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A right-wing sheriffs’ group that challenges federal law held a bizarre rally in Las Vegas last week featuring felons and conspiracy theorists as the country’s presidential election is just months away. 

The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, founded in 2011 by former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack, held its annual conference in Las Vegas last week at the Ahern Luxury Boutique Hotel conference center.

The group, known as CSPOA, teaches that elected sheriffs must ‘protect their citizens from the overreach of an out-of-control federal government’ by refusing to enforce any law they deem unconstitutional or ‘unjust.’ 

The right-wing ‘constitutional sheriffs,’ claim legal power in their jurisdictions that exceeds U.S. federal government and state authorities.

In particular, this time around, the organization is urging its members to seize voting machines while investigating claims of ‘rampant voter fraud’ that during the 2020 election proved to be baseless.  

Inside the bizarre Las Vegas conference where Trump-loving sheriffs, felons and conspiracy theorists vowed to form militias to patrol polling places and seize voting machines to stop Biden

Last week’s Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association conference in Las Vegas drew attention for its controversial mix of attendees, including felons, disgraced politicians and sheriffs. It’s founder Richard Mack is seen speaking on the stand

Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser and retired three-star general who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI but was pardoned by then-President Donald Trump, was a speaker at the conference

Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser and retired three-star general who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI but was pardoned by then-President Donald Trump, was a speaker at the conference

Trump's friend and MyPillow founder Mike Lindell also spoke as he pushed his election denial theories

Trump’s friend and MyPillow founder Mike Lindell also spoke as he pushed his election denial theories 

This time around, the group want to form a group that will patrol polling places and have the power to seize voting machines while investigating Democrats and other countries that are sending immigrants to the the U.S. in order to vote illegally, they claim and reported by NBC News.

In 2022, the group continued to promote baseless conspiracy theories that the last presidential election was stolen from Trump are have recently been pushing a dubious theory that county sheriffs can access voting machines and intervene in how elections are run – and also have virtually unchecked power in their counties.

Voting-rights advocates and election experts said any attempts by law enforcement to interfere in elections would be alarming and an extension of the threat posed by the continued circulation of Trump’s claims about the 2020 election.

‘The safest way to actually achieve that is to have local law enforcement understand that they have no obligation to enforce such laws,’ Mack said during a recent interview. ‘They’re not laws at all anyway. If they’re unjust laws, they are laws of tyranny.’

Mike Gannuscio (left) is running to be a sheriff in Mohave County, Nevada

Mike Gannuscio (left) is running to be a sheriff in Mohave County, Nevada

In 2022, the group continued to promote baseless conspiracy theories that the last presidential election was stolen from Trump are have recently been pushing a dubious theory that county sheriffs can access voting machines and intervene in how elections are run. Zapata County, Texas, Sheriff Raymundo Del Bosque holds his hat over his heart during the national anthem

In 2022, the group continued to promote baseless conspiracy theories that the last presidential election was stolen from Trump are have recently been pushing a dubious theory that county sheriffs can access voting machines and intervene in how elections are run. Zapata County, Texas, Sheriff Raymundo Del Bosque holds his hat over his heart during the national anthem

‘The sheriff is supposed to be protecting the public from evil,’ Dar Leaf, the chief law enforcement officer for Barry County, Michigan, said during last year’s conference. ‘When your government is evil or out of line, that’s what the sheriff is there for, protecting them from that.’

The sheriffs’ group has railed against gun control laws, COVID-19 mask mandates and public health restrictions, as well as the alleged election fraud. 

It has also quietly spread its ideology across the country, seeking to become more mainstream in part by securing state approval for taxpayer-funded law enforcement training.

The public-facing image of the sheriffs group, prominently features the American flag and the experiences of black civil rights icons who pushed back against unjust laws. 

But details of its operations are closely held, and its finances are shielded from public scrutiny. 

It was briefly registered as a nonprofit in Arizona, but internal records indicate it is now a private company.

The group does not release its list of dues-paying members, nor does it publicize information about where or how it conducts trainings. 

The sympathies of the group’s leaders for right-wing, white-nationalist extremist causes, however, are well documented.

The CSPOA is also unequivocal about gun rights and supports the right of criminals and the mentally ill to carry firearms, opposing gun registration or background checks.

About 100 people attended the day-long conference in Las Vegas last Wednesday

About 100 people attended the day-long conference in Las Vegas last Wednesday

Attendees of the conference milled around and mingled with one another in the lobby

Attendees of the conference milled around and mingled with one another in the lobby

Various speakers from the 'law enforcement' community were on the stand and able to speak

Various speakers from the ‘law enforcement’ community were on the stand and able to speak

Mack was an early board member of the Oath Keepers, the group involved in the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Although he said he split with the group several years ago when it became a militia, Mack still speaks at Oath Keeper-affiliated rallies.

Leaf was investigated, but not charged, in connection with the Michigan attorney general’s investigation into the alleged illegal seizure and breach of vote-counting machines in 2020. 

He also appeared at an election-denier rally with two men later charged in the conspiracy to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Over the last six years, the group has hosted trainings, rallies, speeches and meetings in at least 30 states for law enforcement officers, political figures, private organizations and members of the public.

The group has held formal trainings on its ‘constitutional’ curriculum for law enforcement officers in at least 13 of those states. In six states, the training was approved for officers´ continuing education credits. 

The group also has supporters who sit on three state boards in charge of law enforcement training standards.

Legal experts warn that such training – especially when it’s approved for state credit – can undermine the democratic processes enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and is part of what Mary McCord, a former federal prosecutor and executive director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown University, called a ‘broader insurrectionist ideology’ that has gripped the nation since the 2020 presidential election.

‘They have no authority, not under their state constitutions or implementing statutes to decide what’s constitutional and what’s not constitutional. That’s what courts have the authority to do, not sheriffs,’ McCord said.

‘There’s another sort of evil lurking there,’ McCord added, ‘because CSPOA is now essentially part of a broader movement in the United States to think it’s OK to use political violence if we disagree with some sort of government policy.’

Mach, who founded was an early board member of the Oath Keepers, the group involved in the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, pictured above

Mach, who founded was an early board member of the Oath Keepers, the group involved in the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, pictured above

Mack, seen here, said he split with the Oath Keepers group several years ago when it became a militia, although he still speaks at Oath Keeper-affiliated rallies

Mack, seen here, said he split with the Oath Keepers group several years ago when it became a militia, although he still speaks at Oath Keeper-affiliated rallies

At least one state, Texas, canceled credit for the sheriffs´ training after determining the course content – which it said included a reference to ‘this is a war’ – was more political than educational. But other states, such as Tennessee, have approved the training, in part because it was hosted by a local law enforcement agency.

Unlike other law enforcement continuing education, such as firearms training, the sheriffs’ curriculum is largely focused on the alleged constitutional underpinnings of sheriffs’ absolute authority to both interpret and refuse to enforce certain laws.

One brochure advertising the group’s seminars states: ‘The County Sheriff is the one who can say to the feds, `Beyond these bounds you shall not pass.´’

Nationwide, there are some 3,000 sheriffs, whose salaries are funded by taxpayers. Mack has claimed about 10 per cent of those are members of CSPOA together with a further 10,000 regular citizens. About 100 people attended the Vegas conference.

They sheriffs serve as the chief law enforcement officers in their counties and are the only elected peace officers in the country. 

They appoint deputy sheriffs and jailers and service the courts in their jurisdictions. 

Especially in rural areas, sheriffs hold immense sway over what happens in their county.

Amy Cooter, research director at the Middlebury Institute Center on Terrorism, Extremism and Counterterrorism, said many sheriffs join the group from ‘a misinformed but well-meaning perspective.’ But, she added, it also allows some sheriffs to ‘potentially engage in extremism by not enforcing legal, lawful, legitimate orders.’

Some states have pushed back against the group’s training efforts, and not all sheriffs subscribe to the group´s ideology. 

Many at the National Sheriffs’ Association conference distanced themselves from the constitutional sheriffs or claimed not to know what they were about.

‘When I took an oath 17 years ago as sheriff, I took the oath to uphold the Constitution, not overstep it,’ said Troy Wellman, sheriff of Moody County, South Dakota, and a vice president of the National Sheriffs’ Association.

And there has been public pushback in some counties led by ‘constitutional sheriffs.’ In Klickitat County, Washington, residents alleged Sheriff Bob Songer, a board member of the sheriffs group, engaged in fearmongering and intimidation. 

He was the target of a formal complaint in 2022 that the state’s law enforcement standards agency ultimately dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

Michael Peroutka, another sheriffs group board member and former candidate for Maryland’s attorney general, was once affiliated with the League of the South, which supports ‘a free and independent Southern republic.’ 

At a 2019 sheriffs´ training event, he said, ‘There is a creator God. Our rights come from him. The purpose of civil government is to secure and defend God-given rights.’

Jon Lewis, a research fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, described the sheriffs group as ‘insidious’ and said it had become ‘mainstream standard-bearers for entrance into more violent forms of extremism.’

‘Just because it’s not as overt in their subversion of the democratic system, just because it’s quieter about how it does it and what it’s calling for, doesn’t make the ideas any less dangerous,’ said Lewis.



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