A few weeks ago, Right Wing Watch previewed a training session that Richard Mack and his Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association hosted at a resort near Houston on Feb. 27 and 27. Mack has since posted a video about the event in which he said, “If the spirit of freedom is in your room, the spirit of God is in your room, and that is exactly what happened.”
Mack was an organizer of the armed standoff between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and federal officials in 2014. CSPOA teaches law enforcement officials that “the power of the sheriff even supersedes the powers of the President,” according to its website.
CSPOA’s promotional materials said the conference was an “official” Texas Commission on Law Enforcement “training event” and that sheriffs and other law enforcement officials would “receive credit for attendance.” In his recent video, Mack said that of about 200 attendees, more than 100 were public officials or former public officials, including sheriffs from Nevada, North Dakota, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Washington state—and about 40 from Texas.
Sheriffs “left that conference more converted to the holy cause of liberty, more engaged in the holy cause of liberty, and more dedicated to protecting the rights of the people in their individual counties,” Mack said.
One attendee, Real County Sheriff Nathan Johnson, told the John Birch Society’s New American magazine that he had refused to enforce the state’s mask mandate and he said the CSPOA helps sheriffs who “need a mechanism to thwart tyranny.”
The New American reported that some sheriffs “heard for the first time that the so-called Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article VI, Clause 2) is misinterpreted—state and county laws and superior to federal law, not the other way around, which makes the sheriff the most powerful elected official in the country.”
The New American recounted how one speaker, “noted constitutional authority and attorney KrisAnne Hall,” told Texas sheriffs that it is their duty to ignore federal gun laws. Hall is featured in the trailer for “NonCompliant,” a movie that appears to mix radical anti-government libertarianism with conservative evangelical Christianity.
Also speaking was Pam Elliot, former sheriff of Edwards County, Texas, who the Texas Observer described in a 2016 profile as prone to “power plays” and voter intimidation targeting other local officials, Democrats, and Latinos. “Edwards appears to be motivated in part by a growing far-right movement that exalts sheriffs as the last line of defense against a tyrannical government,” the Observer noted at the time.
Edwards told the New American that more sheriffs “are beginning to understand the duty of interposition.” The magazine explained:
Interposition refers to the practice of a lower official placing himself between his constituents and unlawful mandates coming from higher government authorities. For example, many states are codifying their resistance to federal overreach by legislation stating that they will not help the feds violate Americans rights with unconstitutional gun control laws, civil-asset forfeiture, mask mandates, federal control of state land, facial-recognition programs, and so on. County sheriffs are tasked with interposing at the county level.
Also on the list of speakers for the conference was neo-Confederate Christian Reconstructionist activist and funder Michael Peroutka, though he was not mentioned in the New American report.
In his post-conference video, Mack said among conference attendees and sponsors was Gary Heavin, billionaire founder of the Curves fitness chain who has produced films with right-wing messages, such as AmeriGeddon, a movie about an electromagnetic pulse attack on the U.S. in which InfoWars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones played a role.
Last month, Michigan Live reported on Michigan sheriffs’ association with CSPOA. Among “the loudest proponents of the CSPOA in Michigan” is Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf. When militia members were arrested last year in a plot to kidnap the state’s governor, Leaf suggested that they may have simply been trying to make a lawful citizens’s arrest. Michigan Live noted that months earlier, Leaf had appeared on stage with some of the same militia members during a rally opposing the governor’s pandemic-related stay-at-home order. them. Leaf also challenged the 2020 election results in Michigan in a lawsuit that was swiftly dismissed.