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Texas Commission Bans Training by Constitutional Sheriffs Group

The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) is no longer offering continuing education credit for the training courses taught by the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA).

TCOLE, which enforces law enforcement standards in the state, came to the decision as a result of an investigation into the antigovernment group’s trainings.

CSPOA is the creation of Richard Mack, a former county sheriff in Arizona. Mack became a rising star in the antigovernment movement when he sued the federal government over the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, a proposed gun control measure. He began speaking on the antigovernment circuit in the early 1990s and never stopped. He’s one of the primary peddlers of the extremist ideology known as constitutional sheriffs, and CSPOA is dedicated to indoctrinating law enforcement into these beliefs.

Constitutional sheriffs wrongly claim they are the highest legitimate law officers in the United States and declare they don’t have to follow state or federal laws that they deem unconstitutional. They incorrectly give themselves the power to pick and choose what laws will or will not be enforced in their counties. These ideas trace back to the white nationalist and antisemitic Posse Comitatus movements of the 1970s.

Texas, Montana and Virginia have all approved official training by CSPOA and offered full or partial credit to the public safety officers in their employ who attend.

In a May 25 memo of its investigatory findings, TCOLE wrote that the trainings taught by CSPOA in Texas provide no “meaningful authority” for the antigovernment group’s “proposed legal theories.” There is no “legal principle that, lawfully allows the individual nullification of existing laws,” which is CSPOA’s primary doctrine, according to the memo. It pointed to statements from attendees that they were learning “the authority and duties of Texas Sheriffs and other law enforcement officers under the United States and Texas Constitutions.” Finally, TCOLE cited what it called CSPOA’s “misapplication of the fundamental concept of judicial review.” In short, TCOLE decided that CSPOA was peddling “political discourse” and not legal facts.

The TCOLE memo cited quotes made by CSPOA trainers that factored into the commission’s decision. This included a declaration that, “‘This is a war’ in which local, state, and federal agencies have been ‘weaponized against you’ through an ‘incursion’ of ‘state and federal bureaucrats’ that have been ‘infiltrated’ and ‘placed traitors and saboteurs in local authority.’”

Attendees were also told, “‘Any government’ involved in tyranny should be stopped. When a peace officer refuses an order or law deemed unconstitutional, they are upholding the Law” and “Likewise, state executive orders are not law and ‘can’t be enforced’ as ‘you don’t swear allegiance to the governor.’”

This decision is a major change for TCOLE, which consistently provided officers with credit for attending CSPOA’s Texas training. On July 6, 2021, the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights (IREHR), an extremist watchdog group, reached out to TCOLE via email voicing concerns about future CSPOA trainings in Texas.

In the email, IREHR pointed to CSPOA’s ideological belief that sheriffs “can usurp the judicial branch’s role in interpreting the Constitution and unilaterally override federal, state and local laws.” They also shared some of the disturbing comments Mack has made over the years and pointed to a few of CSPOA’s ties to white supremacists and antisemitism.

According to TCOLE’s response to IREHR on Aug. 3, 2021, the commission sent investigators to TCOLE-approved CSPOA trainings in Burnet and Houston counties. “Both Field Service Agents reported no discussion or delivered material that would be reason to deny continuing education credit to any licensed attendees,” Texas government relations director Gretchen Grigsby stated.

TCOLE would later find that the personnel charged with the initial investigation had not been given sufficient guidance.

After the first investigation and prior to the second, CSPOA training continued in Texas. This included events in Coryell, Brownwood, Beaumont, Houston, Kinney, Mesquite, Wichita, Williamson and Wood County, with many of them hosted by sheriff’s offices and attended by law enforcement agents.

IREHR wasn’t the only organization to question TCOLE’s acceptance of CSPOA trainings. The commission’s most recent investigation into the trainings was a result of the NBC 5 Dallas Fort Worth investigative docuseries “Against All Enemies.” NBC 5 reached out to TCOLE with questions about the content of CSPOA courses and events. This caused TCOLE to open an investigation into the trainings, according to TCOLE’s interim executive director John Beauchamp. Beauchamp was also the signatory on the May 25 letter to Mack outlining TCOLE’s refusal to provide credit for CSPOA courses moving forward.

Losing Texas as a training ground is a blow to Mack and CSPOA. Mack has previously claimed that Texas is the state where support for CSPOA is growing the fastest. The NBC 5 investigation found that employees from at least 85 different law enforcement agencies in Texas had attended CSPOA trainings before TCOLE’s recent decision.

CSPOA member and Coryell County Sheriff Scott Williams claimed Texas was “ground zero” for such law enforcement trainings. He pointed to one event held in The Woodlands, Texas, on Feb. 26-27, 2021, as pivotal. The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office sponsored it, and over 35 sheriffs from Texas and around the country attended.

Mack would later expound on the significance of that training. In a March 4, 2021, website post, he declared the event was “living proof that what we are doing at the CSPOA is working.” CSPOA’s list of accomplishments on its website for 2021 claimed: “By the end of the year, we had 75 Texas sheriffs and chief deputies trained and close to 250 Texas sheriff/LEOs and elected officials trained. All of those trained in Texas received continuing education credits.”

In addition, numerous Texas sheriffs came out in support of CSPOA and their belief that county sheriffs are the highest law enforcement authority in the country. This included some who answered CSPOA’s 2022 calls to investigate the 2020 presidential election based on the “Big Lie” that fraud led to Joe Biden’s victory over incumbent Donald Trump.

Even former Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton joined CSPOA, speaking at one of their North Texas events on Oct 23, 2021. Paxton has since been impeached and suspended from office due to a longstanding securities fraud indictment and other allegations.

CSPOA’s Texas training and recruitment were key to Mack’s strategic goals, which he outlined publicly in a 2014 interview with Lou Dobbs. Mack said at the time, “If we’re going to take America back, then we must do so one county at a time, sheriff by sheriff.” The TCOLE decision is one step toward slowing that progress.

Photo illustration by SPLC

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