At least two of the sheriffs present preside over large urban counties, not depopulates rural areas in the middle of nowhere with few people who are even willing or able to run for office.
The group is scary because it basically argues, on the basis of "fantasy constitution" arguments, that county sheriffs have a right and duty to take up arms against the United States government because they claim that the federal government doesn't have the authority that it has exercised with court approval from the very outset of our Republic.
The United States Constitution establishes the supremacy of federal law over state law, places the courts in the position of making binding interpretations of the constitution, and defines treason to include taking up arms against the government of the United States.
To be clear, I am not saying that it is treason merely to propose and discuss a political theory under which treason is legitimate, and maybe even a duty of a local official. Treason is defined on the basis of acts and not words in the United States. But, to be equally clear, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association is an organization of elected and appointed high government officials sworn to uphold the United States Constitution that argues that Sheriffs have a right to engage in acts of treason, and several of the members of this organization have either come extremely close to crossing that line, or have done so.
The conference was organized by former Graham County, Ariz., Sheriff Richard Mack . . . [who] wrote a book, "The County Sheriff: America's Last Hope." In it, he asserted that sheriffs have the supreme law enforcement power in their counties under the Constitution and the 10th Amendment. Much of what federal agents are doing in counties is unconstitutional, he wrote. Federal agents have no authority beyond policing treason, piracy, treaty violations and counterfeiting. . . . Online Constitutional Sheriffs materials state, "The sheriff's position overrides any federal agents or even the arrogant FBI agents who attempt to assume jurisdiction in our cases." . . . Some of the speakers at the convention did tell of confrontations that involved the threat of officers for different agencies trying to arrest each other. The use of force was not ruled out.
Elkhart County, Ind., Sheriff Brad Rogers told of chasing federal regulators out of his county after they repeatedly did inspections at an Amish dairy farm that was selling raw milk. He threatened to arrest the regulators if they tried to come back.
Sheriff Tony DeMeo of Nye County, Nev., recounted how he had to threaten to bring out his SWAT team to go up against a federal government SWAT team when federal agents were seizing cattle from a local rancher.
Sheriff Dave Mattis of Big Horn County, Wyo., told the conference about the edict he has issued in his county. Federal agents are forbidden to enter his territory without his approval.
Mack is now running for Congress in Texas.
Among those in attendance from Colorado were Weld County Sheriff John Cook, Montezuma County Sheriff Dennis Spruell, Montrose County Sheriff Rick Dunlap, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, and El Paso County Commissioner Peggy Littleton. Colorado tied California and Utah in sending the largest delegations. The Denver Post coverage portrayed members of the Colorado delegation as moderates within the group.
"We have a large group of people in my county who agree with these principles," said Weld County Sheriff John Cook, explaining why he attended the conference. "I agree with a lot of it. But I don't advocate, obviously, violence against other law enforcement offices." . . .
"I think sheriffs went because they just wanted to be informed about what is expected of a sheriff," said Montezuma County Sheriff Dennis Spruell. "I know I want to make sure the federal government does what it's supposed to do and doesn't encroach on the rights of my citizens. "As for that making us radicals, I don't see that."
Some Colorado sheriffs, like Spruell, said they went because they believe in much of what the Constitutional Sheriffs group espouses. They stressed that, at the same time, they have mostly good working relations with law enforcement officers from federal agencies that operate in their counties.
"I have good cooperation with federal agents. I have no problems with them," said Montrose County Sheriff Rick Dunlap. "The feds always contact me when they are doing something in my county." . . .
Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey was one sheriff who didn't receive an invitation to the convention and was a little uncomfortable with the idea of constituents raising money to send sheriffs to it. He also was unhappy with the impression some sheriffs had that if they didn't go, their conservative voters would try to oust them in the next election. "I have a lot of respect for the Constitution and for its framework of keeping our people safe," he said. "But sheriffs should not be strong-armed into going to something like this."
Chris Olson, executive director of the County Sheriffs of Colorado, said of the convention: "We didn't endorse it or authorize it. It was an individual sheriff's decision."
The El Paso County delegation argued for passing resolutions asking for federal legislation it disagrees with to be overturned, rather than ignoring it or condemning one of its proponents (former GOP Presidential nominee John McCain of Arizona) as a traitor. Mack himself fought his one successful battle against federal authority (the requirement that Sheriff's impliement the Brady bill background check requirement) in court rather than in armed conflicts or threats of armed conflicts with federal officials.
But, we should take pause. This organization's convention last week is a crossing of the Rubicon.
These are not just a few conspiracy theory bloggers who can be ignored. These are people with real governmental authority, who hold elected offices and have sworn to uphold the United States constitution, and are dancing with an organization that exists for the purpose of providing moral and rhetorical support for treason.
All or almost all of these people are members of the political party of Abraham Lincoln, who was born two hundred and two years ago today. Lincoln had to fight a war that left 600,000 dead to reestablish the supremacy of the federal government from 1861-1865, the last time this kind of rhetoric got out of hand. Lincoln won. The Confederates lost. The notion that states rights are subordinate to the U.S. Constitution is the law of the land.
Now, that political party has been co-opted by the intellectual heirs of Confederate political theory. And, they aren't the only ones to take radical positions that undermine the concept of the rule of law in the United States.
Newt Gingrich, one of the four men still in the race for the GOP Presidential nomination, has repeatedly argued with a straight face, on the record, in this campaign that the President has the authority to have federal judges arrested for making legal rulings with which he disagrees and to ignore federal court orders that are procedurally regular because he disagrees with their legal conclusions.
The British have always understood that there is a distinction to be made between a "loyal opposition," that operates within the political system, and an insurgency movement. The successors to their parliamentary tradition in the Republican party of the United States have trouble understanding these subtleties and we could easily face future civil wars and bloodshed as a result of their failure to do so.
The United States is not Somolia. We are ruled under a national system of laws, not by warlords with local power bases. When powerful people in our political system start to doubt these fundamentals, we have a serious problem on our hands as a nation.