Hard-right “constitutional sheriff” Charles “Chuck” Austin Jenkins of Frederick County, Maryland, was indicted by a federal grand jury this week for breaking federal gun laws.
During his tenure as a law enforcement officer, including serving as second vice president of the Maryland Sheriffs’ Association, Jenkins has refused to enforce federal gun laws and said he would deputize his citizens to circumvent those laws.
Constitutional sheriffs are sheriffs who have been radicalized to believe that they do not have to enforce laws they don’t agree with by claiming such laws are unconstitutional.
The indictment alleges that Jenkins defrauded the United States by interfering with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) by making false statements and representations in paperwork submitted to the ATF in order to obtain machine guns that were used by campaign supporter Robert Justin Krop’s firearms business, The Machine Gun Nest. Krop was also indicted for his participation in the conspiracy.
According to federal law, dealers may demonstrate machine guns to law enforcement agencies who may want to buy them. To do so, the law enforcement agency must file the requisite ATF forms and include a “law letter” declaring their intent. The dealer must also file the “law letter” and application with the ATF. Jenkins is alleged to have filed out the ATF forms and “law letters” stating the guns were for law enforcement demonstrations when he knew the guns would not be used for that purpose. The indictment states that in actuality, Krop, whose business is a licensed machine gun dealer, kept the guns and rented them out to customers for money. The Machine Gun Nest made over $100,000 from the rentals of machine guns in 2018 and 2019, according to the indictment.
Jenkins was indicted on six counts including conspiracy to interfere with government functions and to violate federal law regulating machine guns; false statements during purchase of firearms; false statements in records maintained by a federal firearms licensee; false statements to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and unlawful possession of a machine gun.
These alleged actions balk at federal authority and are a reflection of hard-right antigovernment ideas. A refusal to enforce federal laws is directly related to constitutional sheriff ideology.
Jenkins has made his participation in the constitutional sheriff movement public.
On his campaign website, Jenkins listed two antigovernment constitutional sheriff groups that he proudly affiliates with. One is Protect America Now. The other is the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officer Association (CSPOA), a group that radicalizes sheriffs into the constitutional sheriff ideology.
In 2014, Jenkins was a signatory on a resolution drafted by CSPOA that refused to allow or tolerate federal firearms registration or confiscation, along with other federal actions, including the arrest of citizens without the consent of the local sheriff.
On April 30, 2020, Jenkins took part in a webinar with former Graham County, Arizona, Sheriff Richard Mack, the founder and board chairman for CSPOA. In the webinar on reopening Maryland during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mack shared that he felt state orders had gone too far and that as a result, he “told his men not to arrest offenders.”
In October 2021, Jenkins was the only Maryland sheriff who attended a CSPOA event in Ridgely, Maryland, although Mack claimed that 24 sheriffs had been invited.
Jenkins is currently listed as a member of Protect America Now on the constitutional sheriff group’s website.
In addition to his involvement in the constitutional sheriff’s movement, Jenkins has also been associated with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim groups and individuals. Jenkins spoke alongside Clare Lopez on the 2020 Reopen Maryland webinar. Lopez is a former vice president at the Center for Security Policy, a conspiracy-oriented mouthpiece for the anti-Muslim movement in the United States.
Jenkins has facilitated a partnership between his sheriff’s department and ICE in the 287(g) immigration program, and at the same time is an outspoken immigration opponent who has been linked to the anti-immigrant hate group Federation for Immigration Reform (FAIR) on numerous occasions, stating that he supported their mission.
In 2014, FAIR sponsored Jenkins’ trip to the U.S. Southern border. In 2016 and 2017, he was in email correspondence with FAIR’s national field director, according to The Washington Post, which learned about this through Frederick County Sheriff’s Office emails and found that Jenkins had regularly worked with FAIR. Jenkins has also attended FAIR’s “Hold Their Feet to the Fire” event.
Under Jenkins’ leadership, the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office has settled multiple lawsuits whose plaintiffs were undocumented women, and racial profiling was alleged.
Jenkins continues to serve as sheriff despite his indictment, which Maryland law allows.