws. Constitutional Sheriff Scott Jenkins of Culpeper, Virginia, said he would deputize the citizens in his county if gun control laws were passed. “Every sheriff and commonwealth attorney in Virginia will see the consequences if our general assembly passes further unnecessary gun restrictions,” Jenkins said.

One county law, titled the Newton County, Missouri, Second Amendment Preservation Act, was enacted in that county in February 2021. It declares, “Any and all federal agents trying to enforce the regulations,” as they had stipulated, “shall be subject to arrest by the Newton County Missouri Sheriff’s Department.”

When asked about this particular legislation during an interview, Mack expressed that he loved it and said, “Let’s all follow Newton County’s example.” This illustrates the potential danger of these laws. Although many of the measures are legally toothless, if they are used in conjunction with constitutional sheriffs refusing to carry out their law enforcement authority, or assuming jurisdiction over state or federal agents, it creates a challenge to the U.S. rule of law itself.

This issue became more evident in 2021 when constitutional sheriffs, including CSPOA, began to oppose state and federal COVID-19 health measures.

Mack compared sheriffs who refused to enforce the stay-at-home orders to civil rights activist Rosa Parks. He claimed a sheriff who refused to enforce his own state’s executive order was standing against Nazi tactics.

Constitutional Sheriff Dar Leaf of Barry County, Michigan, openly defied his governor’s stay-at-home orders, as did constitutional Sheriff Mike Carpinelli of Lewis County, New York. Carpinelli told WWNY: “At the end of the day, it’s about respecting each other and each other’s boundaries when it comes to concerns about the virus. … That responsibility and those boundaries should be set by people, not local law enforcement.”

CSPOA lifetime member and constitutional Sheriff Bob Songer of Klickitat, Washington, forwarded to multiple Washington sheriffs an email from Mack titled, “You Swore an Oath to Our Constitution,” and Songer claimed, “No governor’s proclamations order can override your liberties without violating your constitutional rights even during a crisis.” Songer’s stance remained the same even after he was hospitalized for five days with COVID-19.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee struck back at state law enforcement officers such as Songer in a press conference on April 22, 2020: “Whatever talents they have, they just are not given the right in our democracy to make a decision about the Constitution. That is a decision we leave to the courts. We cannot have individual law enforcement officers arbitrarily decide what laws to enforce.”

In addition to defiance over coronavirus laws, Songer, along with constitutional Sheriff Mark Lamb of Pinal County, Arizona, formed their own sheriff’s posses. Songer has said posse members are trained witnesses. Some members who are on horseback can attend crime scenes and searches, as well as hunt their county’s cougar population. Those without horses are auxiliary, according to Songer.

Lamb called his posse, created in 2020, a citizen’s academy but said they are also a resource “should [sheriffs] need them.” In December 2020, Lamb gave an update on Facebook about the posse, telling the audience that hundreds of people had graduated from the training, and that he was “looking forward to getting a lot more of you in there and getting you trained as well.”

Sheriff Leaf in Michigan invoked the Posse Comitatus in a Facebook post on Aug. 2, 2021, declaring that a sheriff’s posse was necessary to suppress rioting.

Leaf, who has been openly friendly to militias and questioned whether the men charged with kidnapping Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan were actually attempting a legal citizens’ arrest, claimed in the post that “‘The Posse’ and militia have more lawful character than the agencies that have recently arrested the militia.” Leaf is also associated with the sovereign citizen group National Liberty Alliance.

Gale’s legacy of linking constitutional sheriffs to other members of the far right has lived on – with not only Leaf but also a bevy of current and former sheriffs. Lamb, along with Sheriff Wayne Ivey of Brevard, Florida; Sheriff Jesse Watts of Eureka, Nevada; former Sheriff Scott Jenkins of Culpeper, Virginia; and former Sheriff Tom Hodgson of Bristol County, Massachusetts, are advisers to the group Protect America Now, which has been linked to anti-immigrant hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

Lamb was also a confirmed speaker at sovereign citizen group RidersUSA’s seventh annual Second Amendment event held in Phoenix, Arizona, on Feb. 15, 2020. It was attended by the Proud Boys and anti-immigrant group AZ Patriots.

CSPOA’s current CEO Sam Bushman owns Liberty News Radio, which produces his own show “Liberty Roundtable.” On the show, he has hosted antigovernment figures such as Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, Scott Bradley of Freedom’s Rising Sun, and members of the John Birch Society. Bushman’s network also syndicates the white nationalist radio show “Political Cesspool,” which is hosted by James Edwards and Keith Alexander, who have invited numerous guests from the white nationalist and neo-Confederate movements.

Mack has been associated with an extensive list of extremists. He considered the late Randy Weaver a friend, asserting that Weaver was not a bigot, just a separatist “in a way” who did not believe in interracial marriage.

Mack also held a spot on the board of directors of the nationwide Oath Keepers militia group until 2015. In 2014, Mack participated in the Bundy standoff against the U.S. government, in Bunkerville, Nevada, alongside his fellow Oath Keepers and additional militias. That year, Mack shared their strategy with Fox News: “We were actually strategizing to put all the women and children up front. If they are going to start shooting, it’s going to be women that are going to be televised all across the world getting shot by these rogue federal officers.”

In 2018, Mack attended RidersUSA’s fifth annual Second Amendment event. Posting photos to his Facebook page with the caption, “Riders USA hosted the Protect the 2nd Amendment Rally today, and I was glad to be with both them and my longtime friends at Oath Keepers.”

The Constitutional Law group is run by non-attorney sovereign citizen Rick Martin who, during the pandemic, offered his services as an attorney to businesses defying COVID-19 health guidelines. Martin listed CSPOA as a sponsor on the Constitutional Law Group website and claimed to be working closely with CSPOA.

In 2021, Mack went on the ARISE USA tour hosted by late antisemitic conspiracy theorist Robert David Steele. On May 15, 2021, the tour stopped in Lander County, Nevada, where the county commission voted to become CSPOA lifetime members and held a “Patriotic Social Gathering.” The audience consisted of locals, Nevada constitutional sheriffs, anti-vaccine groups and multiple militias, one with a recruiting booth set up. All of them, including the sheriffs and militias, seemed to be associating with and friendly with one another, according to a source at the scene.

CSPOA and PAN spent 2022 challenging democracy. Both groups promoted the idea of possible voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election. The groups worked with True the Vote, the controversial Texas-based organization that has traveled the country claiming they have evidence of voter fraud that they have been unable to prove.

PAN and True the Vote created a campaign called ProtectAmerica, which they debuted in June 2022. This included offers of grants to sheriffs to investigate the election, a sheriff's hotline for individuals to report voter fraud in the 2022 midterm elections, and an informational campaign.

In July 2022, CSPOA held a press conference in Las Vegas, calling on sheriffs across the country to investigate voter fraud in the 2020 election. Multiple sheriffs heeded the call and initiated investigations, including Cutter Clinton of Panola County, Texas; Calvin Hayden of Johnson County, Kansas; Dar Leaf of Barry County, Michigan; and Chris Schmaling of Racine County, Wisconsin.

Outline map of US states with number of Constitutional Sheriff groups.

2023 Constitutional Sheriff Groups

*Asterisk denotes headquarters 

American Police Officers Alliance 
Arlington, Virginia 

Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association 
Higley, Arizona* 

Protect America Now 
Tempe, Arizona 

Sheriff Brigade of Pennsylvania