The origins of constitutional sheriff ideology are in the two concepts of the county supremacy movement: the county and 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 1970’s and described as “Posse Comitatus.”
The two biggest constitutional sheriff’s organizations in the country, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA) and Protect America Now (PAN), have seen growth over the past year. Organizational recruiting efforts, publicity stunts and spreading of conspiracy theories among the right, masked as legitimate concerns, may have attributed to this.
Both groups partnered with True the Vote in 2022, a controversial, election conspiracy organization that participated in the film 2000 Mules. The movie was directed by Dinesh D’Souza, who was pardoned by Trump on May 31, 2018 for an illegal campaign conviction he pled guilty to in 2014. It promoted the “Big Lie,” a conspiracy theory that Trump won the 2020 presidential election, but it was stolen through fraud.
Signing on to this idea, PAN joined forces with True the Vote to provide sheriffs with tools and training “to have real-time eyes on voting in their county.” The group also started a hotline for sheriffs to receive reports from citizens about voting issues.
CSPOA claimed that True the Votes “evidence” called the 2020 presidential election into question. They called on sheriffs to investigate the election and collaborated with True the Vote to offer sheriffs’ departments the research and support to commence one. The group promoted its message to law enforcement and the public through a May 24 press release and a July 12 press conference held in Las Vegas.
Multiple constitutional sheriffs did initiate investigations including Cutter Clinton of Panola County, Texas; Calvin Hayden of Johnson County, Kansas; Darr Leaf of Barry County, Michigan, and Chris Schmaling of Racine County, Wisconsin.
CSPOA also built a growing presence in the state of Texas. The group originally found a foothold for itself in the state in 2021. Dozens of Texas sheriffs attended a large law enforcement training on Feb. 26-27 hosted by CSPOA and the Montgomery County, Texas, sheriff’s office. In 2022, CSPOA continued to rely on Texas sheriffs to set up additional Texas law enforcement trainings on constitutional sheriff activities, request their own county develop policies friendly to constitutional sheriffs and promote CSPOA and the “Big Lie” locally.
The group has also received a wellspring of outside support. Gary Heavin, the former owner of Curves fitness facilities is documented as a paid lifetime CSPOA membership, event sponsorship and flights for CSPOA staff on his private plane
In California, nonprofit Gorilla Learning Institute developed a program called Friends of CSPOA to make CSPOA-related fundraising and registrations tax deductible. The group is led by Sacramento County Supervisor Sue Frost, her husband Jack Frost, psychologist Kathy Allard and Sacramento developer John Sullivan. Jack Frost is also a leader of the new California CSPOA.
In Iowa, the group We the People for Constitutional Sheriffs has been active in 2022. The group was formed after attending a presentation by CSPOA leader Richard Mack. They lobbied to make Iowa counties become county government members of CSPOA, a model used by three Nevada counties in 2021. On March 12, the group hosted an event for sheriffs in Woodbury, Iowa, with CSPOA associate and law enforcement trainer Krisanne Hall.
CSPOA also had a major shift in leadership, which was announced to members in November 2022. Leader Richard Mack stepped down from the organization’s daily operations, although he maintained full control of all decision making and became the head of a newly formed CSPOA board of directors. Sam Bushman replaced Mack on Nov. 1 as the CEO. Bushman runs the Liberty Radio Network, which distributes antigovernment and white nationalist podcasts. He was previously national operations director of CSPOA.
Members of CSPOA and PAN’s leadership and allied sheriffs have been featured in fringe, online television shows including the Sheriff Mack Show and American Sheriff Network, which was founded by PAN’s Mark Lamb, sheriff of Pinal County, Arizona.
Constitutional sheriffs have also focused on immigration issues. Advisory board members and regular members have worked with the anti-immigration group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). On Sept. 16, Sheriff Scott Jenkins of Culpepper, Virginia, who is associated with all three groups, spoke about the border at a press conference hosted by FAIR. PAN used their website to promote it.
On March 12, 2022, We the People for Constitutional Sheriffs and Sheriff Chad Sheehan of Woodbury County, Iowa, hosted a Krisanne Hall speaking event. Hall is often part of CSPOA’s law enforcement trainings. Then in May the CSPOA published a press release on its website stating:
“In the opinion of the CSPOA, there is very compelling physical evidence presented by truethevote.org in the movie “2000 Mules” produced by Dinesh D'Souza. ‘Law Enforcement has to step in at this point,’ asserts D'Souza, and we absolutely agree with him. Therefore, we are asking for all local law enforcement agencies to work together to pursue investigations to determine the veracity of the “2000 Mules” information.”
The propagation of election disinformation and conspiracies continued through the summer. In July CSPOA held a press conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, to urge sheriffs to investigate the 2020 presidential election. The organization continued to lobby for election investigations and non-enforcement of the law while speaking at the 2022 Libertarian Party FreedomFest event, also in Las Vegas. Then on August 13, PAN leader Sheriff Mark Lamb and CSPOA’s then CEO Richard Mack attended a meeting about election fraud hosted by True the Vote leader, Catherine Engelbrecht.
By fall, We the People for Constitutional Sheriffs urged the Hardin County, Iowa, Board of Supervisors on Sept. 8, 2022, to become members of CSPOA, and on Oct. 28, CSPOA presented at the Oath Keepers Yavapai County Preparedness Team meeting in Chino Valley, Arizona.
Constitutional sheriffs organizations will continue to exploit politicized issues like elections and immigration at the U.S. southern border to build a greater base of support. Their membership will follow along, refusing to enforce local or federal laws they do not agree with by claiming unconstitutionality, despite having no legal authority to interpret the law and every obligation to enforce it.
CSPOA will remain linked to a variety of antigovernment and hate groups. The group, along with its supporters, will work to increase its membership, funding and the number of trainings they give law enforcement where they and their associate Krisanne Hall promote non-enforcement and noncompliance of the law. Many of these trainings, although extreme have been approved by their states law enforcement offices of standards and training and provide the attendees with official continuing education or proficiency training credits. Unless State Department of Justice offices and POST boards recognize the inherent threat that these trainings pose, they will continue unabated.
PAN will continue to glamorize constitutional sheriffs through the American Sheriff Network and Advisor Board Leader Sheriff Mark Lamb’s continued appearances on right-leaning shows.
They will continue to make the border an issue and will likely work with the hate group FAIR and with the National Sheriffs Association, who like certification and standards offices including AZPOST in Arizona whose chairman is constitutional Sheriff Mark Dannels of Cochise County, Arizona have not expelled constitutional sheriffs from their organization despite their public refusal as law enforcement agents to enforce the law.
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.
This idea was pioneered by Christian identity minister William Potter Gale in the 1970s as “Posse Comitatus,” which 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, whom Gale believed was the “only legal law enforcement officer” in the country.
Gale’s beliefs were disseminated far and wide. 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 the federal government overstepped its authority under the Constitution, and the posse could remove them 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.
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.”
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 only accountable to their constituents, no 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 their 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, who argued against a provision of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which 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 America.
Beginning in 2013, numerous sheriffs and county officials refused to enforce future gun control laws. Constitutional sheriffs and the 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 mass shooting at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater on July 12, 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 making 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 movement picked up exponentially after the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, 2018, along with the sheriffs’ involvement. 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, on Feb. 3, 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 and 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 has said “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.” As reported by WWNY, “that responsibility and those boundaries,” he says,” 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 he 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 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 sheriffs 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 he was “looking forward to getting a lot more of you in there and getting you trained as well.”
Leaf invoked 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 militia in the past 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 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; Sheriff Scott Jenkins of Culpeper, Virginia, and Sheriff Tom Hodgson of Bristol County, Massachusetts, are advisers to the group Protect America Now, which has been linked to anti-immigrant Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).
Lamb was also a confirmed speaker at sovereign citizen group RidersUSA’s seventh annual Second Amendment event, which was held in Phoenix, Arizona, on Feb. 15, 2020. It was attended by the Proud Boys and anti-immigrant group AZ Patriots.
Constitutional Sheriff and Peace Officers National Operations Director Sam Bushman owns Liberty News Radio, which produces his own show “Liberty Roundtable,” where he has hosted antigovernment figures such as Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, Scott Bradley of Freedom 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 a long 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 ia run by nonattorney sovereign citizen Rick Martin who, during the pandemic offered his services as an attorney to businesses defying COVID-19 health guidelines, 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.
2022 constitutional sheriff groups
*Asterisk denotes headquarters
American Police Officers Alliance
Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association
Citrus Heights, California
Idaho Constitutional Sheriffs
Protect America Now