Richard Mack, the leader of the so-called “Constitutional sheriffs” movement and a longtime figure in the antigovernment “Patriot” movement, made a somewhat startling announcement near the end of his speech Saturday December 13 to the gathering of fellow gun-rights enthusiasts at the “We Will Not Comply” rally in Olympia, Wash.
“I want you to know that there is something that I’m gonna do – and I don’t want to do it,” he said. “And my wife really doesn’t want to do it. But there is a group of people that were looking for answers to what we’re doing. And they formed a committee, and they formed a website, and they got together and they said, let’s call this the Constitutional County Project. And we’re going to try to make at least one county a complete and entire constitutional county.”
Mack smiled. “Now imagine that all of you – all of us that similarly live in Utah, Arizona, Colorado, all lived in the same place,” he said. “Can you imagine that? And we are the town councils, the county commissioners. And I am moving there to run for sheriff.”
This is not the first time that Mack has moved to another locale in an attempt to become sheriff since losing his badge as the sheriff of Graham County, Ariz., in the mid-1990s. In 1998, he ran as a Republican for sheriff in Utah County, Utah, but lost in the primary. He returned to Arizona, where in 2006 he ran as a Libertarian Party candidate in the U.S. Senate race against incumbent Jon Kyl, a Republican, but finished in the general election with only 3% of the vote. Mack, who now has a residence in Texas, ran in the 2012 GOP primary against Republican Rep. Lamar Smith of the state’s 21st Congressional District and was similarly trounced, garnering only 15 percent of the vote.
There is indeed a website devoted to a “Constitutional County Project,” as well as a Facebook page, and they explain that their mission is to “re-assert the United States Constitution as the supreme law of the land, driven by active citizen engagement within the political process at the County level, to secure and protect the liberties of ‘We the People’ without compromise.”
The website explains that the organizers have set their sights on Navajo County, a sparsely populated and relatively large body in Arizona’s northeastern corner, as the county where they hope to establish a large population of fellow “constitutionalists” who share their political views, and to transform the county’s politics accordingly.
The project’s intentions, according to the website, in Navajo County include “supporting Constitutional candidates, as well as encouraging project participants to run, for all county offices including county sheriff, attorney, board of supervisors, school board, along with all municipal and political party offices,” “repealing local and county laws and regulations which are unrelated to protecting individual rights,” “establishing and enforcing environmental regulations at the county level,” and “using legal and political means to protect the county’s residents against any attempt to un-Constitutionally interfere with peaceable living and enterprise.”
“The main reasons for our choosing Navajo County include a rural location, mild climate, and an already existing tradition of independence, self-reliance, and liberty among its residents,” the website explains.
The site also lists a number of endorsements for the project from around Arizona, including a number of leading Republican Party officials. Among them are Dara Vanesian, the Navajo County GOP Chairman; AJ Lafaro, the Maricopa County GOP Chairman; Pinal County GOP Chairman Seraphim Larsen; and Arizona State Sen. Judy Burges, R-Sun City West, a noted Tea Party figure who once made headlines by introducing a “birther” bill in the Legislature, as well as for a bill to stave off a "one-world order," a response to the right-wing conspiracy theory about Agenda 21.
Local endorsees include Sylvia Allen, a Navajo County Supervisor; former Arizona State Senator Jonathan Paton; Barry Weller, an Apache County Supervisor; and Robert Corbell, a Greenlee County Supervisor. The group’s leadership appears to include Barry Hess, a former Libertarian gubernatorial candidate, and Barbara Blewster of the state’s chapter of the John Birch Society.
Mack explained to the crowd Saturday how it all came about. “This group got together and came to me, I wasn’t part of it,” he said. “They told me about this, and I said, ‘This is tremendous. This is what I’ve said for years. If we’re going to take back freedom, we have one opportunity to keep it peaceful, and that is the enforcement of state sovereignty by our sheriffs, and by our state and county legislators.”
He said he saw it as a dream come true: “We can keep this movement peaceful, my dear friends, we can. You have to have them on board, though. You have to have some of them. And you have to have some sheriffs. And so they said, ‘We want all of that to happen – in Navajo County, Arizona, and we want you to come there and run for sheriff.
“And I said yes. My wife said no. This is one time I’m gonna be the boss. We’re moving. And it’s three hours from where I live now.”
He also made a pitch for fellow “Patriots” to join him there. “The election is in 2016,” he said. “I want you to carefully, prayerfully consider moving there with me. And I’m serious. You want to live in a free county? You want to live by constitutional law? You want to not worry about the federal government not moving in and ruining your lives and your family and hauling you off at midnight? Come live with us there. We’re gonna do this.
“We’re gonna make it a constitutional county and show everybody the blueprint for freedom. And there’s a lot more people running for other offices than me. I just said I’d run for sheriff. We’re going to give this one more try. The election is in 2016. I’m going to be moving there in spring of 2015 so I can start getting ready for this. You have about a year and a half to decide. And I’m dead serious about this. If I can move there, so can you.”
There are some immediate problems, however, with the plans of Mack and his cohorts. The most obvious is that of the county’s 9,960 square miles, 6,632 of those are federally designated Indian reservation – the third most of any county in the United States.
Nor is it clear that their political plans – involving a predominantly white “Patriot” movement contingent – will go over well with the county’s current population, some 45 percent of which in the latest Census was Native American. That is only slightly outnumbered by the county’s white population, which comprises 51 percent. However, that white population has grown in recent years; in the 2000 Census, only 46 percent of the county was white, while 48 percent was Native.
Kelly “K.C.” Clark, the current Navajo County sheriff – a Democrat who has held the office since 2008 – told Hatewatch that he had heard of the “constitutional county” rumblings a month ago and had been told recently about Mack’s plans. “I take everything seriously,” he said, “but I just do what I have always done as sheriff.
“You know, I have been serving the citizens of Navajo County for 27 years,” he added. “I have taken the oath as a certified police officer, when I became certified, and then twice as an elected official. And we all know what that oath says. I don’t take that oath lightly, never have.”
But he bridles at the idea that what he and other mainstream sheriffs do is somehow unconstitutional. “I do support the Second Amendment, but I support the whole Constitution, too. I support all 26 amendments. Because I am a constitutional sheriff.”
Clark said he welcomed Mack and his fellow constitutionalists. “You know, anybody can run for sheriff,” he said. “If he does, then so be it. I heard on that video that he was encouraging other people to move here. And I hope so, because that would be great for our economy.”