The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA) was founded in 2011 by Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff. Mack was also a lobbyist for Gun Owners of America (GOA), and he is known for his challenge to the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and his role in the organization Oath Keepers, which is led by former Ron Paul Congressional staffer Stewart Rhodes.
Mack formed the CSPOA to organize county sheriffs around a mission similar to Oath Keepers—that is, to refuse to enforce laws that they believe are unconstitutional. “The greatest threat we face today is not terrorists,” according to Mack. “It is our own federal government.” CSPOA’s stated mission is to train sheriffs and police, and then “local governments will issue our new Declaration to the Federal Government regarding the abuses that we will no longer tolerate or accept,” according to the CSPOA website. “Said declaration will be enforced by our Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers. In short, the CSPOA will be the army to set our nation free.” Sheriffs around the country have received letters from the organization asking where they stand on “executive orders to unlawfully derail the Second Amendment.” The letter was sent by the Liberty Group Coalition, comprised of the CSPOA, GOA, Oath Keepers, the John Birch Society (JBS), Tenth Amendment Center, and other organizations.
The CSPOA has grown dramatically since the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in 2012 and the subsequent rise in gun-control activism. To date it lists by name and location nearly 500 county sheriffs and 18 state sheriff associations that have “gone on record” with the CSPOA to affirm “the constitutional second amendment rights of citizens in his or her jurisdiction.” Sheriffs who don’t cooperate may find themselves on the “Red Coat List.” Thomas Woods headlined CSPOA’s 2012 conference, co-sponsored by the JBS. Though countering gun control is the CSPOA’s major issue, sheriffs speaking at the conference also reported challenging federal agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management and the Food and Drug Administration.
The May 2013 conference featured religion-infused rhetoric against “tyranny.” Speakers included the Constitution Party’s Michael Peroutka, GOA’s Larry Pratt, Joe Wolverton of the JBS, U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX), and Mike Zullo. The latter is Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s chief “birther” investigator. Part of the conference was dedicated to his latest revelations in this ongoing pursuit. Conference speakers also included several county sheriffs and Tea Party leaders.
In January 2013, Pennsylvania’s Gilberton Borough passed an ordinance “nullifying all federal, state or local acts in violation of the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.” The police chief behind the ordinance, Mark Kessler, spoke at the 2013 CSPOA conference, and CSPOA created a new register on its website for police chiefs, with Kessler as the first on the list. CSPOA later distanced itself from Kessler and removed him from the list when his behavior became increasingly erratic. In a video posted online, for example, Kessler cursed “libtards” and fired city-issued weapons at a target representing Democrat Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Kessler was later dismissed by the borough.
While some CSPOA members are associated with organized racist groups, members are technically prohibited from advocating for “discrimination, violence or hatred toward any person or group based on race, nationality, or color.” As stated in PRA’s Up In Arms report, however, the group often “does directly engage in issues whose outcome is, by necessity, to support maintaining white racial demographics at current levels and to oppose a redistribution of social and economic power in society across racial lines.”
Some people affiliated with CSPOA have entered the political mainstream in recent years. Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, CSPOA’s “Sheriff of the Year” in 2013, spoke at the 2016 Republican National Convention. Just the year before, he tweeted, “Before long, Black Lives Matter will join forces with ISIS to b[r]ing down our legal constituted republic.” More recently, when former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio was convicted for defying a federal court order in 2017, President Trump pardoned him. Arpaio had endorsed Trump when he was on the campaign trail in 2016.
This profile, along with a full-length article on nullification and neo-Confederates, are part of the Fall 2013 issue of The Public Eye Magazine.