While cheering on the dozens of Illinois sheriffs who are publicly refusing to enforce the state’s new assault weapons ban, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association is preparing to incorporate even more far-right ideology into the trainings it offers local law enforcement officers.
CSPOA is led by Richard Mack, a former Oath Keepers board member who supported the Bundy family’s armed standoff with federal officials. CSPOA teaches sheriffs that they are the highest law enforcement authority in their counties and that they have a duty to resist state and federal “tyranny”—which in CSPOA’s definition includes gun regulations and public health measures adopted during the COVID-19 epidemic.
Last year, CSPOA partnered with the voter-suppression group True the Vote to promote its false claims about voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election. Mack told listeners of the right-wing Liberty Monks podcast that they “must vote for any Republican that we possibly can” to “punish the Democratic Party” and “stand against the destruction of America.” At a press conference Mack organized during the right-wing “Freedom Fest” held in Las Vegas last July, he urged sheriffs to “join us in this holy cause.”
In a webinar for CSPOA members this week, Mack was excited about the Illinois sheriffs’ mass resistance, declaring, “We are so into this thing.” His co-host Jack Mullen called the resistance “a revolutionary event.” Mack praised sheriffs for being “warriors” in defense of the Second Amendment, and reported that CSPOA is organizing a press conference in Illinois as well as planning a meeting with the state’s sheriffs on March 4.
CSPOA regularly holds training sessions across the country and, in some states, is state-sanctioned. The Texas Tribune recently reported that in 2020 and 2021, CSPOA held about a dozen training sessions in the state, where law enforcement officers can get continuing training credit for participating.
One instructor at CSPOA trainings has been Michael Peroutka, a member of the group’s advisory board and failed GOP candidate for Maryland attorney general. Peroutka, a Confederate sympathizer who served on the board of the pro-secessionist League of the South, has been a member of the Council for National Policy, a secretive and influential network of right-wing and far-right leaders. He was the featured guest on the Jan. 3 episode of “The Sheriff Mack Show.”
On the show, which was hosted by Mack’s sidekick Sam Bushman, Peroutka denounced gun regulation as unconstitutional and as a tool of tyranny: “They wish to control you, and they can control you a whole lot better if you’re not armed.” Peroutka said it is “critically important” that sheriffs and their deputies are trained to reject laws like Illinois’ new gun regulation and that they are trained to articulate to the public why they refuse to enforce such laws. Americans, he said, have been “brainwashed” into wrong thinking about the proper role of government.
Peroutka’s far right ideas about “the proper role of government” are reflected in the teachings of the Institute on the Constitution, which he founded. In a commentary that is no longer available on the IOTC site, Peroutka wrote that “the function of civil government is to obey God and enforce God’s law – PERIOD,” claiming, “It is not the role of civil government to house, feed, clothe, educate or give health care to … ANYBODY!”
The Maryland-based Institute on the Constitution offers online and in-person trainings about the Constitution, which incorporate Christian Reconstructionist ideology and limited government extremism. The group supports restricting public office to people who hold certain religious beliefs. The IOTC promotes its teachings to likeminded state legislators and activists.
Bushman said that CSPOA will be embedding more of the IOTC’s teachings into CSPOA’s training. “As we work on the training for the CSPOA, we will be working on implementing more and more of Michael’s training as an extension of the in-person training that we start with,” Bushman said. “So, we’ll be embedding some of Michael’s trainings in our trainings. We will be then working with and making available that extra training that you can do.”
The two also talked about abortion. Peroutka said it was wrong to accept the idea that the overturning of Roe v. Wade has left it up to the states to decide the legality of abortion. “Abortion never was, is not, and never will be legal by anybody,” he declared, citing “God’s word, which is law and truth at all times and all places and applies to all people.” States, he insisted, do not have the authority to make abortion legal but have an obligation to stop it. “Those who commit these murders need to be brought to justice,” he added.
When the conversation turned to the 2024 presidential election, Bushman allowed his imagination to run wild, imagining a President Donald Trump who was wiser about the people with whom he surrounded himself. Bushman dreamed of an administration in which Mack was in charge of the FBI, Peroutka was U.S. attorney general, and government officials were required to take CSPOA and IOTC trainings: “Maybe the Lord said you can’t be attorney general of Maryland, sir, because you’re supposed to be with Donald Trump, attorney general of the U.S. in a couple of years. That’s what I’m voting for, Michael.”
Peroutka responded with a smile, “From your lips to God’s ears.”
Peroutka was the Republican Party nominee for Maryland Attorney General in 2022, even though he declared that the state’s legislature was an illegitimate body and the laws it passed were not “legally valid” after legislators had, in his view, violated God’s law by embracing marriage equality for same-sex couples. He lost by 30 percentage points. Peroutka previously ran for U.S. president as the candidate of the Constitution Party in 2004, and he served as a Republican member of the Anne Arundel County Council from 2014 to 2018.