Earlier this month, Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff and popular “Patriot” movement speaker, gave a speech in Pueblo, Colorado, in which he announced that he was launching a new bid for public office.
Mack said that he would be moving to Navajo County, Arizona, to run as the county sheriff in 2016 and told the members of the Tea Party group in his audience, “I need some backup and I wouldn’t mind if you went there, too.”
He wasn’t joking. In fact, Mack is the most prominent recruit of a group that is seeking to stage a political takeover of the sprawling rural county as an experiment in creating a local government that will ignore and “nullify” federal laws — such as federal lands restrictions and gun regulations — that its leaders believe to be unconstitutional.
Mack explained the plan in a speech to this weekend’s “I Won’t Comply” demonstration in Olympia, Washington, which gathered anti-government activists from around the country to protest a new state law requiring background checks on most gun purchases.
Mack, who runs a group called the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, which argues that county sheriffs are the highest law enforcement officers in the country, urged the Washington crowd to join him in Navajo County.
“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 be worried about federal government coming in and ruining your lives and families and hauling you off at midnight? Come live with us there,” he said.
He said that the establishment of “constitutional counties” was the last “peaceful” option for the movement to “regain our constitution and freedom in America.”
“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 legislatures,” he said.
The former sheriff explained how a group called the Constitutional County Project had approached him and asked him to join their first experiment in creating a “constitutional county,” what Mack said would be a “blueprint for freedom” that could then be replicated across the country.
In an interview with the radio show “Liberty Roundtable” in June, Mack discussed early negotiations on the project. Although he didn’t say that he had committed to run for office, he hinted at it, saying “we have got to be able to sacrifice and move to where we can be united and take over a county politically.”
Mack told the Washington rally that he planned to move to the county in the spring of 2015 to prepare for a 2016 run for office.
The Constitutional County Project’s website says that once it achieves its political takeover of Navajo County, its allied elected officials get to work repealing “local and county laws and regulations which are unrelated to protecting individual rights,” enforcing environmental regulations at the “county level,” cutting taxes and regulations and using “legal and political means to protect the county’s residents against any attempt to un-Constitutionally interfere with peaceable living and enterprise.”
A 2012 Southern Poverty Law Center report on Mack explained his growing influence in the “Patriot” movement and the source of his ideology in Posse Comitatus movement of the 1970s and 1980s, which provided some of the ideological foundation for the militia movement:
An inductee in the National Rifle Association’s Hall of Fame whose stardom dimmed by the turn of the century, Mack is once again riding high in the saddle as a patron saint of the resurgent antigovernment “Patriot” movement and a meticulously coiffed darling of the Tea Party set. For the past two years, the former public relations director for the Gun Owners of America has zigzagged across the country spreading dark fears and conspiracy theories about the federal government, hawking his self-published books about guns and God, and encouraging sheriffs to join his new organization, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), and be a “line in the sand” against government agents. He recently bragged that he had spoken at 120 Tea Party events across the country (his website says 70), in addition to the many law enforcement gatherings, local political fundraisers, John Birch Society (JBS) meetings, and other events where he is treated as a hero.
Whether he’s speaking to local chapters of the JBS or appearing on far-right radio shows like James Edwards’ white nationalist program “The Political Cesspool,” Mack’s central message is that the federal government has far overstepped its constitutional bounds and that county sheriffs have the rightful authority — and duty — to protect citizens from what he believes are its unlawful incursions. This idea that sheriffs have supremacy over other law enforcement agencies and even the federal government was born and gained traction in the 1970s and 1980s when it was pushed by the explicitly racist, anti-Semitic Posse Comitatus (Latin for “power of the county”), which capitalized on the Midwestern farm crisis of the era to promote an extreme antigovernment ideology. The Posse’s founding tract, the so-called Blue Book written by white supremacist Henry Lamont Beach, asserted the county was “the highest authority of government in our Republic.”
Mack focuses most of his advocacy on promoting county- and state-level resistance to federal gun laws — he won a Supreme Court case against the Brady bill in the ‘90s — but has also involved his group in anti-immigration efforts and has spoken out against LGBT rights, urging sheriffs to back up county clerks who refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. However, he finds common ground with many progressives in his opposition to the drug war.
Mack, a board member of the Oath Keepers, was a prominent presence earlier this year at the Bundy ranch in Nevada, where armed “Patriot” and militia groups resisted the Bureau of Land Management’s effort to collect more than a million dollars in grazing fees that rancher Cliven Bundy had refused to pay for 20 years of using federal lands. Mack compared the stand of the anti-government groups at the Bundy ranch to Rosa Parks’ resistance to segregation.
An acolyte of “New World Order” alarmist Cleon Skousen, Mack shares his movement’s taste for conspiracy theories. Mack believes that President Obama fabricated his birth certificate and is threatening those who know about it to keep them from coming forward, has speculated that the 1995 Waco siege was a federal government setup to rustle up more ATF funding, and said this year that he had “no doubt” the federal government might stage a false flag attack on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
Still in its early days, the Constitutional County Project has the backing of the chairman of the Navajo County GOP and the Republican chairmen of Maricopa and Pinal counties, as well as the leaders of the Arizona chapters of the John Birch Society and the Tenth Amendment Center. The project had its official launch in October immediately after a “Prepperfest” in Scottsdale.
Mack said in his speech in Olympia that moving with him to Navajo County would be a perfect project for retirees. But for those who still need employment, the Constitutional County Project’s Facebook page is advertising job openings in the county for those who are looking to move.