Profiles on the Right: Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association

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Sheriff Richard Mack speaking at the Nullify Now! event in Downtown Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

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.

 

Related Patriot Movement Profiles:

Oath Keepers

Three Percenters

Next ProfileThis profile, along with a full-length article on nullification and neo-Confederates, are part of the Fall 2013 issue of The Public Eye Magazine.

Also read, “Trump’s “Second Amendment People”?: The U.S. Patriot Movement Today.”

Updated 5/9/18.

Profiles on the Right: World Congress of Families

WCFThough based in Illinois, the World Congress of Families (WCF) has a global mission. It seeks to spread anti-choice, anti-LGBTI policies and ideas worldwide, as well as a conservative definition of the family. In 1998, the WCF gathered in Rome to define “the natural family” as “the fundamental social unit, inscribed in human nature, and centered around the voluntary union of a man and a woman in a lifelong covenant of marriage.” WCF campaigns at local, national, regional, and international levels to insert this restrictive definition into laws and policies as a way to actively exclude LGBTI people – and many others – from the rights, privileges, and protections afforded to legally recognized families.

Historian and author Allan Carlson founded WCF in 1995 as a project of the Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society. WCF describes itself as a “rallying center for the world’s family systems grounded in religious faith” and a “response to a militant secular individualism found in parts of the ‘post modern’ West.”

WCF’s international conferences, or “Congresses,” consistently draw thousands of participants, and they have helped build WCF’s international influence by bringing together elected officials, religious leaders, scientists, and scholars from around the world. Congresses have been held in Prague (1997), Geneva (1999), Mexico City (2004), Warsaw (2007), Amsterdam (2009), Madrid (2012), Sydney (2013), Salt Lake City (2015), Georgia (2016), and Budapest (2017). Among the 2017 Congress partners were several Christian Right organizations, including National Organization for Marriage, Heartbeat International, and Family Watch International. The headlining speakers are typically leaders of the U.S. Christian Right, and the organization’s leadership team is entirely American.

In addition to large-scale international gatherings, WCF coordinates smaller, regional events. In 2009, it hosted its first African conference in Abuja, Nigeria. WCF convenings have taken place in Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, and Malawi, and the organization is constantly expanding its influence. Sponsors for “The African Family and Cultural Colonialism,”  its most recent conference in Malawi in November 2017, included Family Watch International and the Episcopal Conference of Malawi, the Malawian arm of the Anglican Church.

WCF’s work in Africa is primarily coordinated by Theresa Okafor and Ann Kioko. Okafor is CEO of Life League Nigeria, director of the Foundation for African Cultural Heritage, and a leading opponent of LGBTI and reproductive justice on the continent; Kioko is the founder of the African Organization for Families (AOF), a project that emerged out of the 2015 WCF gathering in Salt Lake City, Utah, and now works as the Campaigns Manager for Africa for CitizenGO, a right-wing advocacy organization based in Spain. Brian Brown serves on CitizenGO’s Board of Trustees.

In December 2016, under the leadership of its new president, Brian Brown (also head of the American anti-LGBTI group, National Organization for Marriage), the Howard Center rebranded itself as the International Organization for the Family (IOF), but reassured supporters that WCF would remain one of its key projects. The same week, IOF announced the launch of “The Cape Town Declaration: Universal Declaration on Family and Marriage,” a new platform aimed at creating a united global front of conservative leaders.

Next ProfileFor more details, see American Culture Warriors in Africa: A Guide to the Exporters of Homophobia and Sexism. 

Updated 5/8/18.

 

 

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Profiles on the Right: Brian Brown

Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marraige

Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marraige

Brian Brown, perhaps most infamous for his tendency to equate the LGBTQ community to pedophiles, is the current president of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and a hard-line member of the Christian Right. A Quaker turned Roman Catholic, Brown has been a key player in the anti-equality movement for over two decades—even moving his family to California in 2008 for the sole purpose of defending the now-repealed Proposition 8 ballot initiative. Brown’s anti-LGBTQ crusades have included the exportation of homophobia to Russia and, on a domestic level, supporting the anti-transgender movement in public schools.

Co-founder and original executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, Brown succeeded Maggie Gallagher as president in 2010 when she accepted the title of president at the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, an anti-marriage equality think tank. NOM’s main goal is defending the “traditional family,” meaning that the organization does everything within its power to prevent same-sex couples from gaining civil rights, most particularly the right to marry.

One of the organization’s biggest strengths is its ability to keep the sources of its funding secret.  In a previous report that details the anti-LGBT movement, it is recognized that Brown uses the promise of anonymity as a fundraising tool, telling prospective donors that “unlike in California, every dollar you give to NOM’s Northeast Action Plan today is private, with no risk of harassment from same-sex marriage protestors.” NOM has also defended its financials by suing states such as California and Maine when they have asked for the organization to disclose its financials. PRA’s profile on NOM also notes: “In response to a 2010 ethics investigation from the state of Maine, NOM committed millions for litigation to delay disclosure in the courts as long as possible.”

NOM’s desire to shroud its monies in secrecy should come as no surprise, given that the IRS opened an investigation on the organization’s financials in 2013.

Brown also employs results-driven strategies against his opposition, and carefully avoids placing blame on individuals, instead asserting that “good-hearted people can have ideas that are profoundly wrong.” He further deflects blame away from himself by claiming he has friends and family who are gay, and that they “can disagree on all sorts of things and still care about each other.”

If Brown cares about his “gay friends” at all, it’s certainly not apparent in his actions. In June 2013, Brown headed to Moscow on the invitation of Illinois-based World Congress of Families (WCF), an organization that has been hell-bent on forwarding horrific anti-LGBTQ legislation abroad. In Moscow, Brown and other WCF supporters testified before Russian Parliament in support of banning same-sex couples from adopting children. In a transcript posted by the Duma, Brown told Russian lawmakers that “We will unite. We will defend our children and their normal civil rights. Every child must have the right to normal parents: a mother and a father.”

Brown and WCF certainly touted some influence in Moscow, days after Brown left, the Duma not only passed the adoption law, but also began to debate a frightening proposal to remove children from the homes of LGBTQ parents.

Another aspect of Brown’s stratagem is the utilization of fear-driven hyperbole. In a 2011 newsletter that reflects on the Senate hearings on repealing DOMA, Brown declared “President Obama and the hard-left core of the Democratic Party in Washington declared war on marriage, on federalism, on democracy and on religious liberty.”

In another NOM newsletter, Brown described the push to legalize same-sex marriage as analogous to accepting pedophiles. He inquired if the “pedophiles [will] become “minor-attracted persons” in our culture? Will courts which endorse orientation as a protected class decide down the road that therefore laws which discriminate against ‘minor-attracted persons’ must be narrowly tailored to a compelling government interest?” However skewed his rhetoric, Brown is still careful to not demonize the individual.

Brown’s crusades are not limited to the LGBQ community though; his most recent domestic crusade is against transgender students in California public schools. In August 2013, California passed a bill that allowed transgender students to use facilities and participate in after-school activities that correspond with their gender identity. The bill, which took effect in January 2014, gave California transgender students a chance at equality in an already-uphill battle.

Brown characterizes the new bill as “horrible,” a “weapon,” and said that it “doesn’t prevent bullying – it is bullying. It is not about protecting kids; it damages kids.” Brown further urges readers to sign a drawn up by Privacy for All Students (PAS) in an effort to overturn non-discrimination requirements, claiming the legislation “is politically-correct madness that risks the privacy and security of our children and grandchildren.”

NOM and PAS only support gender-conforming youth, refusing to even refer to the students they’re persecuting as transgender, preferring to say they have “so-called gender identities.”

As strategic as he is, Brown’s rhetoric is causing him to fall out of public favor. At the 2013 Values Voters Summit, Brown complained that media outlets such as ABC and CNN seldom give him air-time anymore.  But make no mistake, NOM still reaches many, as exemplified by the wide support the 2013 “Marriage March” on Washington, D.C. garnered. And Brown only seems to be motivated by equality victories. After the defeat of both Prop 8 and DOMA, Brown called the DOMA decision “an absolute travesty” and in The Washington Post said “The National Organization for Marriage intends to vigorously urge Congress to safeguard the remaining portion of DOMA, which protects the right of states to refuse to recognize same-sex ‘marriages’ performed elsewhere.”

When the U.S. Supreme Court was hearing the Obergefell v. Hodges case in 2015, which eventually led to the federal legalization of marriage equality, they campaigned constantly for “traditional” marriage and bussed groups of people from the surrounding states to protest at the capital. While NOM continues to campaign for anti-LGBTQ candidates and for those who support “traditional” marriage, their domestic presence is losing breadth. Their annual “March for Marriage” on Washington, D.C. in 2017 drew less than 250 participants throughout the entire day.

Brown continues to fight marriage equality, hoping to one day get it overturned, but his current focus is a “First Freedom Initiative” to defend the Christian Right definition of religious freedom. He is also active abroad, supporting the international anti-“gender ideology” and “pro-family” group CitizenGO as a board member.

Updated 5/14/18.

 

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Profiles on the Right: Operation Rescue

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Operation Rescue is a militant anti-choice organization functioning out of Wichita, Kansas. It was founded in 1986 by radical fundamentalist Randall Terry who united pro-life activists under the slogan “If you believe abortion is murder, act like it’s murder.” In the 1990s, the numerous groups espousing Operation Rescue’s ideologies coalesced and split into two distinctive groups: Operation Rescue West, which rose in prominence and later became known simply as Operation Rescue, and the more broadly-focused Operation Save America. There has been ongoing strife between founder Randall Terry and Operation Rescue president Troy Newman over the rights to the name Operation Rescue, which Newman currently possesses and Terry contests.

Before the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) in 1994, the Operation Rescue movement incited and lead sit-ins to block access to abortion clinics. The high point of its actions is considered to be the six-week event it titled the “Summer of Mercy in 1991.” By their own account, thousands of activists blocked the entrances to three abortion clinics in Wichita, Kansas with over a thousand reported arrests. The event also featured the infamous Christian Right personality Pat Robertson, among other speakers. Since FACE, however, Operation Rescue and its affiliates have had to resort to more roundabout methods of opposition to abortion rights. Currently, a large part of their efforts to undermine women’s health centers is focused on discrediting existing clinics. Their website prominently features videos and articles citing instances of botched abortions, unsanitary conditions, and malpractice suits. Before his murder, Operation Rescue launched an all-out legal campaign against Dr. George Tiller over the course of seven years and protested his clinic heavily.

In 2002 Operation Rescue moved to Wichita, Kansas from California, and in 2006 it bought and closed an abortion clinic in town, turning it into their headquarters and a “memorial to the pre-born.” After the murder of Dr. George Tiller, Operation Rescue attempted to buy his clinic and turn it into a memorial as well, claiming it was “hallowed ground.” Dr. Tiller’s family closed the clinic permanently and their bid to purchase it ultimately failed. Two years after Dr. Tiller’s death, in partnership with Maryland Coalition for Life, they bought a property across from the Georgetown office of Dr. Leroy Carhart, his former colleague and fellow late-term abortion provider, and opened a sort of pro-life resource center that functions much like a crisis pregnancy center, luring women seeking abortion services away from unbiased care.

Although Operation Rescue has numerous statements on its website distancing itself from violent activities, including an entire page dedicated to statements denouncing their founder Randall Terry, their language and tactics are both aggressive and inflammatory and they should not be divorced from the statistics citing increased violence against abortion clinics. They prominently feature web links to Pro-Life America’s abortion provider database, AbortionDocs.org, which lists the names, pictures, addresses, and phone numbers of abortion providers in the United States. They refer to clinics as “abortion mills,” clinic escorts as “deathscorts,” and abortion in America as the “American Holocaust.” Their website and many other public materials contain graphic pictures of aborted fetuses. They train “sidewalk counselors” to harass and divert women seeking care at abortion clinics.

Operation Rescue maintains a fleet of ten “truth trucks”—medium size trucks with large, graphic pictures of aborted fetuses and slogans on the sides. They appear along with protestors at any major event liable to draw a huge crowd, with special attention to gatherings of pro-choice supporters such as Planned Parenthood fundraisers or the Democratic National Convention. Their stated mission is twofold, both to “make the horror of abortion an unavoidable issue, and to make the Lord Jesus Christ paramount in our nation.” This mission is consistent with their endorsements of right-wing politicians who legislate based on thinly-veiled and narrow interpretations of Christian scripture. In 2006, its tax-exempt status was revoked by the IRS for violating prohibitions on electioneering by nonprofits.

Recently, Operation Rescue made headlines in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which it has named the “late-term abortion capital” of America to draw the attention of other like-minded pro-life groups. The New York Times published an article on the actions of Bud and Tara Shaver, trainees of Operation Rescue, who staged a protest at the Holocaust and Intolerance Museum in Albuquerque, insisting that the museum include an exhibit on the “American genocide” of fetuses and distributing fliers with the faces and names of abortion providers in the area, a tactic which has also been used by Operation Save America. Operation Rescue and groups like it have been responsible for the tightening restrictions on abortion services and providers, and their involvement in politics should not be overlooked. An Operation Rescue defense lawyer, Richard Macias, was nominated and serves on Kansas’s Board of Healing Arts, which licenses and disciplines physicians in Kansas, and many more politicians are sympathetic to their cause.